Volodymyr Kovtunets, Deputy Minister of Education and Science of Ukraine
Two years have passed since the adoption and enactment of the new Law of Ukraine "On Higher Education". The road to its adoption was long, as work on amendments to higher education legislation first began in from 2005, the year of Ukraine's accession to the Bologna Process.
Adoption of the law was the starting point for higher education reforms in four areas.
First, the structure of higher education was brought into line with the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED), approved by UNESCO. There are three levels of higher education, which are achieved by graduating from Bachelor's, Master's and Doctor of Philosophy degrees (equivalent to candidate of sciences). The higher education system also includes the academic title of Doctor of Sciences.
At the same time, the educational qualification level of "junior specialist" was removed from the higher education system and transferred to the vocational education system. Taking into account the needs of specific academic disciplines, an initial level of higher education was introduced in the form of the "Junior Bachelor's" degree.
A new structure of academic disciplines and areas of specialization has been established.
Secondly, a system of quality assurance in higher education was established to replace the old Soviet system of quality control in higher education.
Thirdly, higher education institutions have received considerably more autonomy and therefore have a much greater responsibility for educational outcomes.
Fourth, the procedure for admission of students has been brought into line with the practice established in relation to the introduction of external independent testing (EIT).The new system has also allowed the introduction of a new procedure for allocating state-funded places that partially implements the principle of "money follows the student".
The results of the past two years allow us to make initial conclusions about the success of reforms and identify problems.
With regard to the first area of reforms, the enrollment of students for the educational qualification of "junior specialist" is coming to an end. The licensing of higher education institutions and research institutions for the third qualification level (former graduate schools) is proceeding successfully. In addition, an educational and scientific training program with a significant educational component is currently being prepared for graduate students.
Determining the future status of former higher education institutions with I-II levels of accreditation (technical schools and colleges) is a more complex matter. Up until the 1990s, these served as specialist secondary schools, which prepared professionals for a variety of industries - from construction to medicine. However, the majority of them are not able provide higher education (at the level of Bachelors' or Junior Bachelors' degree) and must transfer to the vocational education system. The obstacles to this process are two-fold. First of all, many of these institutions became departments of higher education institutions and lost their status as legal entities. However, universities are required by law to provide higher education and have the right to found secondary and vocational education institutions. As a result, hard work is needed to streamline the structure of educational institutions. Secondly, non higher education institutions need to be transferred to the jurisdiction of municipal authorities as a result of the reallocation of budgetary resources as part of the process of decentralization. Difficulties which have arisen with the transfer of vocational education institutions to local government have been holding back reforms.
An important result of the reforms was the introduction of a new classification system of academic disciplines and areas of specialization in accordance with ISCED recommendations. However, the list of areas of specialization is unsystematic in part due to the lobbying efforts of representatives of certain academic disciplines. Compared with widely defined specializations that conform to international practice, the classification system is too specific. This approach reduces the level of autonomy accorded to higher education institutions with regard to the development and accreditation of educational programs and ultimately narrows employment opportunities for graduates.
The second area of reforms - the introduction of a quality assurance system - is being implemented behind schedule, contrary to what has been set out in the Law. Most complaints and difficulties relate to the delay in launching the work of a new public authority - the National Agency for Quality Assurance in Higher Education.
Despite this, the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine established the Scientific and Methodological Council and scientific-methodological commission set out in the law, which have begun the development of a new generation of higher education standards using a competence based approach.
Still to come is the detailed work of education experts who must carry out the accreditation of higher education programs.
Perhaps the most progress has been achieved in ensuring the autonomy of higher education institutions. Educational institutions have the right to develop their own educational programs, to set curricula, publish textbooks and manuals and develop programs and academic disciplines.
However, some issues relating to autonomy, including organizational matters are impossible to resolve without financial autonomy. Thus, the Law gives universities the right to approve their own staff list. However, the full realization of this right is impossible while simultaneously preserving the old model of public funding, because the staff list is the basis for the determination of significant amounts of public funding.
It should be noted that the law has provided some new elements of financial autonomy, including the right of higher education institutions to open deposit accounts in state banks and has accorded higher education institutions legal status as nonprofit institutions. However the full implementation of financial autonomy for higher education institutions is only possible by ending their status as budget-financed entities. This, in turn, requires changes in budget and tax legislation.
