Ukrainian plan riles reformers

November 9, 2001

Ukrainian campaigners for reform in higher education plan to challenge a sweeping government nation-building education doctrine that, they believe, will do little more than consolidate the existing Soviet-style system.

The government's 25-year plan to use education as a tool for cultural, economic and national renewal is based on a similar programme adopted in 1993, which critics say has been gathering dust ever since. The new doctrine was approved by a national educational congress last month.

But experts from Kiev's International Centre for Policy Studies and from the Centre for Social and Political Research at the University of Kiev-Mohyla Academy have said the plan is an uncosted fantasy that ignores Ukraine's troubled economic reality.

The doctrine, developed by the education ministry and the Academy of Pedagogical Sciences, puts Ukrainian language and culture at the centre of a policy designed to "implement the Ukrainian idea of state formation" and to inculcate a love of the Ukrainian language, culture and traditions.

It stresses that higher education should be "free on a competitive basis", that credits and loans should be available to postgraduate students and that there should be equal opportunities for access to university across the country.

But Yuri Lukovenko, of the Centre for Policy Studies and author of an alternative paper on educational reform, said the plan's vague language and lack of a properly costed implementation strategy was a recipe for continued government complacency.

"This doctrine was created in such a way that it will affect nothing. It will preserve the current situation. It says nothing about the responsibilities of government."

Strong vested interests in the government and the ministry of education, both of which provide education and set standards, keep universities locked into Soviet-era relationships. University autonomy exists only in a technical sense. Universities must raise money from non-government sources because the state pays for only half of all students. In seeking funds, enterprise and service development take a back seat to corruption, bribes and kickbacks.

Valentin Yakushik, head of Mohyla Academy's Centre for Social and Political Research, said standards in many state and private universities were low.

Elena Gorsheniova, the British Council teacher training projects manager in Kiev, said crowded courses, poor teaching, no quality assessment and no transparency in standards drove many students to pay for private tuition.

Dr Lukovenko's alternative proposals - separating provision and policy development in higher education, involving stakeholders in decision-making and fostering a competitive market in private and public higher education - are designed to stir debate about education's role in lifting Ukraine out of widespread political corruption and poverty.

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