How Reforming Higher Education in Ukraine will Benefit Science

(Speech at the American Association for the Advancement of Science 2015 Annual Meeting, February 14, San Jose)

Once in a while Ukraine breaks into the global information space with various dramatic events: at first with the accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant (1986), then the Orange Revolution (2004-2005) and the Euromaidan (2013-2014). Having no problem with arranging the truly grand revolutions, the Ukrainian people experience certain difficulties in implementing the projects for which these revolutions are conducted. This remark also applies to reform of the higher education. 

I will provide you with some statistics for illustrative purposes. Ukraine’s education has been ranked 42nd in the Ranking of Higher Education Systems 2014. According to the 2013 World Economic Forum, Ukraine ranks 10th on the percentage of its population with higher education, 28th in the quality of math and hard science education, 46th place in the presence of scientific and engineering personnel and 69th on the quality of its research institutions.

In 2000, public spending on education in total accounted for 4,2% of GDP, on higher education – 1,3%. In 2010 – 7,4% and 2,3% respectively. In 2013 – 7,3% and 2,1%. «Ukraine shows a constantly high level of public spending  on education (with a tendency to further increase) that is in line with best world standards. It is a pity that Ukraine’s GDP is low, which does not allow it to reach a level of educational funding that could ensure its sustainable development».[1] Private investments in education, and particularly in higher education, are quite low, since national legislation is extremely discouraging in this respect.

In Ukraine the average annual cost of higher education for one person is low: 1.5 thousand USD. Poland spends a bit more: 2.8. Accordingly, Japan: 9.8; UK: 10.1; USA: 11.1. This can be explained by low level of income and scarce funding of the laboratory facilities in Ukraine.

Education in Ukraine has ceased to be the social elevator. Only 18% of graduates of Ukrainian higher educational institutions are satisfied with their salary, and 31% are generally satisfied with their job. Meanwhile, 67% of graduates had to retrain; for 43% it is difficult to find a job; 38% are dissatisfied with the salary; 27% complain about a lack of perspectives; 23% stated the loss of motivation[2].

An unefficiency and lack of self-sufficiency of Ukrainian state with its rampant corruption was glaring during the post-soviet times. Glimmers of hope for change of priorities in economy and society development emerged after the Orange Revolution and Euromaidan only.

Only the growth rate of Ukrainian IT industry with its’ educational and research component is not declining, despite the economic crisis and war. «Ukraine’s IT industry, over $5 billion in value, has over 500 outsourcing companies, over 100 global R&D centers, over 100 e-commerce companies and more than 2000 startups. More than 50,000 engineers are employed by the Ukrainian IT firms».[3] It would be more correctly to say that global R&D centers have a deal with Ukraine involving IT specialists, establishing labs, collaborating with universities.

Before the adoption of the new Law “On Higher Education” in Ukraine in 2014, over 800 institutions were listed as higher educational establishments. The vast majority of them do not conduct any scientific research. As of the end of this academic year their number may go down to less than 300, with a simultaneous widening of the university autonomy and improvements in institutional quality. At last we have a tool for the reformation of Ukrainian universities.

There is a direct link between the quality of universities and scientific research levels. However, in Ukraine we have yet to overcome the Soviet attitude to universities as only educational institutions, where someone is teaching something to someone. Scientific research is not a part of the education process in Ukraine yet. According to a still in force Soviet concept, implemented in the 1920s, scientific research is supposed to take place not in the universities, but in the institutes belonging to the National Academy of Sciences.

It is the largest research organization in Europe, employing about 40 thousand people.  However, the annual scientific product of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine equals to results of a single medium size European university. This can be explained by lack of funding, as well as the undeclared Russian-Ukrainian war.

In 2012 Ukraine occupied 40th place in the world for publications and 42 place for citation. [4] According to the Web of Science, [5] growth number of publications Ukrainian scientists as follows:

country 1992 2000 2008 2012
Ukraine 5105 5220 6531 6317
Poland 6340 12941 25336 29750
Romania 912 2780 9544 12371
Turkey 1748 6984 25339 32964
Russia 33462 32681 33766 34406

At the beginning of independence, Ukraine has clearly outstripped productivity and by citation index Romania, Turkey, South Korea and dozens of other major countries. Moreover, it appears that 20 years ago the success scientists Romania and Turkey were insignificant compared to ours. And now Ukraine produces nearly five times fewer scientific papers than Poland and Turkey, and almost two times smaller than Romania. Countries like Iran, South Africa, Argentina also been successfully ahead of Ukraine.

