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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Bologna process: failure or fresh start?

Students suggest their own approach
24 December, 2009 - 00:00

It has been four years since the start of the Bologna process in Ukraine. However, students as the immediate participants of this educational innovation cannot see either noticeable progress or the long-awaited results. Professors also maintain that the Ukrainian instruments for implementing the European educational system will not work; moreover, they have nothing to do with the real Bologna system of education.

The National Student Union attempted to find out whether it is really so or not during a Nationwide Roundtable debate on the problems of education reforms. According to the Bologna standards, in 2010 the Ukrainian system of education ought to smoothly join the European educational zone. In practice that would mean full recognition of Ukrainian university degrees in Europe, while the mobility of our students should constitute not less than 20 percent, i.e., more than one-fifth of our students would have to be studying abroad.

Also, Ukraine would have to solve two important problems: the quality of education and its intelligibility. In other words, it would have to determine the level that would make our university graduates competitive on the European workforce market and would ensure the personnel that employers would hire is highly qualified. The Bologna process has to become the tool to help facilitate these developments.

“Sadly, today we must state that we have essentially failed to achieve the major goal. As early as in 2008, it became clear that the reform wasn’t going well: at that time there were even no national groups to accompany the Bologna process. They only existed on paper, but in reality no one had ever called them by June 2009, while in other member countries such groups were created in 2000-05,” said Anatolii Ihnatovych, president of the National Student Union. “We were faced with a question about what we should do next in order to avoid an educational disaster in 2010.”

“Practice shows that European students take a most active part in educational processes, while in Ukraine no one ever takes us seriously. There have even been absolutely ridiculous incidents as, for example, when a certain university raised tuition fees, explaining this by the introduction of the Bologna standards. No wonder that most students take the educational reforms with skepticism and aversion.

“We initiated a student union with to, first, enable students to formulate and voice their ideas, and second, dispel the myths of the Bologna process. We want to bring the true Bologna process closer to Ukraine. The results of last year’s student conference were submitted to the International Student Union, and Ukraine appeared in this organization’s records for the first time in years.”

There indeed have been more than enough problems related to the implementation of the educational reform. The years of implementation have brought us more questions than answers. For example, the innovation has now broken down the old system of bachelor’s degrees – the former 76 specialties were replaced by 146 new ones. Students of medicine are raising an alarm, too, because the innovations suggested by the reform are disrupting the system of education in this area, which now boils down to writing formal tests, rather than attending to patients.

Nor does the reform solve the corruption problem, and the instrument to control it (via the so-called “feedback”) is yet to be created. This means that it is impossible to prevent the “selling” of grades, because the students’ work is checked by the same person who has been teaching them during the semester. Without control by a third party, there will always be a temptation for a student to buy grades, rather than earn them by hard work. This is why experts refer to the present-day situation in education as a bureaucratic improvisation.

“Today we are facing a situation when each teacher has his or her own modular grading system, which is totally incomprehensible to the students,” says Yulia, a fourth-year student at the Institute of Journalism. “We can hardly tell a credit from a module. What worries me the most is that we students are after grades, rather than knowledge.”

“Why don’t we admit that the Bologna process in Ukraine has failed and start a new, more acceptable one?” — this is the suggestion made by the students who took part in the roundtable debate.

“During the examination time, university teachers mostly have to work with the weaker students, who failed to earn enough points. This is totally wrong, and it should be quite the other way around: we have to pay attention to those students who are eager to learn,” commented Yurii Razhkevych, professor at Lviv Politechnic University and a member of the national accompaniment group for the Bologna process.

According to him, in order to see the major reason why Ukraine is still groping for a way towards the reform in education, one should focus on the tools of the Bologna process rather than its goals, i.e., on the methods through which the reform is implemented or, rather, “superimposed” on the national education system.

“When I explained the essence of our credit-modular system to my colleague from Vienna, he said in horror, ‘But you’re going to ruin it all!’” said Razhkevych. “The thing is that the nationwide absurdity in reforming education is reduced to a local level by each separate university. No other country in Europe has the credit-modular system of grading and testing. These are our home-made innovation, and that is why they are misfiring.”

To solve this problem, students directed their proposals to the Ministry of Education and Science. They suggest, in particular, switching to the three-tier education, which will consist, by European standards, of the bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. degrees. This is very different from the present system, which comprises such degrees as bachelor’s, specialist’s, master’s, Candidate’s, and Doctor’s.

Another substantial suggestion involves switching over to the credit transfer system, which is supposed to replace the failing credit-modular one. Its essential feature is a European-type appendix to the university diploma, with grades from A to D instead of our conventional “excellent,” “good,” or “satisfactory” grades, which are not used in European universities. The same grade scale – A, B, C, and D – will be used to assess students’ academic performance during semesters.