Finally let's consider the issue of ensuring access to higher education. The law allows higher education institutions to make a selection based on the competitive score in EIT and the and average grade indicated in the high-school diploma, while in some cases taking into account learning outcomes in preparatory programs. These rules were successfully applied during the 2014-2016 admissions campaigns and resulted in expanded autonomous rights for higher education institutions in terms of the competitive selection of students.
In addition, the use of EIT for competitive selection allowed the implementation of the law with regard to the distribution of publicly funded places, by which the amount of public funding for academic disciplines of higher education institutions is determined by how many applicants were enrolled with competitive scores entitling them to study at publicly funded places. This step removed the subjective factors in the distribution of public higher education institutions and for the first time introduced an element of market competition between higher education institutions to access to public financing. The next step should be the introduction of a funding system for higher education institutions with standard expenditure per student, depending on the academic discipline and additional funding for measurable quality indicators of the university (in Europe this method of financing called performance-based funding).
The aim of education reforms is a significant improvement of the quality of education. The outcome will depend not only on legislation but also on the willingness of the academic community and management at higher education institutions to work in an environment with functioning higher education institutions. As practical experience over the past two years in Ukraine show, there is a critical mass of university leaders who cleverly use the new opportunities provided by the law and aim to develop Ukrainian higher education to the level of the best higher education institutions in Europe and the world.
How does the electronic filing of documents by high-school graduates work? What is the automatic allocation of publicly funded places and how is it carried out? What is the "vote by scores" and which higher education institutions have attracted the best high-school graduates?
On 1 August the lists of applicants recommended for admission to publicly funded places were made public for all educational levels (Bachelor, Master, specialist, junior specialist). Total recommendations for admission to publicly financed places amounted to 184 778 students who have until 5 August to present original documents to the selection committee of their chosen university.
Most high-school graduates already "possess" original documents as this year the admissions process was fully automated for the first time and documents were submitted in electronic form, i.e. applicants or their parents do not have to personally go and apply. It's also possible to check admissions results in the personal electronic "Applicants' filing cabinet".
Equal access to quality education was declared the primary goal of state policy in education. Under the Constitution and the Law of Ukraine "On Higher Education" all citizens have the right to higher education "on a competitive basis". Thus state policy in the field of higher education requires creating equal conditions for admission to higher education institutions and ensuring an admissions process in which publicly funded places are competitively distributed to the best-performing high-school graduates. This also requires the division of publicly funded places between Ukrainian higher education institutions.
Those higher education institutions which attracted the best-performing high school graduates (with the highest EIT scores and the highest average grades), were able to receive a maximum 25% increase in publicly funded places compared with the previous year's distribution of publicly funded places. The distribution of places was fully automated, with an electronic system used to analyze applicant data according to an algorithm for automatic distribution.
This year is the first time year this system has been operated, whereby publicly funded places are distributed not in accordance with a ministerial decision but dependent on how high the scores of applicants were, who applied for a given academic discipline. This principle can be called "Places follow high-school graduates" and its purpose is that the best applicants obtain publicly funded places. As a result, higher education institutions receive the best students, the higher education system as a whole becomes more competitive and universities take a greater interest in improving the level of education they provide.
The website of the Ministry of Education and Science includes a list of universities which were are able to increase the number of publicly funded places and attract the most talented high-school graduates. It should be noted that fears that such a system of distributing publicly financed places disproportionately increases the popularity of major metropolitan higher education institutions were not justified. More than half of the educational institutions which were able to increase the number of publicly funded places on the basis of "Places follow high-school graduates" are to be found in regional areas.
The Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine has simplified the procedure for admission of high-school graduates whose parents or one of whose parents died while participating in the АТО. Such high-school graduates must send their personal information (surname, first name, patronymic, year of birth, mobile phone contact number, academic discipline and higher education institution in which they are enrolled) to the following address email@example.com
The mechanism for admission is based on the presidential degree "On urgent measures to ensure additional social guarrantees for specific categories of citizens" and concerns "applicants whose parents (or one of whose parents) died while participating in the anti-terrorist operation, defending the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine or who died as a result of an injury suffered in the districts where the anti-terrorist operation is being conducted and who did not enroll in publicly funded places of a higher education institution." Such applicants are enrolled at their selected higher education institution out of competition.
