In the last while, the question of providing free education has sparked renewed debate. Representatives of individual political forces see it as a necessary precondition for the democratization of Ukrainian society. Given the fact that (as of this writing) a Socialist Party member is tipped to head the ministry of education, this question might soon move into the political plane. How warranted and realistic is this? The Day asked a number of university heads to comment on the possible ban on tuition-based education and forseeable consequences of this.
According to Hennady Varlamov, provost for education at the Kyiv Polytechnic Institute, only 10% of students at his university pay tuition fees. Revenue from paying students are insignificant and are mostly spent on repairs of the university’s campus and 23 buildings. No state funds are allotted for this purpose. The same money is used to pay bonuses to faculty members to motivate them to focus on their university work and not look for jobs on the side. “While 80% of the nation’s scientific potential is concentrated in institutions of higher learning, less funding is provided for university-based research projects than for the Academy of Sciences, which has five times fewer scientists than institutions of higher learning. The Kyiv Polytechnic Institute has nearly 2,000 instructors, 200 of whom are professors. Since January 1, 2005, professors’ salaries were increased by more than two times to approximately UAH 1,700. The study of science is quite a challenge, and not all students are up to it. Today it has become fashionable to pursue higher education. Tuition-paying students (those who scored well on admission tests, but not high enough to qualify for state-sponsored scholarships) have a difficult time with their studies, and instructors expend more time and effort on them. Yet only 20% of tuition-paying students at our university make it to the very end and receive diplomas. So how can we teach everyone who wants to study? This would put gifted young people at a disadvantage. Incidentally, after the midyear examinations that just ended, we had to expel 560 students who failed their examinations; 179 of them were paying students.”
The vice-president of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy National University, Mykhailo Bryk, has called attention to the fact that obtaining a higher education is not a social norm, nor is it a fundamental human right. “Today skilled specialists are needed everywhere, and the age of wallpaper degrees is over. So how can we provide higher education to those who cannot master it? On the other hand, what is the point of banning tuition-based educational services if a young person or his parents can afford it? A ban on tuition-based education would result in rampant bribe-taking among admission officers. If students want to pay for their education, let them do it in a legal manner and not use the state-sponsored scholarship that is earmarked for a more talented entrant. I want the government to provide enough subsidies for gifted young people and support them in every possible way, but I don’t want it to prevent those who want to pay for their education from doing so.” Incidentally, first vice-president of the All-Ukrainian Employers’ Association Vyacheslav Bykovets condemns the attempts to ban tuition-based education, since this would put downward pressure on the job market at a time when many private institutions of higher learning have already made a name for themselves in the educational market.
Volodymyr Luhovy, rector of the State Management Academy under the President of Ukraine and an expert on educational policy and administration, correctly notes that there is no country that offers completely free education, i.e., education that is fully state subsidized. “The highest percentage of state-funded scholarships is in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Finland. Overall in the developed nations, 88% of educational institutions are state owned and 12% are privately owned. Private institutions of higher learning are widespread in Japan and South Korea, and somewhat less so in the US and Canada. In terms of budget-funded education, Ukraine has already reached world standards. Last year close to 5% of the GDP was spent on education. This figure is 6-7% for Canada and the US. Every year the number of state-funded scholarships increases in Ukraine. All tuition- based scholarships supplement state-sponsored ones and do not replace them. In the Soviet period, no more than 20% of school leavers could become university students. Today this percentage has markedly increased. In France, every high school graduate can enroll in university. Nevertheless, in the process of education students are selected on a competitive basis, and those who do not perform well enough on tests either drop out or continue their education on a paying basis. I imagine that the recent calls for a greater focus on free education have been due to the large number of private educational institutions that provide low-quality educational services, owing to insufficient state and public controls over how they are established and operated. Meanwhile, as in the past, our state-owned educational institutions continue to receive high marks internationally. It’s worth noting that free education in the developed countries means that the state covers instructors’ salaries, equipment for lecture halls and laboratories, books for libraries, and research. However, even students who have state- sponsored scholarships have to pay for access to computers, campus accommodation, transportation, meals, and books. In general, tuition-based education is society’s solid investment in education.”