Let’s imagine that your arm hurts. Day, week, month. The pain is not sharp, but aching. It makes itself known all the time. You understand that there is simply no place to postpone a visit to the doctor, but for some reason you don’t go – maybe you don’t want to hear an unpleasant diagnosis and hope that it will “go away”. But it will not pass.
A similar situation in Ukraine with higher education. Many of us would agree that the quality of education in many universities, to put it mildly, needs improvement. For years, in conversations with each other, at expert meetings, we agree that the higher education diploma is devalued, that you have to “retrain” at work, that changes are needed. And although it is scary to start them, in particular because of the scale of the transformation, but the fact is that we simply do not have another option.
First, these are changes whose time has long come. For any country, an effective education system = dynamic development, strong specialists, economic well-being. Delaying changes in education means delaying the development of the country.
Secondly, war makes adjustments. We need to develop human capital faster to strengthen the state and ensure economic recovery. At the same time, we are simply obliged to use limited resources as efficiently as possible. First of all, human capital, as well as the budget, which today is naturally focused primarily on defense.
Currently, our team has already presented several solutions aimed at the comprehensive transformation of the higher education system in Ukraine (the first two are draft laws that the Verkhovna Rada still has to consider):
- changing the state procurement system and introducing state grants: the goal is to increase the number of students who receive state support for higher education, as well as to create prerequisites for high-quality competition between higher education institutions for applicants;
- introduction of individual educational trajectories: students will be able to independently adjust the terms of study, study the subjects that interest them the most, and even change their specialty after a year and a half of study, if there is such a need;
- strengthening the management capacity of the higher education institutions through mass training of management teams, strengthening the role of supervisory boards at the higher education institutions, expanding their functionality, attracting business representatives to the boards, etc.;
- modernization of the network of higher education institutions, investments in educational and scientific and laboratory equipment in consolidated institutions, which will become fewer, but which will be competitive and provide quality education.
Commenting immediately on the network modernization initiative (which primarily requires the merger of some existing institutions), I would like to note that we cannot ignore the fact that demographic indicators are falling today. And this trend began long before the start of a full-scale war. So, over the past decades, the number of school graduates has been gradually decreasing, so the network of universities that functioned 30 years ago is no longer relevant today. In some places, we are literally financing the walls of institutions and the memory of their previous achievements, not the development of the quality of education in them here and now.
Instead, we need to keep the best, develop and strengthen, and pool the resources of institutions. For example, instead of two or three weak universities, we can create one powerful institution on their base and concentrate investments in one point. Because it is impractical and hopeless to finance everyone a little at a time.
At the same time, it should be noted how such mergers will take place. Universities joining the larger ones will retain their industry focus and a certain degree of autonomy. Specialized scientific schools will become autonomous institutes or faculties. Likewise, highly qualified personnel will be retained, as we are well aware of their value. Some of the specialists will continue working at the branch institute, others will be able to integrate into the departments of the university to which the institution joins.
In addition, within the framework of the World Bank project “Improving higher education in Ukraine for the sake of results”, funds are provided for updating the material and technical base of the merging institutions. We are talking about funds in the amount of up to 1.5 million dollars per institution, part of which will be earmarked for the development of the joining institutions.
At the same time, the consolidation of institutions will not fundamentally change the situation with the quality of education in all universities. That is why, among other things, we propose to review the existing state procurement system and to move away from the black-and-white division into “budgeter/contractor”.
Currently, approximately 60% of students study on a contract basis. Our goal is to ensure that 60% of applicants receive state support in various amounts, depending on the results of the ZNO/NMT. That is, the higher the score, the larger the grant the entrant can receive (including 100% coverage of the cost of education).
It is important that the money will “go” to the student, which means that the applicant will be able to study at the university where he really wants, regardless of his form of ownership. Thus, higher education institutions will receive additional motivation for development and improvement, and will begin to truly compete for entrants.
At the same time, the system of state procurement will be preserved for those specialties that are primarily needed by the state: doctors, teachers, engineers, agriculturists, metallurgists, energy workers, etc. The state will continue to pay for the training of these specialists, pay them scholarships and offer them their first job. Benefits for entrants from vulnerable categories will also be preserved.
Another step is the introduction of individual educational trajectories. So, students studying outside of the state order will have the opportunity to adjust the terms of their studies. They will be able to manage their annual workload within the range of 30-80 ECTS credits per year, i.e. complete the bachelor’s program in 3, 4, 5 or 6 years. This will create more opportunities for choice and freedom of students.
In addition, at the bachelor’s degree, higher education institutions will be able to create interdisciplinary programs – those where several specialties are studied within the same field. A student enters a field and after completing two courses (or 60–120 ECTS credits) can choose a specialty within that field for further study. This will be useful to all those who at the time of admission have not yet decided on their future profession.
And, of course, the management component plays an extremely important role in the development or, on the contrary, in the decline of institutions, and therefore in the quality of education in them. A lot depends on what the leadership is like, whether the student body, staff and business are involved in decision-making. Therefore, our goal is to develop the management capacity of top teams in universities. We are currently completing a pilot project of training management teams of 6 universities and will soon deploy this project on an all-Ukrainian scale.
Our goal is to teach up to 1,000 managers of higher education institutions (provosts, deans, heads of departments) the skills of managing a modern university community. At the same time, we will strengthen the role of supervisory boards in higher education institutions to enable the transition to European-style university autonomy. We are currently preparing a corresponding pilot and will tell you more about it soon.
In conclusion, I will return to the first paragraph – to the comparison with a hand that hurts, and ignoring the pain is unbearable. Usually we don’t really like the treatment that is prescribed (pills, injections, surgery and rehabilitation have little to do with anything pleasant, of course), but the result of recovery is definitely worth it.
Oxen Lisovyi, Minister of Education and Science of Ukraine, specially for UP. Life
Publications in the “View” section are not editorial articles and reflect exclusively the author’s point of view.