On Jan. 3, the National University of Kyiv Mohyla Academy filed a lawsuit at the Regional Administrative Court in Kyiv challenging the efforts of the Ministry of Education and Science, Youth and Sports of Ukraine to control university autonomy and academic freedom – a policy that results in lower academic standards and international rankings, prevents European integration and diminishes the country’s security and economic development.
Serhiy Kvit, president of Kyiv Mohyla Academy stated: “The legal action we undertook seeks to prevent the Ministry’s policy of isolation, unification and brutal central control of higher education, and to protect the public and the national interest by raising the quality of Ukrainian universities and improving their competitiveness in the international arena.”
Minister Dmitro Tabachnyk’s latest demands, prohibiting students from choosing their own fields of study by cancelling the ability to “cross over” to elective master’s programs, is an encroachment on the educational process in which students shape their own learning trajectory.
This system of freedom to choose one’s own field of study has been the basis for the quality of education offered by Kyiv Mohyla Academy since its reestablishment.
Kyiv Mohyla Academy introduced its master’s level program two years prior to Ukraine’s nationwide implementation in 1996, and based it on models implemented throughout the world.
Despite past promises from the Presidential Administration to replace Dmitro Tabachnyk as minister of education, and notwithstanding nationwide protests caused by his policies, Tabachnyk was again appointed as minister. His reappointment is viewed as a manipulative move to provoke conflicts and divisions, and push Ukraine further into the Russian orbit.
The lawsuit filed by Kyiv Mohyla Academy challenges Ukraine’s current antiquated regulations in higher education.
The Ministry insists on continuing Soviet-style controls that prohibit students to change fields in applying to graduate programs, thus preventing crossover admissions into graduate degree level programs.
According to Ukraine’s Ministry on Higher Education requirements, a graduate with a bachelor’s degree in physics can only apply to a master’s program in physics, a history student to a master’s level studies in history.
A master’s candidate with a finance specialty does not have the right to apply for a program in economic theory, a specialist in culture cannot cross over to philosophy, and so on. This absurd approach violates multidisciplinary and mobility strategies that are practiced in the European Union’s sphere of higher education and throughout the world.
The result is that Ukraine’s education laws hold individuals hostage, preventing personal, academic and professional development, and causing scorn from the rest of the academic world.
Tabachyk’s tenure is characterized by his provocative and regressive policies. He attempted to eliminate the requirement of English as a second working language at Kyiv Mohyla Academy and to rewrite the statutes of the university.
Ukrainian institutions of higher learning are currently prohibited from setting requirements or standards, and are forced to adhere only to lists and requirements established by the ministry.
Kyiv Mohyla Academy requires proficiency in the English language for graduation, but according to the mnistry, such an expectation is not permitted. Instead of studying and implementing successful foreign and domestic models of higher learning, which include the study of the English language as part of the academic curriculum, Ukraine’s minister seeks to prevent its proficiency in the country’s universities.
The reappointment of Tabachnyk will inevitably lead to the further degradation of higher education in Ukraine, and to the discredit of the achievements of Ukrainian universities and researchers.
Furthermore, his appointment is a tactical move to block the passage of a new law on higher education, based on “Draft Law On Higher Education” proposed by the working group established by Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and chaired by Mykhailo Zhurovsky, rector of the National University Kyiv Polytechnic Institute.
Despite such politically motivated tactics, it is reasonable to expect that universities in Ukraine will eventually join the international academic community and gain independence and the respect of their peers. Rectors, faculty members, and students deserve to be equal citizens of the academic world, and the people of Ukraine deserve to have a Minister of Education whose priority is the welfare and security of the nation through excellence in education.
Marta Farion is the president of Kyiv Mohyla Foundation of America