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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

What kind of education do we need?

16 June, 2009 - 00:00
Photo by Kostiantyn HRYSHYN, The Day

(Continued from page 1)

In Ukraine this function is duplicated by the research institutes whereas most European institutions of learning have research institutes as their components. In other words, universities are the research centers.

“I believe that a higher education establishment that claims the university status—whether in the sphere of the humanities or technology—must have research laboratories to begin with. Any kind of liberal arts education must have its research methods involving mathematics, so it must have research labs and schools. The development of such university schools and the emphasis on research constitute an extremely important aspect of education in Ukraine [and we must have all of this] if we really intend to integrate into the European higher education system.

“At the same time, we shouldn’t blindly borrow someone else’s experience. We must learn from it and analyze it. We shouldn’t indiscriminately apply the algorithm of European education; otherwise we’d risk losing the most important objective of each Ukrainian university, I mean helping the younger Ukrainian generation to develop civic responsibility. This is something none of the European universities practices.

“We have a classical system of national education. We have already lost a lot after we indulged in the Bologna Process adaption. Its further unnatural transfer to our educational system may result in the latter’s destruction. We need special commissions made up of university lecturers that will study the Bologna Process. With their findings they will act as consultants to the Ministry of Education in this issue.

“Optimization of the Ukrainian college network is another innovation. I don’t think that we should add to the dynamics of this process. I am strongly opposed to idea of accelerating the process of college enlargement. Why? Because the number of college entrants is on a downward curve, so the universities are competing for entrants. Last year demonstrated that some majors became extinct in government-run universities, and even more so in private institutions.

“Considering that there will be no entrants next year, due to the transfer to a 12-year school curriculum, some of privately owned universities that charge tuition will be closed. I predict that this process will start this year. We will see, in the near future, that some of the universities will have to place themselves merge with more powerful institutions in order to stay afloat. And so this merger process will follow its own course. The administrations of universities specializing in technology and liberal arts are not prepared to become united as there are no appropriate programs and principles. First, we must prepare normative and material foundations and then discuss such enlargement.

“Regional consortiums must act as harbingers of such enlargements. The Kyiv Polytechnic Institute (KPI) and Kyiv National University have shown a good example after setting up the first such consortium. Another consortium is being hammered out between the Ostroh Academy National University, Volyn National University, Zhytomyr State Pedagogical University, and Rivne State University of Liberal Arts. A group of universities in the Great Volyn region has worked out a concept of such a consortium.

“Now it is very important for the Cabinet of Ministers and the Ministry of Education and Science to facilitate the universities that wish to establish such regional consortiums and authorize them. For example, joint specialized academic councils and research laboratories can be set up to combine the efforts of Ph.D. professors at all such universities in certain fields and establish a scientific school that would be included in the ratings of every consortium participant.

“The same applies to specialized academic councils. Why should all research institutes be located in Kyiv if specialized academic councils could be set up in the regions? In fact, the Higher Attestation Commission should help such consortiums.

“This process would be the first step toward the optimization and unification of the Ukrainian college network. In contrast, an order to merge universities will meet with resistance on the part their students, lecturers, and administrators.

“If we look at Ostroh Academy, it cannot be united with any institution of learning at all (except perhaps by way of consortium membership). This academy is a special cultural and educational center that must carry out the mission of reviving the first Eastern European institution of higher education and serve as a certain historical center. If it were merged with any other educational establishment, it would immediately lose its meaning as confirmed by edicts signed by Presidents Leonid Kravchuk and Leonid Kuchma. People who have visited Ostroh Academy must have seen a number of various research centers that reveal a wide range of studies on the history of educational and cultural endeavors in this institution.

“Talking of history, I agree with the concept of our Minister [of Education and Science] that the kind of history being taught in our institutions of higher learning should be substantially revised. Indeed, the emphasis should be on teaching the history of culture. This is an absolutely justifiable proposition, considering that the history of culture embraces a considerably broader aspect. Studying it will make it possible to perceive national history through the process of creating culture.

