EU rejection and funding spark student protests

Thousands of students joined protests in the Ukrainian capital Kiev last week against a government decision not to sign a European Union integration agreement. Students are also demonstrating against ever-growing salary and scholarship arrears for lecturers and students.

Students from Kiev and other cities joined the demonstrations last Wednesday, after calling a strike.

They marched alongside activists, political figures and ordinary Ukrainians who had been out on the streets for days, angered by President Viktor Yanukovych’s backing out of signing the EU agreement at a Vilnius summit being held on Friday, and reopening of talks on closer ties with Russia.

On Thursday night EU officials were reportedly trying to salvage the agreement that would integrate Ukraine more closely with Europe.

Students vowed to continue demonstrating until the Vilnius summit, and to support popular calls for the government to sign the EU integration agreement – and they warned that the strike could continue if the agreement was not ratified.

One student told Euronews that integration was crucial for students. “We are the ones who will be living in this country. And we want to live in a European state, not some kind of Soviet Union.”

Olga Chabanyuk, head of the student union at Kyiv National Economic University – one of the country’s leading universities – said that students were also striking in Kharkov, Kremenchug, Odessa, Zaporozhye, Chernihiv, Kirovohrad and other cities.

She said all student requests to the Treasury remained unanswered, and that students were preparing another petition to Prime Minister Nikolay Azarov and were ready to go to court and to organise meetings near the government building in Kiev.

Planned reforms

Ukrainian analysts believe that dissatisfaction among both lecturers and students are not only related to current funding problems, but also to repeated failures and uncertainties regarding planned reforms to higher education.

After the recent recognition by Education Minister Dmitry Tabachnik of the country’s failure to implement the Bologna process in Ukrainian universities, the ministry has come in for heavy criticism from many higher education experts as well as opposition parties.

The ministry is considering two higher education reform proposals, one developed by opposition and the other by pro-government forces in parliament.

Under the bill developed by the opposition Batkivshchyna party, higher education in Ukraine would align with European standards, the academic structure would be reformed and university autonomy would be expanded through the delegation of powers.

Under the second reform proposed by pro-government parties, universities would continue to be highly dependent on the state, with centralised management under the Ministry of Education and Science. The government would continue to implement its policy of consolidating higher education and establishing regional public universities.