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3 February, 2011  ▪  Olha Aivazovska

Alma Pater

The draft law on education actively promoted by the government will make colleges and universities completely dependent on the Education Ministry

The great wash. If students’ traditions need to be approved by the Ministry of Education, the Kyiv Mohyla Academy students are more likely to stand guard by a Lenin monument rather than wash the one to Skovoroda.

In late 2010, a group of seven MPs (six from the Party of Regions and one from the BYuT) drafted bill no. 7486-1 which stands every chance of going through parliament. MPs have already shown that they have the political will to pass the bill. On 12 January 2011, a meeting of a specialized VR committee on education and science was scheduled to consider the document and decide whether it should be endorsed. However, there was no quorum on the day of the vote, so the consideration was rescheduled to 13 January. However, not enough MPs showed up on this day, either, so the committee announced a break and never came to talk to the journalists.

It later turned out that the meeting did take place and recommended rejecting the bill (sponsored by Yurii Miroshnyshenko) to amend the Law of Ukraine “On Higher Education” and instead endorsed another one which was submitted by the seven MPs. This decision was passed by the committee that included two authors of the bill: Maksym Lutsky, first deputy head of the committee, and secretary Kateryna Samoilyk. (Committee chief Volodymyr Polokhalo is on a sick leave following a stroke.)

MP Lesia Orobets, another committee member, filed a request to Verkhovna Rada Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn, asking him to react to the falsifications at the committee’s meeting on 13 January. The ball is now in Mr. Lytvyn’s court. The procedural and ethics committee will also have to step in. However, this request and its review are no obstacle to the bill as it moves through parliament. Therefore, it may be put to vote during the next week when the parliament is in session, i.e., in early February. Some experts note that the vote may mark a symbolic ending to the education “reform.” In her words, the bill may be rushed through the first and second reading and then adopted as a whole, according to the latest legislative fashion.

Autonomy through total control

The sponsors of the education bill emphasized that universities and colleges will be given real, rather than imaginary, autonomy, but “certain limiting oversight and administrative influence on the part of the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine will exist.” However, an analysis of the bill suggests that it does not offer any room for real autonomy — a number of its norms impose restrictions on the rights enjoyed by higher education institutions. In particular, this pertains to the election of the rector (president or principal). If the existing formulation of the law remains unchanged, the Education Ministry or some other central government body that has authority over a particular education institution will organize these kinds of elections. This body will also give appointment approval and dismiss top education managers. The election procedure is set forth in a fairly detailed fashion, but the scandal surrounding the election in Donetsk national University showed that the result can be manipulated despite the opinion of the university staff.

The bill proposes an innovative regulation that limits the number of successive terms in office that top administrators may have. For example, a person has the right to run for the top university office two times at the most and hold it for 10 years (or 14 years in the case of institutions with the status of a national university). Strangely, this norm applies to all education institutions regardless of their ownership type: even a private university cannot be run by an efficient manager for a longer term than prescribed by law, which effectively limits the rights of its owner.

Equally strange are the norms regarding strict control over the content of education services. A specially authorized central government body, i.e., a particular ministry, develops on its own and approves educational, vocational and scholarly curricula for each academic specialty. Therefore, this body will decide on the continent of what is taught, delivery sequence, the required knowledge and skills, textbooks and other teaching materials, as well as the criteria for final evaluation. This approach duplicates the strictly unified Soviet system of education.

Also surprising is the suggested approach to the classification of higher education institutions, which fall, under the bill, into the following categories: university (classic or specialized), academy, college, and professional college. What is chosen as the classification criterion is the number of students studying at a particular institution. If Harvard University, which for a long time topped the most respectable world ratings (it sank to no. 2 in the QS rating in 2010), had to comply with this rule, it would not be considered a classic university. The bill demands having 10,000 students, while Harvard has a mere 6,700. Never mind that it also has 2,100 faculty and over 10,000 graduate students and that its library is the fourth largest library in the world with 16.2 million items.

Where did the focus on students go?

Students are unlikely to welcome the fact that new bill permits raising tuition on an annual basis, in particular making adjustments for inflation. Therefore, parents need to count with the possibility that the disparity between first-year and last-year tuition may be as large as the difference between fuel prices in 2005 and 2010 (2.5 times).

Certain categories of applicants (those who have privileges under other legislative acts) are again given an advantage over their peers during the admission procedure. This bias narrows the rights of those who are not members of low-level social groups and have sufficient financial provision and live in territories not affected by the Chornobyl disaster. Instead of forcing the state to make  high-quality education available to these population groups and offer interest-free student loans to those who underperform academically, the bill again restricts the rights of talented, but ordinary, young people and favors others. The bill does not include any progressive norms demanded by the Ukrainian society for three years running since the problem of admission privileges gained prominence.

The higher education admission system proposed by the bill is also designed with a trick. On the one hand, independent external testing will for the first time be legislatively fixed as a mandatory academic evaluation tool for high-school graduates. On the other hand, the document does not mention the Ukrainian Education Quality Evaluation Center, and the center is not one of the specially authorized central government bodies, such as the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine. Therefore, the dismissal of Ihor Likarchuk, head of this center, without any explanation from the Cabinet of Ministers which came just before Christmas time should not be surprising. He was replaced in office by Iryna Zaitseva, one-time deputy to Education Minister Dmytro Tabachnyk and a fierce promoter of Russian. This move points to the ministry’s attempt to get the center under its control and possibly fix this status quo in legislation. This is despite the center’s mission to evaluate not only high-school graduates’ academic proficiency, but also the quality of instruction in schools. The center’s dependence on the ministry makes it nonsensical to speak about this kind of monitoring.

The Conception of Linguistic Education: outrage to the scholarly elite and thrill to provincials

Convoluted and bogus are the two words that best describe the impression one gets from the Conception of Linguistic Education in Ukraine presented in late December 2010 by the Education Ministry.

This document enables wide-ranging linguistic manipulations. For example, the conception does not provide definitions for such key terms as “state language,” “native language,” “foreign language,” “minority language,” and so on. At the same time, the status of Russian, just like in Soviet times, is elevated to that of a language of international communication rather than a minority language. Meanwhile, the importance of Ukrainian is noticeably reduced. According to the Conception, students will be able to choose the language of instruction, so education received in the state language is no longer a priority for the ministry.

Scholars seriously question the expertise level of those who drafted the Conception. Indeed, the working group tasked with drawing up the document includes faculty from lesser-known institutions, such as the Crimean Republican Institute of Advanced Teacher Training, the South Ukrainian Regional Institute of Advanced Teacher Training, etc. In the opinion of these “specialists,” 67 percent of Ukrainian citizens speak Russian everyday.

At the same time, professors representing such universities as Kyiv Mohyla Academy, Karpenko-Kary University (in particular Viacheslav Briukhovetsky and Vadym Skurativsky), and Lviv University say: “If it [the Conception] is adopted, it will wreak havoc in the system of education, hamper its development, and provoke further division of the Ukrainian society along the linguistic-cultural lines.” However, the ministry is unlikely to lend an ear to the advice of the academic elite, because the deadline for accepting comments expired on 20 January.

STUDENTS REACT

Youth organizations plan to hold a protest rally on 31 January in front of the building that houses VR committees and demand that the education bill be voted down.

Participating in the protest will be the Vidsich civic movement, the Foundation for Regional Initiative, the Priama diia Independent Student Union, the Student Board and Student Brotherhood of Kyiv Mohyla Academy, etc.

 

 

 


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