“However, this transfer should be made gradually. First, it requires retraining history teachers, who, in turn, must change their programs. Second, in such a special country as Ukraine studying history only as part of the school curriculum is not sufficient. After all, we were denied our own state for 750 years, so our history does not exist on a genetic level among citizens of Ukraine. History must be studied in both schools and universities so it will exist in the people’s genetic memory several generations from now.

“During the state-building period it is especially important to bear in mind Ukraine’s special features, its regional peculiarities, and the Russification of certain territories. It is necessary to begin by analyzing the level at which history is being taught at a given institution of learning. In other words, there are a number of factors that make abrupt changes unjustified.

“We had a discussion on gradual changes at a meeting of our academic council and at the level of departments. Next year we will add academic hours to the university’s course in history. We also support the idea that the course in philosophy should be taught as the philosophy of intellectual ideas. This gradual transition should also be made. We approve of the concept, but this transition should be smoother.”

Halyna MOSHKOVSKA, vice rector, Zhytomyr Institute of Economics and Humanities, Ukraina University:

“There are still serious factors in our higher education system that prevent us from getting closer to the European educational space. In the first place, we don’t have the European education standards. Without them it is very difficult to reach the above goal. Ukraine doesn’t have uniform standards for assessing the quality of instruction in many respects, especially on a European level and scale. Therefore, we can’t use them as guidelines. The Ministry of Education and Science plans a symposium in Feodosia on such standards within the national qualification framework.

“Such seminars were held previously, yet we practitioners see little progress on the part of the Ministry of Education. I mean the working out of essential procedural documents that would regulate the higher education system and guide it in the right direction. The universities must have autonomy, but there must also be government standards. We don’t have them and have to make do with documents created on an ad hoc basis.

“At one time, major professional guidelines were adopted, but later they were turned down. In 2007 the Cabinet of Ministers adopted new training guidelines for bachelors, yet there are none for specialists and master’s candidates. Guidelines were changed, yet no pertinent standards were worked out. I think that standards should come first, or standards and guidelines should be adopted at the same time. Then, relying on these standards and guidelines, universities will work out their own components. We have the right to develop and adopt our own curricula, but we must have the government standards. So far we have only interim ones that were adopted more than a decade ago.

“With regard to external independent testing, what I don’t like is that this system completely isolates the universities from the enrolment process. Here it is just paperwork, processing certificates rather than dealing with entrants. There are institutions of learning, like teachers’ training colleges, where the entrants should take psychological tests to make sure they conform to the chosen profession and really like it. Last year we couldn’t enroll extramural entrants, because they found themselves outside the external testing system. We see no difference in the level of the students who came last year and those who had come to us previously. Independent testing is a good system, except that it is practiced the wrong way in Ukraine. Such testing should be applied to university entrants after finishing high school or similar institutions, so that an entrant is eligible for testing after receiving the school graduation certificate.

“Undergraduates must engage in various kinds of research and implement the results in practice. We are actively practicing this and we have extensive contacts with various social institutions. Such research must be adjusted to realities and duly certified. This has a noticeable positive effect on the quality of education. Doing such research makes a student an expert in the field.

“With regard to university optimization, I’m convinced that any type of university must meet the government standards. Only then will it properly discharge its functions. Officials inspecting government-run universities often overlook shortcomings, violations, and mistakes in their performance. When inspecting private colleges, they more often than not go through them with a fine-toothed comb.

“I think there is a trend toward persecuting such private institutions of learning. This must not be tolerated. An institution of learning may die ‘of natural causes,’ but it must not be destroyed. It will disappear if it fails to carry out its tasks. We have fewer high school graduates [this year], which means fewer entrants, so young people apply to universities that best meet their educational needs. How can we close universities just because they are allegedly no longer needed and we have more of them than Europe does?

