Civic and elitist competence: the price of absence for Ukraine | Center for Political Analysis “Observatory of Democracy”

Civic and elitist competence: the price of absence for Ukraine

Education is a key social institution. Effective solution to any problem that society is facing is impossible without involving the institution of education. If the country establishes the task of implementing a technological breakthrough, the educational system should train specialists in the relevant fields and provide the necessary qualifications. Let us just consider how the educational system in the United States has been changed after Yuri Gagarin’s space flight. Subsequently, American astronauts landed on the Moon. If the government takes a course towards democratization, the first step is to engage educational institutions to explain the essence of the state strategy and educate citizens and future generations in the spirit of democracy, its basic principles. Germany, Japan, Singapore demonstrate vivid examples. If the state lacks competence and responsibility in all spheres and at all levels, obviously, those qualities also need to be educated. And again, changes in the educational system are indispensable.

Over the past decade among the developed countries the search for an appropriate education model has been intensified, the search for the one that would most accurately fulfill the main demand of the present – to provide the knowledge necessary for life in a rapidly changing global world. A competence approach has become one of the ways to improve educational systems. Education, focused on the competence approach, should meet the personal, social, professional and cultural needs of modern society. Increase in the level of civic education and the formation of citizenship culture based on the awareness of the basic democratic principles and values is recognized as one of the main need. Even countries of stable democracy, regarding the strengthening of destructive processes at the global, regional and local levels, give priority to the issues of civic education and upbringing.

If society is at the stage of democratic transformation and the task is to build a civilized state in which the principles of the rule of law operate, the education based on the competence approach should contribute to the achievement of the priority goal – the formation of the qualities necessary to ensure the implementation of those principles in each sphere of social life. Competence is also the ability to apply knowledge, skills and experience in the professional and social spheres. Therefore, the second necessary component is the environment in which the theoretically acquired values, principles and knowledge are practically realized.

Civic education – the basis for achieving the rule of law

The problems of sustainable development, which have become essential to the modern globalized world, were discussed at the Ist Kharkiv International Legal Forum, which took place on the 3-6th of October, 2017. One of the main goals of sustainable development is a building of a peaceful, open and fair society. This goal cannot be achieved without systematic and integrated civic education. Thus, the civic education became one of the leading topic at the forum. Within the framework of the round table on “Civic education and competency-based education at Ukrainian universities as a basis for the achievement of the rule of law and the formation of a just society”, “nodal” issues related to the development of civic education at Ukrainian universities were discussed. The relevance of those problems requires a more detailed assessment of the situation than the one that was presented during the round table under the conditions of time limitation.

What is the reality that surrounds us?

The competences of the graduate of the university can be conditionally divided into 3 groups: professional, civil and elite. In the context of this problem, we are interested in the civil and the elite ones. Civil competence is a necessary quality for every person who possesses a civil status and rights, which are realized at least from time to time. The task of its formation in democratic states is assigned to the school. By teaching special civil disciplines, including civil and legal blocks in history and other courses, the introduction of special courses a theoretical component is provided. The bodies of school self-government are a real democratic institution where students gain experience of the practical application of civic knowledge and in real life can observe how the basic democratic principles are functioning. Thus, the graduate of the school already has a certain level of civic competence. The task of the university is to increase it.

In Ukraine the situation is radically different. School is very far from the model of the institution of civil society. Students do not acquire civic knowledge either in special courses or in humanitarian disciplines. The course of law, which is presented in the upper forms, provides purely nominal results. The daily school life has nothing to do with children’s rights compliance and implementation of the rule of law principles. The bodies of school self-government function as strictly executive. Thus, the formal approach to legal knowledge at the theoretical level and its absolute denial in life realities result in not even a zero level of civic competence, but completely negative implications of the school stage of civic socialization. Therefore, Ukrainian universities face a problem of not just the further education, but of the full re-education of those “law-conscious citizens”. There appears the question of the resources available for accomplishing that goal, especially in the form of humanitarian and legal disciplines and the time allocated for them.