As soon as MES receives all information indicated above about such high-school graduates (under the email address ( firstname.lastname@example.org) information is transmitted to the respective higher education institution. Management of respective higher education institutions are required to quickly make contact with students and to prepare a submission to the Ministry about allocating the appropriate number of publicly-funded places for this category of high-school graduates.
In order to support vocational education in cities where budgets cannot afford such funding, the Government has approved a stabilization grant and allocated funds in the amount of 97,994,600 hryvnia. In total, 20 towns will be included list of towns that will receive additional funding for the maintenance of vocational schools. They were selected based on whether the share of expenditure for financing vocational schools exceeded 20% of total local government spending.
Overall modernization of vocational education is one of the priorities of MES in 2016. In addition to funding, changes also concern other aspects of vocational education in accordance with the Law "On vocational education". In order for the changes to be successful, Ukraine has joined the Turin process. This will help our country receive an international audit and advice on the further development of the vocational training sector.
Public discussion on updating educational programs for primary schools, which took place on the online platform EdEra have been completed. In total 14 curricula were changed for classes 1-4 with Ukrainian as the language of instruction. Curricula have all been approved by the Board of MES and will be introduced in schools from the new academic year.
The main idea behind changing curricula was to update and disencumber content. The updated program will correspond to the age-specific particularities of pupils and give teachers greater freedom in teaching the subject.
What exactly will change in the educational program for grades 1-4 from 1 September?
There will no longer be a clear division of hours for each subject - teachers are entitled to decide how much time to devote to the study of respective content to ensure that it is properly learned;
Curricula conform to age-specific particularities of children - topics and terms too difficult for a given age group have been removed. For example, according to the updated program for Ukrainian language more time and attention will be paid to the development of spoken language and requirements to construct sentences according to set sentence structure will be removed from the curriculum. The requirement to write words and sentences has been removed from the English language curriculum for the first grade, while children will spend more time on learning and practicing spoken English.
Children in primary school will be allowed to write in notebooks using pencils and not pens. It is important for the psychological comfort of the child, that he/she is not afraid to practice and make mistakes;
Requirements on standard reading speed set out in "number of words read per minute" will be removed, while more attention will be paid to reading comprehension. Indeed, reading comprehension and understanding of written information is one of the indicators that are tested during the PISA international comparative study of school education, in which Ukraine is planning to participate for the first time in 2018.
For subjects such as "physical education", "shop-class", "art" and "music" programs were modified so as to remove excessive theory and allocate more time for direct practical training in physical exercise, painting, music and other forms of creativity .
What functions must the National Agency for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (NAQAHE) fulfill?
Who is the NAQAHE made up of and how is it being established?
The National Agency for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (NAQAHE), the establishment of which is required under the Law of Ukraine "On Higher Education" and the work of which had been blocked for some time, will begin its work in September 2016. A resolution to this effect was approved by the government on 27 July 2016, which resolved remaining questions and removed impediments to the work of the agency.
National Agency for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (NAQAHE) is a permanent collegiate body in higher education, which is to take over part of the functions of the Ministry of Higher Education, in particular in the area of quality control of higher education.
The Charter of the National Agency for Quality Assurance in Higher Education specifies that its main responsibilities include:
Establishing the requirements for a quality assurance system in higher education;
Developing provisions on the accreditation of training programs and coordinating such accreditation;
Approval of higher education standards for each academic discipline;
Giving an opinion on issuance of licenses for conducting educational activities;
Implementing policy on awarding or confirming "national" status for Ukrainian higher education
Implementing policy on awarding or confirming academic titles;
Participating in the determination of the number of publicly funded places at higher education institutions.
NAQAHE consists of 25 members, all of whom are elected for a term of 3 years and may not serve at the agency for more than two terms. Representatives to NAQAHE are delegated by the National Academy of Sciences (2 members), National Academy of Sciences for specific disciplines (5 members), higher education institutions (13 members), employers (3 members) and student representatives (2 members). Heads and deputy heads of higher education institutions, the National Academy of Sciences, academies of sciences for individual academic disciplines and research institutions may not be members of NAQAHE.
