The contest for London’s A-Level Bellerbys College scholarship recently ended in Ukraine. It was organized in collaboration with the Donstream Education Group. Among the seven finalists, Viktoria Makarenko, an 11th-grade student from Donetsk, won the 30 percent scholarship discount.
Bellerbys College specializes in extracurricular training for young people who want to receive a university degree. One of the curricula is meant specifically for foreign students. It lasts one year. They also have a two-year A-Level course, which is a traditional path to university entrance for many students, including those from Great Britain. Interestingly, 28 percent of Bellerbys graduates are rated at an A-Star level (compared to the UK’s average eight percent), which allows them to study at such famous British higher education institutions as Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial College London, University College London, and the London School of Economics. There are Ukrainians among the graduates. Last year, Dmytro Melnykov, a Bellerbys graduate, was accepted to Cambridge.
Needless to say, this type of training is too expensive for most of Ukraine’s youth, and only the children of wealthy business people can enjoy this privilege. There are, however, several important aspects worth mentioning. First, solvency isn’t a guarantee for enrollment. Very few applicants are actually accepted to Bellerbys. They are young people who are fluent in English and acquired an adequate level of know-ledge in school. Second, some of the Ukrainian graduates of British universities return home to contribute to Ukrainian business with innovative ideas and an European outlook. Finally, the presence of Ukrainian Bellerbys graduates is proof that the Ukrainian younger generation is competitive on the world’s “brain market.”
Donstream helped The Day get an exclusive interview with Andy QUIN, the principal of Bellerbys College London Campus, who visited Ukraine to see the A-Level finalists and congratulate the winners.
Our students have studied at your college for several years. How did you come up with the idea of collaboration with Ukraine?
“I’m the principal of Bellerbys College in London. Bellerbys has four colleges in the UK: in London, Brighton, Oxford and Cambridge. We have about 2,000-2,500 students in total, and we are a pre-university college, mainly for international students, so we send more international students to British universities than any other college in Britain. Bellerbys College is the leading college for international students. We have almost exclusively international students, from about 50 different countries. In the four Bellerbys colleges we probably have about 500-600 students every year doing A-levels. Some of those students do extremely well and get into top universities. These are the students who are doing exams in their second language, sometimes their third language. Last year I think we got 11 students into Oxford or Cambridge. We’ve been in existence for about 50 years. We have always focused on international students.”
How is such policy of the college explained?
“Intelligent students are a great potential for the world, even though they do not speak perfect English. There is a very intelligent youth in the world. So we focused all our marketing on the world, not just on Britain, and we were very successful in recruiting students from different countries, working mainly with educational agents overseas, like Donstream here in Kyiv, who were desperate to find a reliable good-quality colleges in the UK for all of the students who want to go and study in the UK. And obviously the late 1980s-early 1990s were a very interesting period for Eastern Europe, because the whole thing was opening up, the Soviet Union collapsed and students suddenly had the freedom to travel. And that gave us a great boost. Suddenly we started having Russian, Georgian, Ukrainian, Kazakh students. Before it’d be mainly Malaysia, Singapore, Nigeria — countries that have historical ties to Britain. In the 1990s China opened its doors as well.”
You have been working with Ukrainian school-leavers for a long time so you can give a certain evaluation of the Ukrainian education system. Is it possible to say that Ukraine is a part of the European educational system?
“Coming here was really interesting, to see a country that is kind of balanced between Russia and Europe, and it doesn’t know which way to go: ‘Should we stay in the middle, should we go this way, or should we go that way?’ It’s a very difficult question for a country like Ukraine. And I’m sure you will find a good solution for Ukraine, so it can stay as Ukraine. What concerns the involvement of Ukraine in the European education process, there are some connections, of course. Ukrainian universities have joined the Bologna Agreement.
“Every educational system in the world is slightly different. But, certainly, Ukrainian students who have completed high school are as intelligent as students from other countries who have completed high school.”
Is the Soviet heritage pronounced in Ukrainian education?
“My impression, and it’s a very superficial impression, is that Russia actually had a good academic tradition. They were always good in languages, good in math, math teaching... Maybe not so strong in other areas like psychology, sociology, the humanities, social sciences... Maybe not so much. But I don’t know how much the Ukrainian education system has changed since 1990, when they broke away from the Soviet Union. The students I meet are not 100 percent positive about the Ukrainian educational system, but then I guess those are the students who want to travel abroad to study. I think that what is certainly the case is that the students I’m speaking to are very keen to be a part of Europe, to become European and then to come back to Ukraine and put into practice what they’ve learned.”
Education reform is taking place in Ukraine today. Ukrainian reformers learn from European experience in many ways. Do you think Ukraine should follow the whole experience of the European education system? Or, perhaps, there is something not worth considering?
