Reforming higher education in Ukraine: financial support | Center for Political Analysis “Observatory of Democracy”

Reforming higher education in Ukraine: financial support

The goal of the higher education reform in Ukraine is integration into the European educational space. Therefore, the quality of educational services and the scale of Ukrainian universities’ scientific achievements should become correlated with the corresponding European indicators. The implementation of the ambitious reform requires adequate financial support. A vivid evidence of the real or declarative authorities’ reformist intentions is the expenses allocated in the State Budget of Ukraine for 2019.

Investment in higher education: size and results

One of the main reformist innovations in the field of higher education has become a change in the approach to financing universities. The expected result is the increased competition for resources. Universities higher scored students apply to, which have a larger student contingent, high rates of popularity of master’s programs, receive more. This innovative approach gave some positive results. “Competition for the student applicant” and efforts aimed at maintaining the contingent and developing attractive educational programs intensified. However, the realities of university life demonstrate other trends. The issues of contingent quality and the availability of resources for program implementation remain highly problematic. An important criterion became the number of professors’ academic publications in international scientometric databases. Accordingly, the number of “requests” for professors regarding publications, the cost of which is often more than their salaries, has increased. The overall result of such a “reform” can be defined as the strengthening of the academic and bureaucratic burden on professors and a sharp decline in the real requirements for the level of students’ knowledge.

A lucid picture regarding the priority of education and science, the “increase” in public investment in the potential national elite and in the scientific and technological breakthrough provides a comparison of budget financing of higher education in 2018 and 2019. According to the Law of Ukraine “On the State Budget of Ukraine for 2018”, 95.47 billion UAH was allocated to finance the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine, which is 10.04 billion UAH more than in 2017. The distribution of these funds gives an idea not only about the share aimed at educating the potential national elite, but also about the future qualities and competencies of the “elite” as a result of such investments.

Source: Law of Ukraine “On the State Budget of Ukraine for 2018”.

As it can be seen, most of the funds are a subvention to local budgets, which is, in particular, due to the start of a full-scale school education reform. School reform received certain financial support. Almost 2.5 times less was allocated for training the staff in higher education institutions, including the support of professors’ bases for practice. The Cabinet of Ministers reduces the amount of state order, but even those places that remain are not sufficiently funded. For methodical and material-technical support of educational institutions, for scientific and scientific-technical development, scanty sums were allocated. Spending on research and development in the amount of 0.27% of GDP, according to the Minister of Education and Science of Ukraine Lilia Hrynevych, is insufficient. The Minister sees a way out in grant financing of scientists. Certainly, universities and particular scientists have activated their search for grant funds for the implementation of some projects. However, the lack of state policy of reforming higher education, the development of science and its financial support cannot be compensated by the efforts of universities and donors.

On November 23, 2018, the Verkhovna Rada adopted the State Budget for 2019, which was presented by the government as the “Development Budget of the Country”. Obviously, the development of the country is impossible without the development of higher education. Therefore, it is worthwhile to compare the indicators of the current year budget and the costs of the development of higher education in the “Development Budget of the Country”.

Source: Law of Ukraine “On the State Budget of Ukraine for 2019”.

The evidence analyzed highlights that the increase in funding for certain items of expenditure on the development of higher education cannot be considered even symbolic. If we take into account the rate of inflation in 2018 and even its extremely optimistic forecast for the next fiscal year at 7.4%, it becomes clear that inflation has actually already “eaten” quite modest additional expenses. Therefore, the development of the country will continue without the development of higher education.

According to paragraph 12 of the final provisions of the Project, prepared for the second reading in accordance with the budgetary conclusions of the Verkhovna Rada, the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine should take measures to ensure the autonomy of higher education institutions, revise the standards for the number of students for one full-time post of scientific and pedagogical worker in the state higher education institutions III-IV level of accreditation in order to increase them. As it can be seen, the measures are aimed at further reducing funding for higher education. Therefore, the introduction of such financial levers reduces the reform of higher education to the application of the principle “if it survives, then let it survive, and if dies – let it be so”. Accordingly, universities are forced to develop survival strategies. The increase in autonomy amid the financial crisis entails austerity in the educational process. The study of certain aspects of the universities’ functioning in modern conditions gives some ideas about the real consequences of survival strategies and the authorities’ reform intentions combination.

Fake quality in the absence of adequate funding

Investor, allocating his or her own funds, focuses on achieving an accurately defined result. Accordingly, he or she understands not only its quantitative and qualitative parameters, but also the separation distance of the real flow indicators from the desired and forecasted ones for the future. A state reforming higher education and striving to ensure its qualitatively new level should, first of all, proceed from the existing quality indicators and invest in its improvement. Direct indicators of quality include the level of academic fraud, corruption, assessment of the level of quality by students, graduates and employers. An important indirect indicator is the rapid increase in the number of school graduates traveling abroad to study. If in 2008, 18 thousand Ukrainians received education in European countries, in 2013 – about 30 thousand, in 2017 their number reached 70 thousand. Obviously, the low quality of Ukrainian higher education combined with high cost is one of the key reasons. In addition, the modern policies of the governments of Eastern European and Baltic countries are aimed at attracting Ukrainian youth to their universities. Therefore, empty university audiences, loss of intellectual potential and a labor resource are already felt as a reality.

The increase in academic fraud combined with the strengthening of the traditions of simulation of the educational process – a factor in the further rapid destruction of the higher education system. Analysis of the research results “Academic culture of Ukrainian students: the main factors of formation and development” and “Reforms of the higher school of Ukraine in assessments of participants in the educational process” conducted by Kharkiv sociologists in 2014-2016, as well as studying the content of the report “OECD reviews on the topic of good faith in Education: Ukraine 2017” gives a very specific idea of ​​the scale of academic fraud in the higher education system, respectively, of the quality and competencies of “potential national elites”.

