Why the Education Ministry fell out with the Kyiv Polytechnical Institute
Education Minister Dmytro Tabachnyk has failed to find common ground with another leading Ukrainian university. After he locked horns with Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, it was time for Ukraine’s biggest university – the national technical university “Kyiv Polytechnical Institute” (KPI). This conflict may raise a few eyebrows, because Mykhailo Zghurovsky, the invariable rector of KPI since 1991, supported Tabachnyk in every way. But a closer look reveals that the bone of contention is tens of millions of dollars that circulate “in the shadow” of the KPI campus bypassing the pockets of the ministry’s clerks.
To an observer, the situation may seem nothing short of romantic: students and teachers stood up in defense of their beloved rector whom the odious minister was trying to “devour.” But law is law: Zghurovsky’s seven-year term in office came to an end, and an election now has to take place. But this is where the Education Ministry has interfered and is playing for time, stubbornly rejecting the university staff’s request to set the election date before Zghurovsky’s term expires. Students and faculty are demanding a “fair election” and threatening to shut out an “outsider” if one is appointed as acting rector and to organize a Battle of Stalingrad for Tabachnyk. If their demands are not met, they intend to strike indefinitely.
Tabachnyk met KPI representatives on October 27. The meeting resulted in a “verbal truce”, with the minister appointing Zghurovsky acting rector. Moreover, the ministry gave him a 50-percent bonus to his salary for performing his “complicated, demanding job” and another 50-percent bonus for his “high achievements.”
The victorious façade is misleading in that it conceals many suspicious details. A year ago, both the KPI student council and Zghurovsky personally were adamantly opposed to the idea of protests calling for Tabachnyk to resign. Some youth have told The Ukrainian Week on condition of anonymity that students were threatened with expulsion from university if they participated in the protests. Meanwhile, the KPI administration persistently supported both the candidacy and the policy of the current Education Minister. This unabashed manifestation of loyalty did not go unnoticed. The 2011 state budget – as always, in a separate line for “special-purpose financing” – allotted UAH 546 million to KPI, which is more than any other Ukrainian university received. In this light, the abrupt demarche on the part of the KPI administration can only be explained by the fact that not only the rector’s office but also the entire system of financial and administrative relationships, which has taken shape over Zghurovsky’s decade-long reign, is at stake.
The KPI has a large campus covering 160 hectares of land near downtown Kyiv. The campus has its own laws and rules, its own financial provision and population. The rector can control all of this and has unlimited financial and political leverage with nearly 50,000 students and over 2,500 faculty.
Students say that not all of those who now support Zghurovsky are doing so voluntarily, adding that the student trade union is one of the main centers of this activity. However, the union’s claims that it expresses the opinion of the majority of students are not too convincing, especially considering the way this “self-government” body is elected. Its head is elected at a meeting of senior students (one representative from each academic group) and more often than not only one candidate is nominated after he or she has been approved by the rector’s office – just like in Soviet times. This “democracy” results in a situation when few students know their trade union leaders. Of 20 students polled by The Ukrainian Week at the KPI campus only two knew the name of their trade union chief.
One KPI administrator who spoke on condition of anonymity said that the original cause of the conflict is that the Education Ministry wants to have control over the university’s financial flows which is worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $50-80 million. This is not to mention its legal UAH 500-million slice of the budget pie. But, “Zghurovsky doesn’t want to share!” our source said.
One of the most sensitive issues is leasing facilities and lands owned by the university. More exactly, the question is where the revenues end up. There are 100-150 small canteens, coffee shops and kiosks scattered across the KPI campus, but there is no openly accessible information about how much or whom their owners pay for the right to do business there.
Furthermore, the university has its own Internet provider, KPI-Telecom, which has a monopoly on landline connections. The minimum monthly package costs UAH 50. Nearly 20,000 students live in dorms, and most of them have internet access. This amounts to UAH 250,000 a month and UAH 3 million a year. As for the dorms themselves, the fees are high, and it is not altogether clear what the money is spent on. According to our sources, KPI dorms charge a UAH 300 a month housing fee. Multiply this by 20,000, and you will get UAH 6 million a month and UAH 72 million a year.
A SHADOW EMPIRE
Unlike other rectors of leading Ukrainian universities, Zghurovsky is not a public figure. He keeps a low profile and tries to stay away from politics. This may be the thing that has helped him survive three presidents of Ukraine and countless ministers of education. The public at large received a glimpse of his finances only once in 2009 when he was considered for the office of deputy prime minister in one of Yulia Tymoshenko’s governments. According to his published income declaration, he earned approximately UAH 2.5 million in 2008 and had nearly UAH 8 million on his accounts, including stocks. He and his family declared owing a house in the countryside, two apartments, a garage, a 2,000-square-meter plot of land and four cars (a Jaguar, Land Rover, Mitsubishi and Mercedes). Moreover, according to our sources, Zghurovsky is a co-founder in 15 privately-owned companies, institutes and public associations. In particular, he is behind a number of private “artistic, R&D and cultural-educational” public associations. He has also been involved in establishing a series of privately owned education institutions and associations which, according to their statutes, “train and enhance the expertise of educators and other employees” using KPI facilities. Most of these businesses operated within the framework of a foundation active in the KPI’s territory – the Kyiv Polytechnical Technopark, established in 2006. The Law “On the Kyiv Polytechnical Technopolis” envisioned establishing a Ukrainian “Silicon Valley” at KPI, i.e., a preferential zone for scientific and commercial activity in which its participants would be exempt from paying a lease, land and import taxes and so on. The technopark currently involves an estimated 55 organizations of different types of ownership.
Zghurovsky is also linked to the Research Institute for Applied Information Technology, a closed joint-stock company that develops and sells software. It is a monopolist on the market of education-related documents such as university and high-school diplomas and school and university student IDs. The company owns a comprehensive database with names of all Ukrainian students and the types of documents they have been issued. It possesses information of national value for which nearly UAH 30 million of budget money is allotted every year. The entire market for printed education-related documents in Ukraine is worth up to UAH 70 million a year.
One of the cornerstones of the recent conflict may be the struggle for the monopoly over this market. In 2011, Tabachnyk and his subordinates have successfully lobbied for Cabinet of Ministers resolution No. 752 under which one unified national electronic database will be set up for the education sector. All the information about students and their diplomas and IDs will have to be moved to it. In light of this, the contention appears to be an argument over money.