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The worst is the quality of doctoral education.
For management training, theWorld Economic Forum ranks Ukraine 116 out of 142 nations.
The situation is similarly bad in economics, law and languages, as is evident
from the excellent public debate in Zerkalo
Nedeli
and a report by CASE.

Depressingly, Education Minister Dmitry
Tabachnik could hardly care less about the real problems in Ukrainian education
– corruption, over-regulation, waste and poor quality. His endeavor to sovietize
Ukrainian historiography and promote russification attracts most attention. His
greatest “reform” has been to reduce ordinary school from the European standard
of 12 to 11, seemingly inspired by the destruction instigated by the late
Turkmenbashi.

As everybody knows, the greatest problem in the
Ukrainian education system is corruption. Students, or their parents, pay for
entry into institutions of higher education, and if necessary also for exams
and degrees. The Orange government of ex-President Viktor Yushchenko and
ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymosheno introduced independent national tests for
university entry.

 Instead
of correcting some anomalies in these tests, Tabachnik has amended the
university admittance rules, allowing additional tests and demanding social
preferences, notably for children of miners from Donetsk. In Zerkalo Nedeli, Lidiya Surzhik rightly complains
that this leads to negative selection. Moreover,
rectors and professors may indulge in their old corrupt ways. Laudably, the
government promotes electronic applications, but the ultimate issue is the
acceptance practices.

The best universities in the world, the top U.S.
universities, are private non-profit foundations, and the next best, the
foremost British universities, Oxford and Cambridge, are public but they enjoy
great autonomy. Ukraine should transform its universities into independent
foundations with proper governance in the form of boards of trustees. Then
education, research policy, appointments, and finance could be decentralized to
the universities. Instead, the old detailed, centralized Soviet financing
system persists. Not surprisingly, none of Ukraine’s 501 institutions of higher
learning qualifies among the 500 top universities in the world ranked on the
Shanghai University list.

International integration is vital for the
development of education. Fortunately, the Ministry of Education promotes
foreign studies on a massive scale, claiming that 18,000-20,000 students go
abroad for studies each year. This is the best part of the Ukrainian education
policy.

Ukraine should do its utmost also to attract
good foreign partners and support private institutions, but the state dominates
and suffocates the education sector. International education ventures can praise
themselves lucky, if they are not being closed down by the Ukrainian bureaucracy,
and the state offers them no assistance. Kazakhstan, by contrast, has
established an elite state university in cooperation with 10 outstanding
foreign universities. Even Russia has made such an attempt with its Skolkovo
Business School together with Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

For years, President Leonid Kuchma was
committed to the so-called Bologna process of the European unification of
university degrees, but one of Tabachnik’s first decisions as minister was to
take Ukraine out of this process. As a consequence, a Ph.D. who has graduated
from a major Western university is not recognized as competent to teach at any
substandard Ukrainian institute. This is a reliable method for preserving
incompetence. Ironically, Tabachnik has sovietized the Ukrainian education
system, while Russia has pursued Europeanization, adopting and accepting
foreign degrees.

The required qualifications of a rector of a
Ukrainian university are Ukrainian citizenship, a Soviet-style
degree of doctor of science and teaching experience at a Ukrainian university
for a decade. A person with such qualifications can hardly contribute to the
major renewal that is needed. For the time being, Ukrainians with ambitions of
doctorates can only be advised to study abroad.

Contrary to popular perceptions, the Ukrainian
education system is well-financed. Public expenditures on education amounted to
7.3 percent of gross domestic product in 2009, more than in most European
countries, but much of the funds are being wasted on real estate and
overstaffing.

Because of low birth rates and emigration the
number of school children in Ukraine has fallen by 40 percent from 7.1 million
in 1991 to 4.3 million at present. The real estate and staff of the education
system should be trimmed accordingly.

Yet, during these two decades the number of
schools has declined by only 9 percent, which means that an increasing share of
the education budget goes to the maintenance of redundant real estate.
Tabachnik boasts that he has only closed 300 schools, while Tymoshenko closed
650 in two years. Instead, he should prepare to close the excess of 6,800
schools. Superfluous real estate should be sold off and the funds used for the
improvement of education.

The lingering Soviet budget norms force schools
to maintain large unnecessary bureaucratic staff. Presumably, half of them would
be laid off in a decentralized budget system. There are too many teachers as
well. In the last two decades, the number of school teachers has remained
almost constant at just over half a million. As a consequence, the student-to-teacher
ratio has fallen from a reasonable 13.3 in 1991 to 8.4, which is uneconomically
low. The number of teachers could be reduced by 40 percent. The most qualified
teachers should be retained, and their salaries could rise by 80 percent. In
that way, Latvia economized very successfully during the financial crisis.

After these elementary steps, much else needs
to be done. State financing should be tied to students rather than
institutions; good international textbooks need to be translated and adopted; computerization
should advance; syllabuses always need evolution; and resources should be
concentrated to the best institutions.

Anders Aslund is a senior fellow at the
Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, D.C. This opinion piece was originally published by Forbes Ukraine at http://forbes.ua/

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