Not in Lock-Step with Others
Excerpts of UNIAN Interview with Serhiy Kvit, Rector of Kyiv Mohyla-Academy
by Anna Yashchenko
The National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy Serhiy Kvit and the Ukrainian Catholic University openly opposed the appointment of Dmitry Tabachnik as Minister of Education and Science. At the meeting of rectors last week, the university leaders who attended engaged in various declarations of support of the new minister and criticized his predecessor. UNIAN asked the president of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, Serhiy Kvit, why his view contrasted with the view of his colleagues, what are the dangers or consequences of the introduction of national admission testing for universities, and whether the Anti-Tabachnik campaign will result in any change.
As far as I know, immediately after the appointment of Tabachnik, there were sentiments of protest among rectors. But when it was time to act, the leaders of universities took a step back, and only you and the Ukrainian Catholic University issued an open statement of protest. What is your comment on this?
It seems there was such information. I have no right to condemn my colleagues. Each one has his own situation, his own motivation.
Are the rectors so concerned about their portfolios?
I do not know.
Was there a response to you from the leadership of the Ministry of Education: calls, conversations and attempts to pressure?
No, nothing like that occurred.
Do you think that the student movement can cause a change?
As a matter of principle, students at universities should study. Learning should not be substituted by politicking. But in a broader sense, the Student Movement is important and it should be taken seriously. Young people by definition are inclined toward revolution and radicalism. They want to feel a sense of their own influence on developments and on positive changes in their country. That is why sometimes students turn out to be more consistent and honest policy makers than the so-called professionals. A Student Movement can achieve a lot.
Do you see a worthy replacement for Tabachnik?
This could be a university rector or even one of the former ministers, - a professional in the field, not a politician. All the long elaborate algorithms for reforms have been established and are in place throughout the world. There is no need for conflict, all that is needed is the will to establish reforms.
During one of the Anti-Tabachnik rallies, one of your students said that in case of expulsion of students from universities as a result of public protest against Tabachnik, you are ready to admit them to your university?
(Laugh. - Author.) Here our possibilities are somewhat exaggerated. Kyiv Mohyla Academy maintains legal norms. In order to qualify for admission at NaUKMA, one needs to comply with a number of requirements, which can be found on the university website.
The new Minister of Education, Mr. Tabachnik, is re-introducing entrance examinations based on the norms previously set by the Ukrainian Center for Evaluation of Education (ЗНО) for next year. Don’t you think that these exams will lower required standards?
Kyiv-Mohyla Academy has eighteen years of experience in university admission placement testing. When he issued a decree requiring the admission testing by ЗНО, Former President Viktor Yushchenko relied on the successful experience of our university. However, when testing was introduced at the national level, the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy was unexpectedly prohibited to conduct its own testing. We had serious discussions on this matter with previous Minister of Education Ivan Vakarchuk. I asked: "Are there claims of corruption?” There were none. “Was the process successful?” Yes, it was successful. “Then why cancel?” We never received any responses from the previous minister. We also never had a response from him to our proposal to use our Research Center for Testing, which, incidentally, was chaired by NaUKMA’s Honorary President Vyacheslav Bryuhovetsky.
Speaking from the perspective of the Kiev-Mohyla Academy, we are in favor of the use of our proven anonymous testing system for admission methodology.
Testing is a very progressive subject. It is a method used by over one hundred and fifty countries. It works adequately for the task, particularly in correlation between secondary and higher education. Our own experience in introducing admission testing was utterly straightforward. For example, speaking at a round table earlier this school year, the head of the Ukrainian Center of Evaluation of Education (ZHO), Mr. Likarchuk said, "We plan to further develop the ZHO system. Shortly we will propose not only tests for undergraduate programs, but also for the Master’s programs.” This cannot be considered to be a professional approach. Western universities create their own individual entrance requirements for applicants. The admissions approach may be based on several different test results, written essays, or additional requirements, because each university has its own vision on how to form its own university student. This is especially applicable to the graduate level, which introduces students to research. At this level, it is particularly important to review each applicant for graduate programs.
We should remember that the introduction of compulsory national ЗНО testing stated a different approach to the task of universities – it stated that the task of universities is not to select students among candidates but that the sole task of universities is to teach. This is an erroneous approach. Let us start with the fact that the main task of universities is research, and the university’s educational process in the world is organized around research. The competitive process among universities begins with the rivalry for the best applicants. Nevertheless, I can understand the motivation of the ЗНО in its vision for testing as an independent process, outside of institutions of secondary and higher education. In such an approach, the removal of student selection from the universities can only be a temporary step in the context of a systematic approach to reforms in higher education in Ukraine. But these reforms have never been implemented. The time from 1991 until the present can be considered wasted.
ЗНО in itself is a tool for reform of higher education. It cannot serve as the only means of combating corruption in the country. Corruption in Ukraine is a problem of society associated with low economic and professional cultural conditions – corruption and excessive behavior which have been inherited from the Soviet system. Corruption in higher education is a reflection of even worse degrees of corruption in the state. This is a well-known fact to everyone. I’d like to underscore that this phenomenon is impossible in our university, and this is a fact well-known as well. In order to combat corruption in Ukraine, there is a need to start somewhere immediately. In my opinion, the most logical place to start is with higher education. We need autonomy for the universities, and in exchange for autonomy we need to require the highest quality in teaching, research and training. That is when universities will be concerned about their reputation on a national and global level, and the competition will eventually turn them away from corrupt practices.
