Inna Sovsun: Ukraine's youngest minister plans academy shake-up

Minister keen to reform archaic system, including consolidation of institutions, end to two-track admissions

July 10, 2014

“It’s a bit embarrassing when staff in shops ask if I want the student discount,” says Inna Sovsun, the 29-year-old Ukrainian first deputy minister for education and science.

Sovsun – who could easily pass for a graduate student – is Ukraine’s youngest minister ever. She was a shock appointment after the fall of Viktor Yanukovych’s government in February.

She was a politics lecturer at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy when Serhiy Kvit, her rector, took over the country’s education ministry. He asked her to become his second-in-command.

Lack of political experience has not held her back. At the end of their first 100 days in office, Kvit and Sovsun published a comprehensive plan of action and helped to secure passage of a new higher education law (the first since 2002) on 1 July.

In an interview with Times Higher Education, Sovsun says she is keen to go further to reform Ukraine’s archaic higher education system.

One big priority is promoting research in universities rather than Soviet-style national research centres.

“Only 6 to 7 per cent of research funding goes to universities,” she says. “The government spends 0.29 per cent of gross domestic product on research. That is very little for a country that should have a strong research-driven agenda.”

Ukraine’s research centres are “very conservative” and resistant to change, which stifles innovation and creativity, Sovsun says.

“The president of the National Academy of Sciences has held that position since 1962. He is a very well-known researcher, but he is 95 years old.”

There are similar examples of those in power holding on for too long thanks to their contacts and alliances rather than their suitability for the post, Sovsun continues.

“Someone who is 65 years old would be considered young,” she says of the academy.

Other radical plans envisaged by Sovsun include merging or closing many of Ukraine’s 365 public higher education institutions – far too many for a population of 46 million, she thinks. “Some have only 500 students and 30 academics. You can’t have a university with these numbers.”

She is also keen to end Ukraine’s “two-track” university system, which allows applicants denied a publicly funded place on a course to fund their own studies on that same programme. Because universities rely on these paying students for funds, entry requirements are often dropped to accommodate them, and almost no students fail, she says.

“You also get too many lawyers because students would rather pay to study law than do chemistry where there are [publicly funded] spaces available,” she says.

Sovsun also has the small matter of helping universities affected by the Russian-backed insurgency on Ukraine’s eastern border.

“Some university buildings have been captured by terrorists, so universities in some cities have been shut down,” she says. “Laboratories have been destroyed, and some vice-chancellors have fled because their families have been threatened.

“Students are also running away from the area because they are afraid. We have some money to help universities here, but there is only so much we can do.”

Times Higher Education free 30-day trial

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

United Nations peace keeper

Understanding the unwritten rules of graduate study is vital if you want to get the most from your PhD supervision, say Kevin O'Gorman and Robert MacIntosh

David Parkins Christmas illustration (22 December 2016)

A Dickensian tale, set in today’s university

Eleanor Shakespeare illustration (5 January 2017)

Fixing problems in the academic job market by reducing the number of PhDs would homogenise the sector, argues Tom Cutterham

poi, circus

Kate Riegle van West had to battle to bring her circus life and her academic life together

man with frozen beard, Lake Louise, Canada

Australia also makes gains in list of most attractive English-speaking nations as US slips