The National Agency for Higher Education Quality Assurance for Protecting Academic Integrity in Ukraine

(Speech at the 28th Annual Conference of International Center for Academic Integrity, Portland, OR, March 5-8, 2020).

The Law of Ukraine “On Higher Education” (2014) regulates the activities of the National Agency for Higher Education Quality Assurance (Agency), specifically, by Chapter V, which is entitled as “The Quality Assurance of Higher Education.”

The Agency’s mandate provides for accreditation of educational programs, thesis defense committees, independent agencies to be also involved in accreditation processes; institutional accreditation of higher education institutions (HEIs), development of university rankings, compliance with academic integrity, and other activities.

Formally, the Agency had been established in 2016, but its activity was factually blocked until February 2019. It was mainly caused by the absence of specified election procedure and list of qualifications for the members of this collective body in the Law on Higher Education. In September 2017, appropriate legislative amendments were made, which enabled the creation of an international Contest Commission. The latter selected 22 members of the Agency who were approved by the Government in early 2019.

In the sphere of the Agency’s responsibility for securing academic integrity, last year we drafted relevant regulatory acts, including the most important one – “The Procedure for the Annulment of Decisions of Specialized Academic Councils to Confer a Research Degree”. It is still undergoing the approval procedure in the Government.

We have also drafted the following acts guiding our activities: “The Academic Integrity Code of the Agency”, “The Declaration of Compliance with Academic Integrity” (for the members and staff of the Agency’s Secretariat), and “The Recommendations for Higher Education Institutions on Developing and Implementing the System of Academic Integrity Assurance in Universities.”

We consider the task to observe academic integrity as an integral part of the internal quality assurance systems in institutions of higher education. For this purpose, we have created a special list of documents entitled as “The Agency’s Recommendations for Implementation of the Internal Quality Assurance System.”

In everyday activities, our Agency relies on the principles of comprehensive university autonomy, which, in turn, demands a particular responsibility from institutions of higher education in terms of building an internal culture of quality, including compliance with academic integrity.

In other words, the Agency is working as a partner, not a controller, for Ukrainian universities, to promote the establishment and development of their academic culture, self-awareness of one’s own unique features, mission, and social role.

The above-mentioned regulatory document “The Procedure for the Annulment of Decisions of Specialized Academic Councils to Confer a Research Degree”, which can be used by the Agency to hold violators of academic integrity liable, was drafted in cooperation with national and international experts (from 12 countries). It has also been reviewed by independent international experts.

Leah Wortham, Professor Emerita of Law from the Catholic University of America, has prepared a special report “Enhancing Academic Integrity in Ukrainian Higher Education. Comments on the proposed Procedure for the Annulment of Decisions of Specialized Academic Councils to Confer a Research Degree” (USAID/Ukraine, Nov 8, 2019). She has positively assessed this policy document.

Over the past year, the Agency considered accusations of plagiarism and complaints about attitudes towards plagiarism concerning the members of the Agency itself, subject area councils or the leadership of the thesis defense committees. All those cases related to detection of plagiarism and potential organizational implications. In particular, one member of the Agency had to resign because of the plagiarism found in one of his publications.

Similarly, two members of subject area councils were fired for tolerating plagiarism. They both work as faculty deans in universities. Subject area councils are established by the Agency, and they have their own legal mandate, which is applied for accreditation of academic programs.

The principle of transparent decision-making and openness of the Agency’s activities is extremely important to us. All the decisions of the National Agency, as well as its minutes, the Committees’ decisions, regulatory documents, internal rules and requirements, the 2019 Agency’s Annual Report on the State of Higher Education in Ukraine, and many useful supporting materials can be found on the Agency website.

The consideration of accreditation files is held online during the Agency meetings, and the video-files are freely available from our web site. It is important that we completely stopped using paper documents. Since last year, all accreditation processes in Ukraine are carried out online.

Recently, the National Agency for Higher Education Quality Assurance took a decision to apply the Law of Ukraine “On Appeals by Citizens” on a temporary basis to deal with complaints about academic integrity violations. Although it does not allow us to annul the decisions of specialized councils and deprive the violators of conferred research degrees, it will allow the Agency to identify infringements on academic integrity before the government approves the above-mentioned “Procedure for the Annulment of Decisions of Specialized Academic Councils to Confer a Research Degree.”

For this purpose, in this February we started to examine some of the most high-profile cases charged with plagiarism. We believe that their consideration and detection of potential plagiarism will help to introduce zero tolerance to violations of academic integrity in the academic environment and society.

Nowadays, plagiarism is the most widespread type of academic integrity violations in Ukraine. However, it is not the only one. We can see that a higher impunity for plagiarism entails a growing number of other violations, such as ghost writing and others.

We are facing many other challenges caused with the gaps in the legislation, lack of judicial practices of dealing with academic integrity cases, the long-standing impunity of offenders, and insufficient attention to the unique academic culture of each university.

We believe that the National Agency for Higher Education Quality Assurance will play its important role in protecting academic integrity in Ukrainian academic sphere.

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