Admissions weaknesses highlight system failings
Current admissions campaign
Traditionally, the Opora ['Reliance'] Public Network follows the admissions campaign. This year its activists inspected the work of admissions committees in 40 higher education institutions. More than 1,500 applicants from different regions of Ukraine called the Opora hotline service with questions and complaints.
According to Opora, the state electronic database used for admissions worked better this year than last year. Due to this, admissions committees were able to access applications easily. Applicants also did not have problems sending electronic applications to universities.
The work of admissions committees is highly centralised. This has some advantages. But we need to understand the strategy of the Ministry of Education and Science.
Ukraine continues to centralise all higher education operations, without focusing on the quality and competence of individual universities. The ministry wants to force universities to work accountably and transparently by transforming them into passive operators.
In fact, the ministry is intent on making all – even minor – administrative decisions for universities. Therefore, any success related to greater centralisation is considered an achievement.
Opora considers the distribution of budget funds for training specialists among universities to lack transparency, and says it is not well organised.
The Ministry of Education and Science takes responsibility for this distribution of funds, along with ministries that have their own sector-based higher education institutions: the ministries of public health, defence, agricultural politics, internal affairs, culture and others.
Although the state electronic database functions openly, information on funding distribution among state universities is a national secret.
Various abuses by university admissions committees, as well as improprieties in the work of the Ministry of Education and Science, also occurred this year. For instance, some of the regulations issued by the ministry confused universities and applicants alike.
Non-transparent distribution of funds
The Centre for Social Research published the results of an investigation into the distribution of funds among Ukrainian higher education institutions this year. In general, taking into account the inflation index, spending on education by the state decreases every year. This year total expenses amounted to UAH20.3 billion (US$2.6 billion).
The state is going to provide 104,000 grants for full-time bachelor students in 2013. In its resolution, the ministry planned further decreases for the following years: 99,000 grants in 2014 and 97,000 in 2015.
This year, the number of student grants funded by the state was cut in most sectors: by 4.46% in engineering, 5.54% in social sciences, 3.27% in the humanities and 4.24% in teaching. Only IT saw a significant increase – 3.67% – and there was a 1.09% increase in agriculture.
The ministry shields from the public eye information about the allocation of funds among universities despite a court order to publish the information on its website. Last year, as part of a case brought by Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, the court obliged the ministry to make public all materials on the distribution of funds for student grants among universities. This has not been done.
The only source of information on funding is the online system Konkurs ('Competition'), where institutions have to submit information on the number of student grants funded by the state that are available to their applicants. It is worth mentioning that a special Law on Forming and Placing State Orders (grant funding) in Training, Upskilling and Retraining of Professionals, Academicians, Teachers and Workers was enacted last year.
The ministry published a list of “competition requirements” for universities, saying this would make the process “open and transparent”. A special competition committee was established. Nevertheless, experts from the Centre for Social Research say there is a lack of common principles and even simple logic in university financing.
At a time when state funding of practically all higher education institutions has decreased, some universities – including those not in the top 10 of university rankings – unexpectedly received increased financing. For instance, the National University of Dnipropetrovsk had a 16% rise in student grants from the state budget compared to the previous year.
In particular, some institutions got 43% more state orders (grants) for law students, 25% more for journalism and 66% more for international economics. Meanwhile, financing of the same bachelor programmes in universities recognised as national leaders was cut.
Experts from the Centre for Social Research emphasised the need to introduce new, alternative models of financing, which would be transparent, easily understandable and related to a strategic vision for higher education development in Ukraine.
This year, 2,172,000 applications were received from 695,700 applicants. According to the Centre for Education Monitoring, a peculiarity of this year's campaign was that some institutions received only a few applications – indeed, some got only one.
This is quite predictable, taking into account the excessive number of institutions in Ukraine – around 820. As in the past three years, the admissions campaign in 2013 was restricted by various ‘directions from the ministry’.
Due to the current demographic decline, anyone whose goal is just getting a diploma, instead of obtaining a good education, can become a student. This year around 300,000 applicants took part in an External Independent Evaluation for which 310,000 state grants were available, which means the state grants exceeded the number of applicants.
There is a notable increase in interest among bachelor and masters programme applicants in applying to foreign universities. The institutions most actively promoted in Ukraine are Polish.
In general, interest in Ukrainian masters programmes has decreased. This can be explained by the lack of substantive reforms and the falling quality of the higher education system.
A public movement under the motto "Against falling quality in higher education" was established in 2010. During this year’s admissions round, the most lively activist group was the Vidsich [Rebuff'] Public Movement.
Its activists agitated against the pro-Soviet, authoritarian Draft Law on higher education drawn up by three rectors who are members of the Party of Regions, supported by the Ministry of Education and Science. They also promoted external independent evaluation.
Experts believe the Draft Law could damage the quality of higher education and encourage greater corruption. Vidsich combined these concerns with support for Ukraine’s association with the European Union and protests against it joining the Customs Union with Russia. They held demonstrations near universities and circulated campaign materials.
Arrest of a rector
In July Petro Melnyk, rector of the National Academy of Taxes, was caught red-handed taking bribes to guarantee two applicants admission to the academy. The case did not cause any ripples in Ukraine. Experts merely considered it as evidence that the situation in higher education has not changed due to a lack of reforms.
This state of affairs causes general depression, as nobody believes that it is just a one-off event. Petro Melnyk lost his position as rector and was under house arrest, although he has been spotted outside his home. According to the media, he was a victim of political score-settling. Otherwise, his ‘business’ would have kept going with impunity.
On 8 August Petro Melnyk escaped from his house and the Ukrainian police are looking for him – just as the Ukrainian people are looking at the actions of the government regarding reforming the higher education system.
* 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.