Ukrainian higher education

UKRAINIAN EDUCATION: Professors need higher salaries and better English language skills

KSE President Dr. George Logush argues for better pay and greater international interaction

Cosmos Ojukwu
Thursday, 01 October 2015 17:37

Ukraine ranks as one of the most educated nations on the planet, but as a new academic year gets underway across the country, the Ukrainian education system is still widely regarded as falling well short of its world-beating potential. Limited resources, outdated curriculums, corruption and a lack of international academic interaction all continue to hamper the further development of what is theoretically one of Ukraine’s greatest assets. Business Ukraine magazine spoke to Kyiv School of Economics President Dr. George Logush about his vision for a Ukrainian education system capable of serving the country’s needs as it looks to integrate further in the global economy.


Are Ukraine’s institutes of higher education producing the kind of graduates that the country’s economy needs?

Unfortunately, they are not yet doing so, but this is an incredible opportunity for human capital investment, restructuring, and transformational reforms. Ukrainian universities are vastly underfunded, isolated from the world academic community, and do not appear in international rankings. State universities, saddled with stifling conservatism and over-regulation, offer tuition-free education, and thus monopolize education by squeezing out competition from non-state universities.


Ukraine is widely regarded as one of the most educated nations in the world. In which areas does Ukraine enjoy the greatest advantages, and what are the biggest weaknesses of the country’s education system?

Ukrainian education produces very highly literacy and is still quite good for academic disciplines such as mathematics and for the basics in several sciences. However, this edge is in decline as Ukraine has seriously lagged behind scientific developments over the past few decades. The technological and scientific advantages inherited from the Soviet period were primarily in defense-related fields like aerospace, welding and a few other specialized technologies. These advantages should not be exaggerated as the Soviets could not attain parity in the design of items like space shuttles, aircraft carriers, and high performance aircraft, avionics, and civil aviation. As an indicator, there were just a handful of Soviet Nobel Prize winners. This edge has seriously slipped in the past few decades. Moreover, Ukraine seriously lags in academic fields that were banned, underdeveloped or distorted by censorship and ideological controls during the Soviet era. This applies to social sciences, economics, and management.


How have the past two years of protest, revolution and war impacted on the higher education system in Ukraine?

The Revolution of Dignity exposed the link between authoritarian rule and the subservience of state universities. This has driven a series of initial reforms, heroically led by Minister Kvit, Rector Zhurovskyi, and parliamentary committee chair Hrynevych. As a result, Western PhDs have finally been recognized, opening the way to international faculty exchanges. Universities have been granted more autonomy, and barriers dismantled for education-science-technology interfaces. But this is just the start. Further reform should include state scholarships for students with freedom of choice as to where to study, including non-state universities. Ukraine also needs English-language degree programs and appropriate faculty salaries. These reforms would provide opportunities for the rapid development of the kind of world-class education system which Ukrainians richly deserve.


How important are good English-language skills for Ukrainian students looking to build a successful international business career?

I can answer simply, loudly, and profoundly – they are indispensable! English is the international language of business and science. The Association Agreement with the EU, opportunities with North America (especially with an impending EU-US FTA) and the rest of the world, and the continuously constricting trade with Russia, leave Ukrainians with no other choice. However, this does not just relate to conversational English language - a total business education conducted in English and in accordance with international curriculum standards is required in order to provide effective communications with business partners and competitors internationally. Particularly important are MBA programs taught in English with international faculty with PhDs and executive management experience.


In the 1990s, it was common for ambitious young Ukrainians to study law. Today many Ukrainians see IT studies as a pathway to a lucrative career. What will be the most sought-after educational background in ten years’ time?

Ukraine’s biggest problem is the lack of economic growth driven by business expansion, especially internationally. Successful business requires managers and executives with state-of-the-art knowledge. Ukraine needs thousands of high quality MBAs with this training. This is the coming boom in education.


How difficult is it to attract high-caliber international specialists to teach in Ukraine?

This is a severe bottleneck. While PhDs are now finally accepted, recruitment is needed. Salaries and working conditions must be competitive. Students and fellow Ukrainian faculty members must be fluent in English to enable teaching, research and publications. Western faculty will drive the change in Ukraine’s higher education.


Ukraine’s higher education system has long been dogged by corruption, with bribes for grades and ghost-written course papers just a few of the more common problems. How can this culture of corruption be overcome?

Faculty members must be paid proper salaries. Current salary levels are very low. This creates the temptation, and even the need, to supplement income with ‘supplementary payments’. After salary reforms, universities should root out corruption. We should add that the majority of faculty members are hard-working and honest. But a sizeable minority remain corrupt and devastate the system.


About the interviewee: Dr. George Logush is President of the Kyiv School of Economics

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