Interesting times for Ukrainian higher education

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Whilst this blog has a key focus on higher education in Central Asia, it occasionally visits other post-Soviet countries to catch up with developments there. Today we’re in Ukraine, at the western edge of the former Union.

Map of Commonwealth of Independent States

Whilst Central Asian countries and Ukraine share a Soviet heritage, there are also some notable differences. For example, Ukraine’s geographical location at the western edge of the former Soviet Union thereby puts it on the eastern fringe of the current European Union. With the addition of Bulgaria and Romania to the EU in 2007, and with Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and other Eastern European countries members since 2004, this eastern fringe has become less of a fringe and more of a normality. Other than Russia, Central Asia’s key neighbour is China, with potential growth in relationships with India (and Pakistan, to a lesser extent). The EU is far less significant for Central Asian countries.

Politically, Ukraine has appeared to be more open to opposition than the Central Asian countries, as the Orange Revolution of 2004 demonstrated – though like Central Asia, the country has by no means thrown off its Communist-era bureaucracies and corruption in public service. The sum of politics and geography equates to Ukraine’s relationship with the European Union, often testy but never really moving anywhere.

The influence of the European Union is relevant for Ukrainian higher education, as many players in the sector are keen to integrate more closely with the European Higher Education Area (EHEA). However, at the start of this year, the Minister of Education and Science Dmytro Tabachnyk seemed to have made a literal about face on this European enthusiasm by returning to Russo-centrism in his draft Law on Higher Education. The draft Law was criticised in January as being ‘shaped primarily by purely technical aspects of the “Russian model”‘ (Kvit, 29 January 2012). Kvit also claims that the draft Law blocks university autonomy and by doing so, prevents alignment and integration with European (and other international) partners and organisations.

So far, so bleak for the prospect of change.

It was therefore a pleasant surprise to read of yet another volte-face for higher education. Again reported by Serhiy Kvit in University World News, an early April article notes that despite the draft law having already been shown to parliament, the prime minister Mykola Asarov “took part in a round-table discussion with representatives from the academic community, and said that he wanted them to review the draft law on higher education”.

This was totally unexpected – and made all the more enigmatic by the banning of Education Minister Tabachnyk from the meeting! The working group has taken on board more than 4,000 proposals from the wider academic community. As Kvit says, “literally everyone could participate.”

The end of this twisting and turning story has not yet been reached. Whilst the prime minister has promised that previous drafts of the new Law will be withdrawn so that a version drawn up by the working group can be considered, I think Kvit is right to reserve his optimism for now.

Will Tabachnyk claw his way back into the process (he remains Minister)? Or will prime minister Asarov, Kvit (rector of the western-facing National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy) and colleagues see their draft through parliament?

I will be watching University World News closely to find out what happens next…

References

Kvit, S., 29 January 2012, Draft higher education law is retrogressive, obstructs integration, University World News issue 206. Accessed 19 April 2012 from http://www.universityworldnews.com/article.php?story=20120124154939502.

Kvit, S., 08 April 2012, New dawn for higher education in Ukraine?, University World News issue 216. Accessed 19 April 2012 from http://www.universityworldnews.com/article.php?story=20120405132528872.

For more information about Ukraine’s higher education sector, read their 2004 report submitted as a new member to the Bologna Process (which led to the EHEA). UNESCO has also published a monograph on higher education in Ukraine (2006).

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