Social Responsibility of Ukrainian Universities

(Speech at 2013 Annual Conference of Canadian Bureau for International Education in Vancouver Education for a Better World: Our Global Social Responsibility, November )

I believe, it is not only Ukrainian higher education represents a “parallel world” in comparison with standards recognized at the global level. The whole post-Soviet world, excluding Baltic countries, is a unique and not investigated properly phenomenon. Its main characteristics are: high level of corruption, disparity of current laws, implemented politics, the way of thinking of the political elites implementing them, and, finally, tendency to self-isolation.

Therefore, first, we must overpass this self-isolation. There is an illusion in Ukraine that it’s possible to have domestic educational and professional standards which would differ from the global ones. We still have glorification of Soviet “achievements”, forgetting that this totalitarian system dyed in and of itself in late 1980s. Ukrainian system of education must become a part of the western system, first of all by means of Bologna process, because ability to integrate now is a guarantee and a necessary condition for competitiveness of Ukrainian universities.

Second, the goal of integration is to harmonize, not to unify different national systems of education. Establishing of independent universities is possible only in independent countries. Discussing globalization a lot, we often forget that realization or, conversely, blockage of different social projects happen not on global, but on national level. Some societies need freedom of speech and modern universities; some do not have such a need at all.

Third, therefore, global social responsibility of Ukrainian HEIs is, first of all, related to the constructive role which they can play in the society. We won’t be able to propose anything valuable to the external world, if we cannot influence establishing of a “learning society” in Ukraine. Besides that, this role must be concordant with those big tasks which all the modern universities assign for themselves in order to change our common global world for better.

Forth, a modern university must have not only global and national, but also a local mission, playing an important role for the community it belongs to by its location. Any of educational reforms must be based not only on the consensus between academic community and political forces. Society must be the third part in this consensus. After all, citizens are those who pay taxes, so they must be active participants of educational reforms.

Fifth, as long as there is no understanding of content and goal of higher education reforming in Ukraine, while instead of state politics we have a total chaos in defining priorities, our top-priority task is to pass a new progressive law “On Higher Education”. This issue has been actively discussed in Ukraine during the past several years. European integration rhetoric must result in passing through the Parliament the draft law developed by “Zhurovskui’s group” and supported by the Parliament Committee on Science and Education.

Sixth, Ukraine should refuse the soviet understanding of universities as an “extra burden” on the state budget. The contemporary vision of education represents it as not just a sector or field, but as a basis for complex and sustainable development of economy, state and society.

Seventh, therefore, it’s necessary to integrate science and education, research and learning process. The structure of a soviet university, and now also of a post-soviet HEI, isn’t meant for research. In 1920s, the soviet government defined that education is to take place in HEIs, while research to be conducted within a separate body, in the institutes of the National Academy of Sciences. We should eventually overcome this gap by changing structure of universities and infrastructure of research.

Eighth, Ukrainian universities need to get rid of the total control from the side of the Ministry of Science and Education by implementing university autonomy (academic, organizational and finance). We have to divide responsibilities of the Ministry of Science and Education, which is to formulate educational politics (education for high-quality human capital), and of universities, which should be responsible for quality and have full freedom in operational management to achieve a proper level of quality.

Ninth, among the university tasks we also consider innovative development of the society and economic potential of the country. There are two ways to reach his goal: high-quality human capital and up-to-date researches. Professional expertise in different fields should play an important role in resolving urgent social problems, such as corruption. So, the Ukrainian state should in future be supported by universities in all directions of its development.

Finally, an important tool for reforms, quality improvement and integration is English. Both academic community and state officials should properly master this tool. Proper competence in English is a first step away from the post-soviet self-isolation. This tool allows direct access to information about contemporary educational standards, globally recognized forms and methods of learning and teaching.

As for today, Ukraine has about 830 HEIs, including 250 universities. This number is enormous; it is far beyond of what Ukrainian economic can afford. All these HEIs are granting graduates with identical “state standard” diplomas. It is presupposed that the state guarantees equal quality of all the HEIs, which is impossible. Ukrainian industry and labour market also do not have any tools to influence forming of learning process.

From the other side, we hear calls for implementation of “market approach”, but not in terms of real competition between universities; it’s only a demand to earn money addressed to all universities. This concept of self-financing is being circulated in spite of total absence of university autonomy. The state wants to have a full control over the universities, even in terms of political preferences, being unable to finance them.

At the same time we should understand that financial inability of state in post-soviet and post-totalitarian countries is a factor which has a considerably positive influence. It makes possible the movement of Ukrainian HEIs towards autonomy and responsibility for their own quality.

The problem is that we didn’t have any conceptual reformation of higher education in Ukraine after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Most changes appeared by accident, without any special plan, or certain innovations have been implemented just at some universities. Soviet heritage has never been completely destroyed in Ukraine.

That is why we need more good academic projects of cooperation, more communication, more experience, knowledge, and skills exchange. We also need academic community and civil society in Ukraine to be more active and, of course, special attention to the task of reformation of higher education from the state as well. I believe that real reforms in Ukrainian education will take place soon.

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