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Democracy Watch, 2011 - Issue 5

03-02-2011 12:57 PM CET | Science & Education

Press release from: People First Foundation

Educational reform in Ukraine: advanced quality or setting the scene for a student unrest, optimisation of budget costs or the demise of the future elite?

The draft law N7486-1, registered at Verkhovna Rada by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, promises considerable reform in the educational sphere. According to its authors, predominantly members of the Party of Regions, the immanent reforms will streamline the number of higher educational establishments and raise standards in education. However, observers note that the suggested methodology will lead to substantially higher tuition fees and may impinge on students and teachers' rights. The reform programme enables the management of higher educational establishments to set prices considering inflation; but a loophole leaves no top-cap, allowing prices to be raised to unpredictable levels. In 2010 Tabachnyk suggested a minimum fee for higher education of US$1,150; recommending fees of over US$2,500 for some of the most prestigious universities. The European average sees students paying 2-3 times less with competition, rather than streamlining, driving standards up and European salaries are appreciably higher.

Tabachnyk’s strategy includes merging many of the 900 higher educational institutions in Ukraine and removing university status from establishments with less than 10 thousand students. Under this criterion, some highly respected institutions such as Kyiv-Mohyla Academy risk losing their accreditation; which may damage their ability to self-regulate, opening the door for corruption and state interference.

The proposed reduction in the number of state scholarships is a direct violation of the right to free education guaranteed by Article 53 of the Constitution of Ukraine and the Law of Ukraine "On Higher Education". The aforementioned provisions demand that "the citizens of Ukraine are entitled to free education at state-funded educational institutions with admission on a competitive basis".

The volume of graduates will this year shrink to around 200 thousand; although we see no evidence of a concurrent reduction in the size of the general population. The proposed reduction in the number of state-funded scholarships by 42% would appear to directly violate Ukrainian citizens’ constitutional right to free education. It is also indicative of the policy of state education commercialisation initiated by Tabachnyk and his department within the Ukrainian government. Prime-Minister Mykola Azarov has also instructed the Minister of Education to modify the existing law "On Higher Education" to align it with the alternative strategy.

Tabachnyk’s reform programme has received a deeply negative response from the scientific and teaching community and has inspired some active opposition among students. Late January saw 300 participants publicly protesting against Tabachnyk's educational law in front of the parliament building; which in turn sparked similar protests in other Ukrainian cities. The students demand that Tabachnyk's draft law be rejected and promised to organise large-scale protests should it be adopted. The increasing opposition to the Minister of Education’s policy may have negative implications for the President should he continue to sanction this course of action; other members of government are already reacting to the public outcry opportunistically, publicly denouncing Tabachnyk. Presidential Administration Deputy Head Anna German claims that Yanukovych would never support the educational reforms revised by Tabachnyk. According to her claims the President intends to do everything within his power to ensure that Ukrainian educational establishments retain self-administrative ability and relative operational freedom. Should any new destructive changes be allowed to worm their way into government educational policy, the President would risk poisoning the minds of the student community against himself and the Party of Regions. As a result we may find ourselves amidst a new wave of student led anti-government protests.

People First Comment:

Ukraine was one of the best educated nations in the world. The former Soviet education system was ranked as globally the 2nd most effective, just under the UK but well ahead of the US. Since independence however the system has only survived thanks to the skill and dedication of the teaching staff working in partnership with parents to ensure that their children get a reasonable start.

The conditions at many Ukrainian schools can only be described as third world as the system as a whole has suffered from gross government underfunding for decades. It is not just a lack of essential teaching materials, in many cases the schools have had little structural maintenance for years resulting in cold, damp and drafty classrooms and in some cases whole school areas have to be closed because they are just too dangerous.

Teachers and University professors used to be highly respected members of the community but today they rank amongst the most poor as government salaries are only just enough for essential living. Is it any wonder that corruption has wormed its way into the system?

Ukraine has more computer cable in the ground than most European countries and much higher than average bandwidth capacity but this has never been utilised for the benefit of national education despite numerous proposals. Similarly Ukraine is now a major production centre for inexpensive computers but again this has never been harnessed. The Presidential Administration have recently spent $24 million on the President’s helicopter and landing pad, the same money could have purchased around 30,000 school grade computers.

The government should get their priorities right whilst the opposition must monitor –whether these priorities are for the people or for the benefit of governing party executives.

In almost all nations education is seen as a national priority thus what Minister Tabachnyk is proposing is at best illogical and at worst immoral as it would appear to be in contradiction to the Constitution.

Recent sociological national research by the People First Foundation indicates that the priority for the majority of Ukrainian families is not jobs or salaries but the care and support of their children. Attacking the education system in this way is tantamount to attacking every family in the nation. The system he is proposing may turn the universities into another state cash cow to ‘enhance’ the budget. But who is the real beneficiary... the people or the bureaucrats? Similarly one has to question why the opposition are so invisible on this vital issue promising the earth during the election but doing and saying precious little when it really matters.

Tabachnyk will implement these reforms at the expense of every drop of good will left in the nation. Parents are already rising up in defence of schools. In Donetsk recently they combined to defend a Ukrainian language school set for closure on highly questionable grounds and this is just the beginning. The student population is already up in arms over the proposed changes and as we saw last year in the UK and France and more recently in North Africa angry students do have a way of achieving their goals. If the President really wants to ward off trouble he would be wise to reconsider this programme and the Ministers’ suitability for this position.

Quote of the week:

If you tell a big enough lie and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.

Joseph Goebbels

Reich Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945

Democracy Watch is the weekly monitor of the People First Foundation and serves to raise public awareness of how government and parliamentary action is impacting upon Ukrainian democracy and democratic due process. The information is copyright free and may be reproduced but we ask that any comments are reproduced in full and with reference to the People First Foundation.

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