Ukraine’s higher education system needs reform and its integration into the European Higher Education Area would aid this, boost standards and the quality of what universities offer, and counter corruption. In previous articles I mentioned imperfections in the Draft Law on Higher Education, presented by the Ministry of Education, Science, Youth and Sports of Ukraine, and I described the situation around advancing a more progressive version of the law, which would promote the integration of Ukraine into the European Higher Education Area.
An inefficient, bureaucratic system means the draft law is still circulating around the different ministries, awaiting ratification.
I would like to look this time at Ukraine’s integration into the European Higher Education Area, how the process is progressing, what Ukraine should do to make academic institutions in the European Union understand what and how Ukrainian students are being taught in universities, and whether Ukrainian quality standards in education, teaching and research will change within the context of the Bologna process.
The report, Inclusion of the Ukrainian System of Higher Education in the European Higher Education and Research Area, can help us find answers to these questions.
It was prepared by a team headed by Taras Finikov with the support of the International Foundation for Education Policy Research, the Ukrainian Association of Students’ Self-Administration and the Democratic Initiatives Foundation.
The research is based on principles of interdisciplinarity and comparisons between education systems. Using questionnaires, polling and interviewing, it defines the peculiarities of Ukrainian higher education development, taking into account social, political, economic, historical and psychological factors.
The report covers issues of legislative and regulatory support for education, and compares European and Ukrainian systems of higher education, including degrees (cycles), implementation of the European credit transfer system, introduction of the ‘diploma supplement’, issues of qualifications recognition and recommendations regarding quality standards.
The National Qualification Framework, lifelong study, higher education economics, social issues in higher education, students and corruption problems are also considered in the report.
Changes in higher education
With regard to historical and social factors, the changes that occurred in Ukrainian higher education from 1991 until the early 2000s did not aim to develop a new system – only to destroy the old Soviet heritage.
For instance, there was a move from elite to mass education, and an attempt to humanise the education process and professional training, as well as the introduction of private sector actors in higher education. A multi-level degree system was implemented, and systems of licensing and accreditation, of educational standards and of new regulations were launched.
The institutionalisation of the European Higher Education and Research Area – the Bologna process – was completed in EU countries in the late 1990s. In Ukraine, all of the abovementioned transformative shifts were backed by legislation through the 2002 Law of Ukraine on Higher Education.
But the content of the legislation turned out to be self-contradictory, and the necessary tool for reforms was not developed. Indeed a lot of Soviet practices were preserved instead.
Despite formally joining the Bologna process in 2005, Ukraine did not understand the need to reform its higher education system and did not implement any reforms. There was no attempt to get national consensus on reform. Those in middle- and lower-level management in universities did not fully understand the opportunities presented by joining the process.
Rectors still consider trying to get government support as the only thing they need to do in order to move their universities forward. Students, who have been denied access to unbiased information about the process, have not become active participants in it.
Resistance to integration
The Bologna process is often associated with increasing social injustice through the ‘privatisation’ of universities and with unnecessary bureaucracy.
Old stereotypes remain in Ukraine; they are to a large extent based on the fact that a section of the political elite does not like the idea of university autonomy, is sceptical about European integration and has continuing commitment to the authoritarian ‘Russian model’ of governance, which includes state patronage of universities.
This basic principle explains the peculiarities characterising the post-Soviet, post-colonial and post-totalitarian status of today’s Ukraine. The supposed safety of the status quo serves the interest of our political elites, whether they are in power or in opposition, and means they find endless excuses for inaction or for avoiding the imposition of Western standards of responsibility, quality, efficiency and measures to fight corruption.
This unwillingness to embrace the positive potential of reforms can be explained by the tendency of all Ukrainian governments to change the titles of people within the higher education sector without changing the (post)-Soviet realities.
For example, the current structure of professional education includes the following educational and qualification levels: junior specialist, bachelor, specialist and master. It was formed in accordance with the 30th article of the Law of Ukraine on Higher Education and the Regulation of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine on Educational and Qualification Degrees (Degree Education), confirmed by a cabinet resolution on 20 January 1998.
Duration of study unchanged
Another issue for the Bologna process is duration of study. In Ukraine, it takes four years for a bachelor degree, an extra one year for specialists and one or one-and-a-half years for masters (excluding isolated instances of two-year programmes).
These divergences from the rest of the world are due to a compromise on the transfer from Soviet educational programmes. Keeping the specialist qualification level has conserved the old model of professional training.
As for masters, they were implemented in late 1990s programmes and did not have any academic purpose or meet any interdisciplinary principles, and were inflexible. Also, the post-Soviet system did not include the kind of structured PhD programmes found in Western Europe, and which only the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy doctoral school attempts to provide.
The funds that the Ukrainian government spends on higher education appear rather substantial. The government has spent around 2% to 2.3% of gross domestic product, or 6% to 6.8% of general budget expenses, on higher education in the past few years.
These percentages are comparable to the highest in the EU. In addition, around 30% of state spending on education goes to higher education.
Nevertheless, because the country has a small GDP, the average yearly expenses for one student studying in the 2010-11 academic year amounted to around €2,270 (US$2,840) – around half of what is spent on students in Estonia, which has the smallest per student budget in the EU and 28% of average EU spending per student (according to 2008 data). It is obvious that the current level of funding makes achieving higher quality unlikely.
The policies on salaries for teaching staff are worthy of special attention. Let’s consider data on salaries of the main faculty categories in two classical state universities in 2011 (calculated in euro per year, 1€=10.6 UAH).
A professor at a university in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, can earn €10,224 a year, a professor of a leading regional university just €6,035. A comparison of salaries of associate professors in the capital and those in a province is €9,198 against €4,362 a year, and a comparison between salaries of assistant professors holding academic degrees is €4,793 against €2,779 a year.
It is easy to see that these salaries are very small even compared to faculty salaries in the Eastern European countries of the EU. The difference in payments for academics should be estimated by taking their workloads into account. Many staff have an excessive teaching load, which presents problems for research.
Then there is corruption. The most widespread forms of corruption are: making use of personal connections, exchange of services, non-transparent ‘charitable’ or other kinds of payments, and bribe-taking.
Some 33.2% of the survey participants had direct experience of corruption; 29.1% said they had heard about corruption from people who had faced it personally. The number of people offering bribes in the education sector amounts to up to 40%.
‘Voluntary bribes’ (bribes made without being asked for) make up 25.5%, ‘bribes on demand’ comprise 49.7%, and making use of personal connections 20.5%. There are more students willing to give bribes than teachers ready to take them.
In fact, the presence of corruption in higher education highlights the absence of reforms in this area. Every year the media provides us with more and more information about arrests of university bribe-takers or intensified anti-corruption drives against corruption in education.
But we need real reform that deals with corruption by improving the quality and professional reputation of our universities within the wider global education context.