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Ukraine’s Ministry of Education, Research and Sports, led by Dmytro Tabachnik, marked the year-end holidays by proposing yet another draft law on higher education to codify control of the nation’s universities.

Days later, two additional draft laws intended to integrate Ukraine into the European educational systems were registered in Ukraine’s parliament – one by Arseniy Yatseniuk and Lesya Orobets, members of parliament and the Front of Change Party, and another by Yuri Miroshnichenko, a member of parliament and the representative of President Viktor Yanukovych. The proposed drafts facilitated more public and academic discussions on education reform.

Ministry attempts to pass a Soviet-style law failed last year due to resounding opposition embodied in student protests, and domestic and international demands for European standards and transparency. Kyiv Mohyla Academy, along with leading Ukrainian intellectuals, political and civic leaders, spoke unapologetically for autonomy and academic freedom.

There is general agreement that the country’s archaic system does not provide for academic freedom, university autonomy, curriculum choices, Ph.D. programs, transparency in admissions and degree awards, independence in research, management and administration, and achievement of higher educational standards. The issue of certification of degrees must finally be brought into focus as well.

The absurdity of the ministry’s refusal to certify foreign academic degrees and credits, even from the best universities in the world, such as Oxford, Harvard, Stanford, Sorbonne and others makes a mockery of Ukraine’s entire educational system. And yet, the ministry continues to promote the current antiquated Soviet relic of certification known as “nostrifikatsia.”

Another serious issue of contention is the still-in-place Soviet system that artificially divides education and research. Such a system prevents Ukrainian universities from competing internationally and blocks any chance to elevate their rankings. This situation persists because their own government impedes participation in activities and publications according to international requirements.

EU criticizes Tabachnyk policies

Tabachnyk’s recent attempt to receive approval for his proposed draft law from the European Union’s Commission on Education backfired. Inna Sovsun, director of the Center for Society Research and faculty member of Kyiv Mohyla Academy, summarized the EU’s report in a thoughtful article published on Feb. 3 (education.unian.net/ukr/detail/192128). The EU criticized the ministry’s focus on overwhelming central regulations, lack of innovation and guarantees of institutional autonomy and academic freedom, and dismissed the government’s continuous empty rhetoric about “guaranteeing the quality of education” as political maneuvering.

Clash of Ideology, special Interests

It appears that a clash of ideologies exists within the government between the president on one hand and the minister of education on the other.

In 2010, Yanukovych announced a proclamation outlining his position on general reforms, including the area of education (Ukaz No 926/2010 of Sep 20, 2010).

The president instructed the education minister to “provide real autonomy to the leading institutions of higher learning as a means to improve the quality of higher education…” The president repeated his position throughout the year in the specific sentence: “The goal of reforms of the system of education is to raise the level of competitiveness of Ukrainian education, and the integration of Ukraine’s education system into a European educational space.”

Ukraine signed the Bologna Declaration in 2010, a pledge by 29 countries in Europe to reform the structures of their higher education systems in a convergent way and promised to comply with requirements for integration of higher education into European educational standards. To this date, Ukraine has failed to comply with its lawful obligations. Tabachnik directly usurps this agreement.

If Yanukovych’s word is true, then Tabachnik’s proposals directly challenge the stated goals of the president and circumvent Ukraine’s national interest. Unfortunately, Tabachnikhas become a lightning rod and continues to foment controversy and confrontation. When the minister’s agenda abrogates the president’s program with impunity, it calls into question the president’s role and authority. Creative manipulation of power, such as this, is counterproductive to Ukraine’s intellectual and economic prosperity.

It is well past the time for the government to stop empty rhetoric on reform. Continued lip service to academic reform, while implementing a contrary agenda, will bring ridicule, scorn and ultimately, failure.

Time to shape future is now

Genuine steps must be taken now to secure Ukraine’s competitive position in education and movethe country to join the world community. It is imperative to Ukraine’s national intereststo raiseacademic standards and provide opportunities for innovation that lead to economic prosperity. The price of failure to implement true reforms is high. Education’s importance to the growth of a vibrant, broad and robust economy in Ukraine underscores the difference between fundamental reform and a step backward.

Ultimately, the forces of change will not be stopped. Change is essential and it is inevitable. The people of Ukraine chose freedom and self-determination. The National University of Kyiv Mohyla Academy has been leading the country’s reform in education since its re-establishment twenty years ago. A new generation of Ukrainians educated in such an environment testifies to this irreversible change.

Tabachnik’s policies are doomed to fail. A culture of arrogance, control, retribution and archaic systems is unsustainable. The choice is between preparing for the future or being doomed to past failures. Ukraine’s government has an obligation to protect freedom, independence and the security of current and future generations. The time to take a stand and shape Ukraine’s future is …now.

Marta Farion is president of the Kyiv Mohyla Foundation of America.

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