Nowadays in Ukraine, the practice of systematic destruction of the humanitarian component of higher education is being introduced, which is justified by the autonomy of universities. This contradicts not only the modern trends in the world development and European education, but also the needs of the emergence of Ukrainian society as a civilized one, the needs of the education of the national elite. For a vivid illustration, let us give an example. For future specialists of the banking system who will acquire a university diploma, the list of the graduate’s programmatic competencies (in terms of general additional competences) states “the ability to act on the basis of ethical considerations (motives) in socially responsible and civilly-conscious way”. Is that enough for a representative of the financial elite? Obviously, this ability must be inherent to every citizen, regardless of profession. And as for a specialist who represents the banking system, which is rightfully called the foundation and core of the economy, apparently, that it is not enough.

Which disciplines should form this ability? In the educational program in the list of compulsory disciplines we find only “Legal support for the activities of business entities”. Social, civic, political disciplines are absent even in the optional part. Therefore, even for the formation of this competence, funds and resources are not provided. In other fields, the situation is very similar. Under such conditions, a graduate of the Ukrainian university will remain at the same negative mark of civic competence which he or she likewise came from the school with.

Another side of the problem is the closeness of educational institutions for society and public organizations, its openness only to the authorities. Schools are traditionally built into the vertical of the administrative resource. Directors become members of the dominant political party. During elections, polling stations work in schools, and teachers become members of electoral commissions from that party of power as well. Various school events are attended by deputies of various levels, who also represent the dominant political party. For non-governmental organizations, even human rights organizations, school doors are closed. The situation is not too different in many universities. Only for pseudo-public organizations cloned by the authorities, access is quickly opened by a preliminary call from the relevant institution.

Separately, attention should be paid to the problem of the lack of elite as a social layer. During the Soviet times, institutes and universities had been educated the so called “intelligentsia” (in Western terminology – intellectuals). Those were really highly qualified specialists in their field, but at the same time the ones who were not needed as active and conscious citizens. For the system loyal carriers of communist ideology were valuable. For 26 years of independence the Ukrainian higher education system has not been reoriented to fulfill the mission of educating the elite. Strong evidence of that can be traced even in the example of Ukrainian course books on sociology for universities. While Western sociologists as the key functions of higher education determine the training of highly qualified specialists in the quantity necessary for the development of the economy and the function of educating the national elite, the Ukrainian course books do not disclose the latter. In the meantime some books describe “the function of looking after older children”. The real situation is reflected completely, because it is precisely the function that Ukrainian universities are fulfilling today to the greatest extent. Therefore, we have more than 80 % of young people with diplomas of higher education and the absence of elite.

Education of the national elite as the main mission of universities

The elite representative differs from the educated person (intellectual) in precisely denoted civil and social qualities, activity in their field of occupation, the ability to spread relevant norms and values within this sphere and the awareness of their own responsibility for its functioning. These are signs of elite competence. If there is no field elite, the field is doomed to degradation. The banking system demonstrated a very clear example. In Ukraine, many financial experts were aware of the inevitability of destructive processes in the banking system and understood their causes. However, there was no elite capable of not only understanding the essence of processes, but also influencing them, channeling them into a constructive flow, resisting threats and putting pressure on the authorities to prevent its destructive actions. The consequences of the absence of this elite were felt by every citizen and the whole state. This is the state of affairs in each sphere. It will persist until field elites appear.

The most vivid example of the effectiveness of what was stated as “elite competence” is being demonstrated by Japan. Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine Hanna Hopko, having visited Japan in 2015, expressed her positive impressions of the laws and professionalism quality of management in the country on the air of the “112 Ukraine” channel. There was also a talk about the advisability of adapting certain positive experiences. Of course, we will not be able to transfer the Japanese experience, even if there is a great desire, because it has been forming for centuries on the Shinto-Confucian foundation. But one of its components, firmly entrenched at the stage of democratization of the political system, is very useful and extremely necessary in the current situation.

The fact is that the Japanese parliament does not independently draft a single bill. The development and justification of bills is the business of field elites. The Japanese believe that who, if not they, better know what is needed for the development of the peculiar field and how it is better to reform. Elites, due to their professional competence and high level of responsibility to society, aimed at offering effective solutions. Power institutions, also feeling their responsibility, do not take any decisions without the participation of field elites. It is such a particular power-elite pyramid, without the top in the form of specific state institutions, ensures the high quality of laws and management decisions, their correspondence to the needs of society and the state.

To illustrate that thesis we can recall the decision-making process on the future of nuclear power after the accident that occurred on March 11, 2011 at the nuclear power station “Fukushima” as a result of the tsunami. Only after the experts of the corresponding field substantiated the conclusions about the impossibility to abandon the development of nuclear power, developed engineering solutions to improve the safety of power plants, confirmed their readiness to bear responsibility for them the decision was made at the political level.