Membership in NAQAHE is also excluded for persons who have been convicted, declared legally incapacitated, subject to a court order depriving them the right to occupy relevant positions or found guilty of having committed corruption offenses. The fact that NAQAHE membership includes two individuals subject to the Law of Ukraine "On Cleansing of State Authorities", has resulted in civic protest which blocked the work of the National Agency as elected. In response the Ministry of Education and Science will not submit the candidacy of the individuals concerned for approval by the Cabinet of Ministers. This will remove existing impediments and allow the National Agency for Quality Assurance in Higher Education to begin its work in September of this year.
What is the main purpose of establishing a repository of academic texts at the national level?
Why is the struggle with academic plagiarism so important?
Which academic texts will be included in the national repository and in what order will this occur?
By adopting CMU Resolution no. 504-r of 22 July 2016 "On creation of a National repository of academic texts", the government supported the proposal of the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine and approved the creation of a unified electronic database of academic works. This decision is important for a systematic approach to combat the problem of academic plagiarism, ranging from doctoral theses to Bachelors' or Masters' theses.
Effectively combating plagiarism is one of the priorities of MES in the field of higher education and research and an important step in the implementation of the Law of Ukraine "On Higher Education". Plagiarism is a systemic problem for higher education in Ukraine, which results in low quality of education and the low competitiveness of our graduates and researchers internationally.
MES Order no. 758 "On publishing dissertations and official reviews" has been in force in Ukraine for one year now, requiring the publication of theses and official reviews on university websites, which has been an important step in the fight against academic plagiarism. The national repository of academic texts will cover all levels of education and science where there is a risk of plagiarism. Currently work is underway to fill the main part of the depository which will include:
Texts of dissertations that were published on the websites of universities from the entry into force of Order no. 578 (from July 2015) - in open access mode;
Texts of theses defended prior to the entry into force of Decree no. 578 - in closed access mode;
Scientific articles that were published in Ukrainian journals - both in open or closed access mode depending on the level of access applicable to journals in which they were published.
In the future, plans exist to develop a section in the National repository section to provide for uploading theses by bachelors' and masters' students to the single database of texts. This will allow the establishment of a systematic campaign in favor of independent study and completing tasks in the form of rules for the higher education process, the violation of which will have negative consequences for students.
The Ministry of Education and Science's partner in developing the repository is Microsoft Ukraine."Cloud technology" has been chosen to implement effective and safe operation of the repository and allow full and easy access for users using any internet-connected device (personal computer, tablet, smart-phone). Use of the repository will be free of charge for physical persons and Ukrainian higher education institutions.
The creation of a National repository of academic texts is an important milestone for qualitative changes in higher education and securing intellectual property rights in Ukraine. In turn, this will enable qualitative changes in the economy, creating a "knowledge economy" based on modern technology, scientific research and large volumes of data (big data).
During the visit by a Ukrainian delegation of scientists and government officials to Germany from 11-14 July 2016 a number of agreements on bilateral cooperation and international assistance in higher education and research sectors were concluded.
In particular Ukrainian and German representatives meeting in a session of the bilateral commission on scientific-technical cooperation signed a protocol on continuing scientific-technical cooperation until 2018 which provides for jointly financed projects, expert assistance in the realization of structural changes, cooperation and support for the internationalization of Ukrainian education and research.
In practice, this means that Ukraine and Germany will cooperate in traditional bilateral projects in the defined priority areas of: biotechnology, technology for the effective use of energy and resources, information-communication technology, scientific research in the health and medical technology sector.
In addition to such projects, Germany and Ukraine will jointly finance measures related to systematic reforms to the activity of research institutions and universities and in particular: the modernization of management, identifying and developing institutional potential, exchanging experience on the organization and coordination of scientific research activities, obtaining financing from international sources and developing links between research and business.
Based on its own experience, Germany will support Ukraine in developing its system of quality control for higher education - firstly this concerns the organization of activity of the National Agency for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (NAQAHE) - and assist with the development of a National Research Fund - an institution provided for by the Law of Ukraine "On scientific and scientific-technical activity" which is tasked with structural reform to financing of scientific research in Ukraine.
Also planned is to continue cooperation with DAAD - the German Academic Exchange Service - in projects that will assist the process of internationalization of Ukrainian higher education.