“What’s good about the British educational system, which is what students from all around the world say, is that we’re very good at encouraging independent and critical thinking. I think a lot of educational systems around the world are more traditional: the teacher speaks, the students listen, write down, and then have to reproduce what the teacher tells them. The British educational system, even before university, very much encourages students to be active in learning, so we expect students to question the teacher, to challenge the teacher, to put forward a different point of view, to say ‘well, why not this?’ And I think that’s one of the reasons why the British educational system is highly regarded — because it is a more active, more interactive way of learning, it’s not passive, and we want students to think for themselves, even when they are young.”
Once there used to be a discussion in Europe concerning the role of universities. To be more precise, in the Sorbonne declaration of 1998 it is mentioned that the role of world class universities consists in the creation of innovative business. What do you consider to be the task of higher education establishments nowadays?
“I think in many countries at the moment, partly because of the economic situation, people are asking questions as to the value of tuition education, university education: ‘What’s it for? Is it for everyone, or is it for an elite? Is it for teaching or is it for research? Should it be private, should students pay for their education at university level or should it be free?’ For example in Britain there’s a huge debate going on at the moment because from next year universities can charge tuition fees for British students. When I went to university it was completely free. But only eight percent of the population went to university. Ten years ago they raised the fees to 3,000 pounds maximum, but now 40 percent of people go to university. Now, from next year, the universities can charge 9,000 pounds a year to British students. International students have always paid a lot of money to go to university in Britain. But from next year British students will also pay a lot of money to go to university. Now, they don’t have to pay it immediately, they can borrow money from the government and pay it back when they’re earning money later in their lives. But that’s a big change for British students that suddenly universities are not free anymore. In terms of what’s a university for: to open your mind or to get a job? If people are paying a lot of money for university [education], they need to get a good job afterwards. You know it’s no good charging our students thousands and thousands of pounds, and then they go to university for another three years and spend tens of thousands of pounds more, if when they finish they can’t get a job because that would be terrible, that would be an awful situation. So I think employability, the ability to get a good job after university, is very important and is going to be more important. I think when university was free, yes, you could say it’s just a way of developing your mind and it doesn’t matter if you get a job afterwards. But those days are gone, I think.”
It is known that right now some complicated and dynamic processes are taking place in Europe. For example, ones linked to immigrants. What are the main issues in the cultural debate in Europe? The process of integrating cultures and races is widely discussed. What is interesting, what type of discussions prevails? Which topics cause the most heated debate? What cultural processes are discussed the most? Maybe the cultural communication in Europe? What is topical? Is there anything that everyone is talking about right now?
“It’s a big question. I think the topic of language is always interesting when you have 26 countries now in the European Union with some 22 different languages, more if you include minority languages. The dominance of English is a massive topic and I’m sure it will continue to be. You can imagine 20 years from now everybody in every country in Europe being taught in English. Already many of the top universities in Europe — whether its the Bocconi University in Milan, universities in Amsterdam, Scandinavia and Germany — all their degree subjects are taught in English even though the majority of students are German, Italian or whatever. That’s a really interesting development which indicates that everybody has accepted English as their language, and it’s not going to change. Another issue is immigration. It’s a big issue for Europe at the moment, it always has been, and it probably always will be. For example, at the moment you have the situation with North Africa, with various North African countries facing a lot of difficulties. So you have thousands, tens of thousands of people from these countries desperately trying to get into Europe on little boats or on lorries. What do you do with those people when they arrive and do you have the resources for them — can you integrate them into your country, and so on. We’re lucky in England because we’ve always had lots of immigrations, for the last three to four hundred years we’ve had people from around the world coming to England, particularly in the last 50 to 60 years. You know, London, for example, is the most cosmopolitan city in the world: 40 percent of London is not white. Everybody has an image of Britain as being Anglo-Saxon, but it’s not like that. London has an incredible number of races and languages and nationalities and religions and so on. Personally I think it’s fantastic, it’s a wonderful strength of a country that it can incorporate people from around the world. The third largest population of Ukrainians — you know what the third biggest Ukrainian city is? Toronto in Canada. That’s really interesting I think, that people move around the world, mix together. I think it’s a good thing, but a lot of people don’t like it. For example in Britain, even though it is a very cosmopolitan place, the politicians believe that lots of people think that they don’t like immigrants. So that’s a big topic at the moment in most European countries, where you have a minority of people who are very anti-immigration, you have far-right Nazi parties in some countries. Again, the majority of people are happy to have a limited amount of people coming in. Expansion of Europe. I remember when the European Union was seven countries, I think: England, Germany, France, well, before England, Germany, France, Luxembourg, maybe Spain. Then it went to 12 countries, then 16, now it’s 27 countries. How far can Europe go? If it starts to include Ukraine, and then probably Turkey. Maybe Belarus? Why not?”