The training of such elites is a matter for universities. In Japan the following principle works: the higher step in the social hierarchy corresponds to the higher level of civil and social competence, readiness to take accountability to society. Potential applicants for high-level government positions study at the Tokyo or Kyoto universities, where the education of those qualities is given the most attention. Clear evidence of elite qualities, which demonstrate the features of the mentality and the results of education, are provided by other examples. After the devastating tsunami, the prime minister and ministers decided to allocate the major amount of their wages to overcome the consequences of the disaster, since society was in a difficult situation and the government cannot afford to take the usual benefits in this situation. Subsequently, the prime minister and some ministers resigned because of public discontent with the effectiveness of their actions to overcome the consequences of a natural disaster.

How much and what currency do Ukrainians pay for the absence of elites?

It is the fourth year of war in Ukraine. Is it possible to consider the destroyed cities and human lives as a payment for the lack of elite in different spheres? A purposeful destruction of the army was carried out. Are there any officers (military elite) who saw the destructive processes and realized their consequences? Did they try to draw the attention of politicians and society to that process in order to prevent the destruction? Is there a security service in the state, foreign intelligence service, which direct task is to monitor the signs of danger and activate the system of counteraction to threats. Have those elite status holders fulfilled their direct functions?

Today they all say that the war has become “unexpected” for us. However, there was more than enough evidence in the information space of the neighboring state of the mass consciousness preparation for war. In political talk shows and “analytical” programs, the key topic was “Ukrainian fascism”; historical programs have actualized the problem of “primordially Russian lands”, which must be returned; the discussions of politicians on urgent issues have focused on choosing ways and means of “returning” the Crimea – military or economic expansion. Fiction films on historical events began to forthrightly impose an image of the enemy in the past and the present, like, for example, the film “Match”, 2012. Political scientists and sociologists were supposed to be the first to respond. But in the materials of scientific and practical conferences, publications devoted to the analysis of current political problems, there was no question of the presence and signs of an external threat. Those are obvious signs of dysfunction of the scientific humanitarian elite, first of all, considering the political science community. Today, these signs are manifested in another way – including passive attitude towards the destruction of the remnants of political, legal and civic education. The necessity to pay extends to future generations as well.

Under the leadership of “the representative of the highest echelon of the financial elite” Valeria Gontareva “the banking system has been recovered”. How much did ordinary Ukrainians pay for the contemplating of the “financial elite” of the process of increasing crisis phenomena in the banking system and further “recovery”? Only for the “rescue” of PrivatBank and only according to the official report of the director of the financial stability department of the National Bank of Ukraine Vitaly Vavrishchuk, each Ukrainian paid 3500 UAH. The wave of bank failures in 2014-2016 costed 78 billion UAH, which was paid from the deposit guarantee fund. 60 billion fund “borrowed” from the state budget. No return was reported. According to the estimations of the head of the Council of the National Bank of Ukraine Bogdan Danylyshyn, Ukraine’s direct fiscal expenditures on overcoming the consequences of the crisis of the banking sector have already reached 14 % of GDP, and the total economic losses from the crisis amount to 38 % of GDP. The bill goes to hundreds of billions hryvnias. In addition, there is also moral damage that no one assessed.

The second for the year explosion in the largest ammunition depot, the scale of damage and the football game in the search of the guilty – all that demonstrates the polarity of civic and elitist responsibility in Ukraine and Japan, which points to the thought of a life in another galaxy. Military experts claim that the explosion was expected and it was known that it would happen, analyzing the causes and consequences. Chief of the General Staff Viktor Muzhenko says about the space vehicles seen above the depots. The Ministry of Defense states losses and the prime minister points to the need for drawing the inferences (what a surprise). Politicians try to count the cost of destroyed ammunition and state the need for the resignation of the chief of the General Staff and other officials. Each element complements the overall mosaic picture with an illustration of the performance in the theater of the absurd. However, until now no one has raised the issue of the elite, which should be the personification of the highest measure of professionalism, responsibility, service to society. When will the elite appear in Ukraine, not only political, but also financial, military, educational, medical? Who should educate that elite and release society of the need to pay such a high price for its absence?