Sources: Academic culture of Ukrainian students: the main factors of formation and development; Artyomov P.N., Pak I.V. Academic dishonesty as an element of the academic culture of Ukrainian students: the results of empirical research.

If 93% of students admit their use of various forms of academic fraud, and this fact, on a somewhat smaller scale, is confirmed by the professors, this means the actual legalization of complete academic dishonesty at the university level. If the Ministry of Science and Education does not make a real effort to solve the problem, obviously, legalization took place at the state level.

In Western countries, academic dishonesty and discrepancy between the level of students’ knowledge and established criteria is an unequivocal basis for exclusion from the university. It is worth remembering at least the case of exclusion from Harvard University of 60 students for cheating on the exam. According to the university’s conclusion, students “could incorrectly prepare answers together or use the blanks of their fellows”. For a US university, the situation looks normal when out of 138 students enrolled in the first year of study only 29 of them get a diploma. At universities in the Federal Republic of Germany, the dropout rate reaches one third, while applicants undergo a rigorous selection at the admission stage. In Ukraine, as a result of constant funding cuts, the key task of universities has been the careful preservation of the contingent. Cases of exclusion for academic failure are so rare that in the data of the State Statistics Service of Ukraine this indicator is not even displayed. Accordingly, the mission of Ukrainian universities is confidently developing towards the education of a “potentially fraudulent elite”. The state, although in a too modest way, but still invests in the fulfillment of this mission instead of investing in quality improvement in sufficient scale.

One of the main items of economy on higher education is the salary of professors. Components of economy: the actual freezing of wages; minimizing classroom time; the actual elimination of individual and consulting work that are already insignificant in terms of the amount of time; the elimination of most forms of intermediate knowledge control; reduction the exam to a purely formal event as a form of final control; professor’s unpaid working time for repeated exams; massive and timely occurrence of “family circumstances” among professors, as a result of which they go on unpaid leave, most often during the holidays, etc. These savings are reflected not only in the motivation of teachers, but above all, in the level and quality of students’ knowledge.

The current Law of Ukraine “On Higher Education” provides for the financing of universities from several sources. Firstly, at the expense of the state budget and other sources not prohibited by law (Art. 71). As it can be seen, the state does not generously finance higher education and scientific research. Search for other sources in modern conditions looks extremely problematic, and donor funds raised do not solve the problem even in the slightest degree. Secondly, by providing paid services to individuals and legal entities, as the main statutory type of activity, subject to the provision of the proper level of quality of these services (Art. 73). But the “proper level”, including the consequences of the factors considered, looks inappropriate. However, in higher education institutions there is a clear tendency to expand the range of paid services, including by overlapping the “gaps” in the educational process with paid services. Real additional services, as a rule, are not in great demand due to the impoverishment of society. “Patching holes” and transferring students’ academic debts to the level of implementation of paid services by educational institutions leads to a further reduction in the quality of the educational process. Thus, modern mechanisms and the size of funding put universities in front of the need to find ways to survive. Survival is incompatible with improving the quality of educational services and moving towards the realization of the university’s mission.

Conclusions and recommendations

The size of budget expenditures on higher education testifies not only to the financial insecurity of reform intentions, but also to the absolute disregard by the authorities of the need to invest in human capital, in creating prerequisites for economic growth and sustainable development of the country.

The financial mechanisms that today are used as the main lever of influence on the reform of higher education are in fact destructive. The dependence of funding on the number of students, formal indicators of the quality of knowledge, multi-vector saving on professors’ salaries strengthen the tendencies of imitation of the educational process. Therefore, a fundamental change in financing approaches is needed. Funding should be one of the tools to reform higher education, stimulate the fulfillment of the university’s mission and be sufficient to ensure an effective educational process and achieve the required indicators of the quality of applicants’ knowledge.

Academic fraud has become a large-scale and systemic phenomenon, actually legalized at the university and state levels. Today, the struggle with it is very reminiscent of the “shaman dances” with the “spelling the shamanic spirits of dishonesty” so that they weaken their influence on the educational process and “coaxing shamanic spirits of quality” so that they become more active. “Dances” are accompanied by modest “sacrifices” in the form of budget financing.

The orientation of universities in the financial crisis on the careful preservation of the student contingent and the demonstration of academic successful performance, sometimes too far from real, is not compatible with the elimination of academic fraud and ensuring that knowledge meets the established quality criteria. The internal control system does not work, since it is also actually subordinated to the conservation of the student contingent. Therefore, at the present stage, it may be worthwhile to consider the feasibility of introducing external independent assessment of professional and civic competencies of graduates. The only effective way to combat academic fraud and fake academic performance indicators is to put universities in a situation where it becomes unprofitable for them and is fraught with significant sanctions. External control with the participation of not only state institutions, but also non-state agencies of education quality, supervisory boards of universities and representatives of the public can solve this problem. Successful completion of assessment is the basis for issuing a diploma to a graduate, and for universities – the basis for raising positions in ratings, respectively, increasing funding.

Effective basic principles of financing, criteria and rating systems for determining its volumes can be developed only with the participation of active and competent representatives of the university community and public organizations working in the field of education. Accordingly, the main criterion should be the level of students’ knowledge on the basis of external control.

Svetlana Topalova

Center for Political Analysis “Observatory of Democracy”

Published in Svetlana Topalova’s blog on the social political website “LB.ua”

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