Ukrainian universities see surge in PhD applications

Academics debate whether spike in interest is down to draft dodging or career reckonings prompted by upheaval

八月 19, 2022
Ukraine map
Source: iStock

Applications for doctoral study have surged in Ukraine as its war with Russia drags on, prompting some concerns about whether the quality of students could slip.

“Nationally, we’re seeing a rise in PhD applicants this year,” said Mychailo Wynnyckyj, director of the doctoral school at the Kyiv-Mohyla Business School.

The National Aerospace University in Kharkiv, a city targeted daily by Russian bombs, has received three times the PhD applications it had at this time last year, Dmytro Chumachenko, an associate professor in its computer sciences department, told Times Higher Education.

He worried that a desire to avoid military conscription could be behind the rise. “I think it’s connected with mobilisation – if you’re a PhD student, they cannot take you to war. People may be thinking it’s a good time for a PhD,” he said.

Igor Lyman, a history professor at Berdyansk State Pedagogical University and head of the expert council at the National Agency for Higher Education Quality Assurance, observed a similar phenomenon at his institution, which is in occupied territory along the Sea of Azov. He too was concerned about students applying for reasons other than love of a subject.

Despite fewer fully funded PhD positions, there are “much more people who want to study”, he noted, adding “most of them are men”.

Although he suspected that some applicants might be trying to avoid military service, he said all the ones he knew of were “motivated and really plan to write and defend dissertations – not just to spend time avoiding [the] army”.

Dr Wynnyckyj was more sceptical that increased interest was down to draft dodging. Instead, he suspected that war has prompted a career reckoning for many people.

“I have two PhD students that have applied to Kyiv-Mohyla and specifically asked for me as an adviser – both those are mature students in their mid-thirties,” he said.

While the war seems to be boosting interest in PhDs, it is also changing the map for undergraduate applications, said Dr Wynnyckyj.

Figures show that these have stayed “pretty flat” in the capital, Kyiv, but have been “higher than normal” in the western part of the country. He said this was “understandable” given the damage suffered by eastern universities since Russia’s attack on Ukraine and the large numbers of internally displaced people.

Meanwhile, interest has plummeted in some eastern institutions. Last year, Dr Chumachenko’s university received about 150 applications for undergraduate study – this year, just nine were submitted.

Still, academics were reluctant to make predictions about autumn enrolment.

“They say the casualty of war is truth, but the casualty of war is planning,” said Dr Wynnyckyj. “We live in a short-term environment right now…Things could change by September. We could have a rocket attack.”



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