Civic competence and social responsibility

The issues of social responsibility have become a trend line recently. Most Ukrainians associate social responsibility with charity or philanthropy. Only a very small part of the citizens realize that its basis is strict observance of the law, and all the rest is the superstructure. Therefore, we read in the reports on social responsibility about help to orphanages, greening the territory, etc. All that is good and necessary, but there will be no real social responsibility until everyone learns to respect the law and understand the principle of its supremacy, fulfill their direct professional duties and realize their measure of responsibility to society. The school will become socially responsible when every teacher will observe the rules established for all, teach students the same principles, while respecting their rights. A doctor and a medical institution can ascertain facts of responsibility only if all the norms and procedures ensuring the quality of services are observed. Explosions in ammunition depots will not happen when everyone from the engineer to the chief of the General Staff will bear the qualities inherent to the military elite.

The process of educating civil competence should begin with an elementary school and continue throughout the entire school education. Increasing the level of civil and educating elite competence is a task for universities. In accordance with that principle educational systems are functioning in democratic countries. We also need to understand the underlying essence and philosophy of those systems, rather than copying external forms. In that case the elite will become a truly valuable element of society, which activity will be indeed beneficial.


A distinctive feature of modern educational strategies of the world leading countries is the orientation towards high professionalism, based on high spiritual dimensions and civic qualities. The system of higher education is aimed at training the national elite, capable of performing not only professional but also important social functions, and being responsible to society for its field of activity. Therefore, university students acquire a profound humanitarian and legal education.

Regarding the world experience and modern trends in the development of education as well as those tasks that are necessary for the establishment of a rule-of-law state, Ukraine needs a complete reorientation of higher education – the transition from supervision of adult children to the education of the national elite.

Legal and political education, education of a citizen is a task for the state. The autonomy of universities cannot spread to this sphere. It is not a charge of the universities, administrations or individuals to decide whether to educate a citizen and to what extent that should be done. The role of the state in this process should be primary and determining. World experience provides a clear confirmation of that.

Today in Ukraine there is a situation in which the state declares a course toward democratization, but does not educate a citizen for a democratic state.

Ukraine and Ukrainians pay extremely high price for the lack of elites. The fee extends to all spheres of society’s life, is calculated not only in monetary units, but also in human lives. The political class is devoid of elitism. Therefore, there is no state policy aimed at the upbringing and reproduction of the national elite in all spheres. Universities are deprived of the classical and highly topical mission in today’s conditions – to form elitist competence.


We need to develop a state program for political and legal education and civic upbringing. This program should be aimed at implementing the recommendations of the Council of Europe on the coverage of all age groups and the recommendations of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe “make education for democratic citizenship an essential component of all educational, training, cultural and youth policies and practices”.

Include civic disciplines in school curriculum for junior and secondary schools.

Introduce the practice of teaching legal disciplines in high school by specialists in the field of law. Considering the necessity to introduce a civic education block and the professional teaching of law, there is a need for teacher training. Appropriate specialties and specializations should be established in pedagogical universities.

Develop a course of legal and political education with the mandatory requirement of its study as a component of postgraduate education training for schools teachers.

Introduce civil and social competence in the list of general normative competencies of university graduates. Clearly formulate their content with a focus on the elite mission and a high degree of responsibility.

Establish a systemic civil and political and legal education at universities, the level of which should correspond to the status of the elite. As normative disciplines of general training should be taught “Civic studies”, “Philosophy. Philosophy of Law”, “Sociology”, “Political Science”, “Theory of State and Law”. The content of the disciplines should be reoriented to civic education. For senior students – special courses and electives: “Political and Legal Culture”, “Society and Power in Democracy”, “Social Responsibility” and others, depending on the field specifics.

Since competence assumes having not only theoretical knowledge, but also the ability to apply it practically, a sphere for its application is necessary. These are the bodies of pupil and student government, whose activities ensure the functioning of the educational institution as an institution of civil society. Therefore, a system of measures is needed to transform school and student councils from the executive to the self-government body: from improving the regulatory framework to implementing effective mechanisms for interaction with the administration of the institution and authorities of different levels.

Svetlana Topalova, Center for Political Analysis “Observatory of Democracy”

Published on the informational and analytical portal “Hvylya”

The material was prepared within the framework of a project implemented with the financial support of the European Endowment for Democracy (EED) and the Government of Canada