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UKRAINE
A new phase in the battle for higher education
At least three events that could influence the future of higher education have taken place recently in Ukraine. This influence could not only lead to a change in how the sector develops but also, quite possibly, will speed up its post-Soviet demise.

Elections to the Ukrainian parliament, held in October 2012, strengthened opposition forces – though they are still in the minority and unable to push through important decisions.

Just before the New Year, cabinet approved the Draft Law on Higher Education mentioned in previous blogs. Nevertheless, its implementation is not a fait accompli, given the competing views of government and opposition members. However, both Draft Laws - the one from the parliamentary opposition and that from the working group - have a common conceptual basis.

After the elections, the cabinet resigned en masse. In the new cabinet, the post of minister of education and science, youth and sports went again to Dmytro Tabachnyk. He immediately attempted to change the Draft Law developed by a working group headed by Mykhailo Zhurovsky.

The new government's policy on higher education remains very unclear. That is why the working group filed the Draft Law to parliament with the support of independent MP Victor Baloha.

This is Dmytro Tabachnyk’s second appointment to the post of minister of education and science, which he has held since 2010, and was not unexpected inside Ukraine.

But it’s not easy to follow the logic if you are looking at the situation from the outside. The post was given back to a person who has made a large contribution to the decline of Ukraine’s education and science system.

Now the minister is using every possible opportunity to discredit the Draft Law on Higher Education, as well as to oppose European integration in general.

The principles of university autonomy, embedded in the document, go against the minister’s attempts to control the administration of higher education institutions – which would in turn prevent any improvement in their academic quality and competitiveness.

Tabachnyk also continues with his imperial ravings and promotes the ideology of a ‘Russian World’, which in my view verges on racism with its thesis about the importance of ‘friendship’ with a ‘brotherhood’ of Russian people.

This could result in Ukraine forfeiting some of its cultural, economic and political independence. Examples include attempts to rewrite Ukrainian history in order to present it as just a part of Russian history, and the repression of the Ukrainian language.

Tabachnyk remains in power despite public corruption scandals linked to the publication of school textbooks, the purchase of unsafe school buses, and the non-transparent distribution of public funds, among other things.

Meanwhile, the government continues to divide Ukrainian citizens, primarily on grounds of their regions and languages, in order to distract public attention from Ukraine's pressing economic and social problems.

New threats

The public is worried about the fact that the original version of the Draft Law was hastily prepared and registered in the Parliament by three rectors who are members of the Party of Regions, and is not the Draft Law proposed by the working group during 2012.

According to Yegor Stadny, the rectors' Draft Law is in the same format as the document from Mykhailo Zhurovsky’s working group, but the content is fundamentally different. The rectors' Draft Law proposes stronger centralisation of administrative and academic management, both at the ministerial and rector levels.

Under its auspices, university lecturers, staff and students would be deprived of any ability to influence important decision-making. Any possibility of integration with European higher education would be snuffed out and new avenues for corruption would open up.

It seems a clear attempt to continue Tabachnyk's policy of isolation and authoritarianism, which he first unveiled in March 2010.

New protests, but old struggle for autonomy

Protesting against Dmytro Tabachnyk’s appointment to the position of minister in 2010 and defending its own autonomy, the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy (KMA) applied for support from the academic community and received numerous official documents from its Ukrainian and foreign partners.

It’s worth mentioning that the European University Association, of which KMA is a member, ignored our appeals and did not adopt any position on Tabachnyk’s policies.

At the beginning of Tabachnyk’s new term, the KMA launched a new lawsuit against the Ministry of Education and Science regarding admissions to its crossover masters degree programmes.

The academy introduced cross-over masters level courses in 1996, two years before any other Ukrainian university. Since 1998, Ukrainian students have not been able to take a masters programme in any subject other than what they studied at undergraduate level, even though cross-over masters study happens in other countries and the Ukrainian policy contravenes higher education legislation.

In Ukraine, a graduate with a bachelor degree in physics can only enrol in a masters in physics; a historian can only take a masters in history; a financier is not allowed to enter a programme on economic theory; and a cultural specialist cannot take a masters in philosophy.

This absurd approach contradicts the policy of mobility and interdisciplinarity in the European Higher Education Area and even in Russia, and affects the educational process and the quality of higher education in Ukraine.

During the past two and a half years, Tabachnyk has been trying to prohibit the KMA from using English as a second working language and has been trying to curb the academy's autonomy by changing its statute.

Today KMA and other Ukrainian higher education institutions cannot adapt their admissions criteria to allow in students who do not have the standard list of qualifications, in violation of their institutional autonomy. Universities know better what certificates and how many of them should be required from applicants.

What will the new higher education law be?

The farce of Tabachnyk’s re-appointment as minister will inevitably result in the further decline of higher education in Ukraine, and the discrediting of achievements of the academic community and public on independent admissions testing and the Draft Law on Higher Education prepared by Zhurovsky’s working group.

The KMA sees the Ministry of Education and Science’s prohibition of cross-over admissions to its masters programmes as an attack on the system of liberal arts education functioning in KMA and on students' ability to shape their own path of studies. This system lies at the very heart of education quality at the academy.

Instead of learning and implementing policies based on successful foreign and domestic experience, Tabachnyk continues to support self-isolating policies by promoting a standardised approach to higher education in Ukraine.

Our lawsuit intends to protect public and state interests, promote the integration of Ukrainian higher education in Europe and improve the quality and international competitiveness of Ukrainian universities.

The struggle for a new higher education law in Ukraine is entering a new phase. We are now waiting for responses from academia, the media, expert communities, politicians and representatives of non-government organisations.

* Serhiy Kvit, a prominent commentator on educational issues, has been rector of the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy since 2007. From 2002-07 he was dean of the social studies faculty. He founded the Kyiv-Mohyla school of journalism in 2001 and became president of the Media Reform Centre set up to initiate open debate and promote more transparent media and government. He served as chair of the Consortium on University Autonomy from 2005-10. Kvit has published several books and numerous articles. He has a PhD from the Ukrainian Free University in Munich and also holds a doctorate in philology. He was the recipient of a Fulbright scholarship to Ohio University in the US, a Kennan Institute scholarship at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC, and a DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) scholarship at the University of Cologne.
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