Russia’s indicators evidence that the preservation of the Soviet model of science also have not bring something good except stagnation. Therefore, Putin made what he is able to do. He has subdued the academic research system to state bureaucracy.

The recent trends show that Ukraine has on avarage over 6000 publications in international peer-reviewd journals per year. However, compared to US, Germany or France, where the cost of one such publication is about 1 million dollars, in Ukraine it is worth about 50 thousand USD. This depicts a dedication and intensity of research activities of Ukrainian researchers, their organizational capacity during a research process in extremely adverse conditions.

The state cannot fund scientific research at the appropriate level, while legislative encouragement of fundraising is practically not existent. We also are witnessing certain increase of participation of Ukrainian universities and research institutions in international grant projects. However, it is not only about funds. We should talk about reform of Ukrainian universities and scientific research infrastructure.

Today, we have a situation when the majority of university students are not able to access the labs of the National Academy of Sciences during their studies. At the same time, the average age of Doctors of Science who work in this system is around 65 years, and the proportion of young scientists does not exceed 15%.[6] There is the need for the integration of science and higher education by determining scientometric indicators as main criteria of quality of universities and specialized research institutions.

Otherwise, the Ukrainian universities will never become competitive in the global arena. The mutual integration can take place in several ways: via financing of research on the basis of grants, when proposals are jointly provided by universities and National Academy of Sciences institutes; structural amalgamation of universities and academic research institutions; opening of joint Master and PhD programs, as well as development of laboratory facilities in Ukrainian universities.

Higher education is not yet perceived in close connection with research. This thinking should be changed immediately. The task of integration of Ukrainian higher education and scientific research into global competition and cooperation, cross-disciplinary character, increase of professional standards requires the understanding of some important issues, which also arise as challenges for the Government of Ukraine. All of them can boil down to one thing: there is no understanding in the modern Ukraine that education should be regarded not as expenditures but investment to the future of national economy, society and state.

Therefore, the particular role of university comes to the fore. It is a university that defines social changes, and development of scientific research. Ukraine has to implement a project of autonomous university with active and demanding academic community, which has no place for corruption. This is also a platform for free exchange of thoughts. Hence, universities in Ukraine are given a role as the media.

Universities have to be focused on quality of education, teaching and research. The University should aim at restoring human capital, developing society, knowledge and innovating economy. These are places where we should cherish critical and alternative thinking, where different views on society and the world can co-exist. So, what kind of universities should we build? Modern, or postmodern ones? Leftist ones, or ones that produce the rules and structures of society?

Ukraine needs fluid universities: universities that institutialize freedom of speech, research and thought; universities that draw attention to important social and scientific issues and come up with adequate solutions. Therefore, we regard the establishment of quality, self-regulated and responsible Ukrainian universities, which will be competitive in global scope, as the main objective of the higher education reform.

The state should place all decision-making burdens on the university itself. Each university has to invent its own unique character and turn it into the brand. Unfortunately, there is yet little understanding of such a meaning of university as an institution, as well as little recognition of the enormous role of national fundamental and applied research.

After all, the viability of a modern state depends on the ability to make discoveries and produce knowledge of new quality, no matter how speculative this claim still sounds in Ukraine.

[1] Monitoring of Integration of the Ukrainian Higher Education System into the European Higher Education and Scientific Research Area. – International Foundation for Education Policy Research, edited by Taras Finikov and Oleg Sharov. – Kyiv, 2014. – P. 20-21.

[2] Education development in Ukraine as a pledge of the national economy development. October 2014 // Ukrainian Association for Innovation Development:

[3] Bozhena Sheremeta. Ukraine’s IT industry makes progress in 2014 despite war // Kyiv Post, Dec. 27, 2014.

[4] Raj Kumar Pan, Kimmo Kaski, and Santo Fortunato. World citation and collaboration networks: uncovering the role of geography in science // Nature. – 17 Dec. 2012. – P. 13-14.

[6] Vice President of the National Academy of Sciences Anton Naumets about the age composition of Ukrainian researches // Ukrainian National News:

Опубліковано у Університет. Додати до закладок постійне посилання.