Is there a need to support ZHO? Without questions, yes there is. Society trusts this institution and hopes that the government will care about improving educational standards and services. Let us not forget that ZHO is the result of collaborative efforts of the President with several different changing. But ZHO needs to be organically integrated into the process of reforms. We need to move forward and develop a national system for evaluation of education under ZHO We will all take responsibility in the eyes of future generations and in the eyes of God. Nobody will be able to hide from responsibility.
I would also warn against indiscriminate accusations of corruption against rectors and officials. In fact, university leaders and faculty in most cases are dedicated to their universities, who yearn to raise their universities to the highest level of quality. The Ministry of Education and Science itself can not carry out any reforms because this requires as a minimum the coordinated activities of the President, the Government, and the Parliament. World experience shows that successful reform in science and education is the result of a systematic state policy. The focus should be on real university autonomy - especially in academic, financial, and personnel matters.
We still have a defective pro-Russian rhetoric in education, which ignores the fact that corruption, low institutional standards and lack of freedom of speech of our northern neighbor will soon reach the level of North Korea. There is no turning back for Ukraine. The world is moving forward at a fast pace. The answer for Ukraine lies in a courageous move forward.
Freedom is a responsibility, but the reality of today’s Ukraine it is also a risk. For example, the rector of the prestigious Kharkiv Law Academy of Yaroslav the Wise said, “Why should applicants pay ЗНО for tests – let them pay and study“
If this quote is actually true, then it demonstrates the lack of a healthy competitive market in Ukraine. Students enrolled without a proper selection process will be less qualified and they will not achieve "commercial success". Diplomas should not be issued to unqualified graduates because society does not need unqualified professionals. Healthy competition requires Ukrainian universities to be aware of the national and also of the international market. That is why we need to adhere to the highest academic and professional world standards.
One of the topics raised by university leaders at their meeting with the Ministry of Education was the concern that our graduates are fleeing to the West, that something must be done to keep them in Ukraine.
This is a typical post-communist approach. It is like saying that if we teach our people the English language they will pack their suitcases tomorrow and escape. These individuals graduate and attain doctoral programs in Western universities. Faced with this reality, our actions should be the opposite – to offer structured doctoral Ph.D. programs here in their own country, to integrate science and education, to encourage the creation of a knowledge society. But instead, we pursue a policy self-isolation, not only separating ourselves from a partnership with the West, but also suppressing conditions for genuine competition.
But there is also the opposite trend. Many Ukrainians return home with foreign diplomas. Rather than use their invaluable scientific and organizational experience, our government creates a variety of irrational obstacles that for some strange unknown reason these people have to overcome.
As an example of real reform, the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy is the only university in Ukraine which established a Doctoral School with Ph.D. programs of western model and equivalency. Now it includes five fields of study and by the end of the year – it will expand to eight Ph.D. programs. But even though two years have passed since Ukraine’s commitment to the Bologna Agreement, we still have not been able to obtain official recognition of the program in Ukraine. The solution is clear and effective - Kyiv-Mohyla Academy will issue Ph.D. diplomas together with the same diplomas from their European and North American partner universities. We must finally understand that if young people with their Ukrainian diplomas will be able to participate in the international science and academic community, then they overwhelmingly will be able to remain and benefit their own country.
What is your opinion of the new regulation introduced by Minister Tabachnik, which provides that students may choose the language of instruction and testing?
Considering the Russian chauvinist concept, dating back to the Czars until 1917 and then under Soviet rule until 1991, that all languages except Russian had to exist incognito somewhere, I unconditionally support the principle of respect and development of all languages that are native to the citizens of Ukraine. However, if they want to become students at Ukrainian and not foreign universities, they should be proficient in the country’s official language. This is the real issue which should be considered.
Regarding tests, I know from the media that there has been a demarcation between the Romanian and Moldavian languages. This is nonsense, because there is one Romanian language! I would not like to think that, despite scientific evidence and common sense, this was done for the sake of aggressive Russian policy in the region.
Why are the “majors” not going to your university - the children of political or business elites?
That they “don’t go to our university” is not an accurate statement. Simply stated, we at NaUKMA do not conduct such statistics. Just because the parents are wealthy, it does not mean that their son or daughter will be admitted to the university. Furthermore, if a student from a wealthy family is admitted to NaUKMA on a contract basis it does not mean that he or she gets special treatment or immunity, and that such a student will not be suspended or expelled for failing grades. Students who are admitted to Ukrainian universities but do not receive government stipends may be admitted if they pay tuition. These are official tuition payments. These students are required to take the NaUKMA entrance exam with all applicants. The students who receive the highest test scores have priority for government stipends. Last year we expelled 119 “contract” students (who paid tuition) and more than 120 students who attended on government stipends. We do not differentiate students on the basis of financial status. At Kyiv-Mohyla Academy all students are equal before our academic, professional and university values requirements.
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