“Perhaps it is necessary to merge certain education institutions, increase their size and, at the same time, set up units within their structure, such institutes, etc. However, the whole system should not be destroyed. Ukraine has the sad experience of closing children’s daycare centers, and now Ukrainian parents don’t know where they can leave their children [for the working time]. Ten years from now we will not have enough universities to accommodate these children, who are now attending nursery schools, and we will have to establish them again.

“Regarding the special ways of teaching history in school, I think this is something that has to be done, because this is a way to shape citizens out of our students. We are practicing this by teaching Ukrainian history and culture and also ancient Ukrainian traditions. Frankly, high school graduates often know little in these subjects.”

Serhii KORLIUK, rector, Odesa State Agrarian University:

“We are actively integrating into Europe along the economic, legislative, and cultural lines. In view of this, our education should also integrate into the European education environment—the more so that Europe is demonstrating the highest standards.

“The EIT system is a means of assessing the students’ knowledge in a more objective and independent manner. In most countries, not only in the West, school graduates are enrolled in institutions of higher learning after taking nationwide tests.

“This reform in the sphere of education has a very positive meaning. It is meant not only to combat corruption, although this is a topical issue here. For us, the most important issue is the quality of education. This involves both the performance of our universities and the level of entrants and creating an essentially new student environment. There are downsides, of course, primarily the absence of contact between students and teachers. However, there are a lot more advantages than disadvantages.

“Integrating higher education with research and, more widely, with practice is, perhaps, the key issue pertaining to the quality of education in universities. This issue is especially topical in agriculture where research considering that research and practice are in close tandem here like nowhere else. Every year, during the sowing and harvesting periods, technologists listen to researchers before they do their job.

“Teaching Ukrainian history to school children is a guarantee of raising a patriotic generation. Considering that Ukraine is an independent country, teaching its history produces full-fledged citizens. To have full-fledged citizens is to have a full-fledged country. This process takes time, but I can see that we are advancing on this path.”

Ihor LUTSIV, Ph.D. (Technology), first vice rector for educational activities, Puliui State Technological University (Ternopil):

“I believe that external independent testing is necessary and that it yields positive results, particularly in the sense that the entrants do not depend on some subjective aspects while in school or when applying to a university. Of course, here, as in every [new] project, one comes across certain shortcomings that are not clearly apparent as yet, considering that we have been practicing EIT for about two years. However, I would like to point out that EIT is somewhat inconvenient for people who wish to receive higher education by a correspondence course and who have spent quite some time working in industry. Taking these tests is very difficult for them because there is a different approach to the assessment of knowledge and different curricula. In fact, there are changes every year. This year there are different subjects selected for testing, compared to last year, so here one is faced with certain problems. I also think it’s not fair that a person who took the tests and passed muster last year can’t use these results next year.

“A modern progressive educational system is unthinkable without research, so there are universities where research is indeed being done. Of course, research work has an effect on the quality of the educational process. Where Ph.D. students defend their theses, there is always an exchange of new data and research involves production. Education means not only sharing knowledge, but also generating new knowledge. In this sense, education and science are integral and must complement each other. There is no higher education without science.

“At the last meeting of the ministerial board, the Minister of Education and Science of Ukraine came up with proposals aimed at optimizing the college network on a comparative basis—in other words, comparing the Ukrainian and foreign university networks. Under the Law on Higher Education, our colleges and technical schools are also included among institutions of higher learning, although they probably do not fully qualify. So, these institutions and branches aside, our network is not that large. “In this context one can discuss university optimization. For over a decade now our university’s policy has been to incorporate all technical schools in the oblast. Today, our university has three colleges. Some other colleges have joined the university and I think this process will continue. The main thing is to keep this on a voluntary and gradual basis, for this will benefit other educational establishments through their enlargement and we will have good results.

“Ukraine doesn’t rank first in Europe by the number of students per 10,000 citizens. In some countries, Japan for one, higher education is compulsory. Education will never come amiss. This is something one must seriously consider. Even if one doesn’t work in line with one’s training, after studying at a university or other institution of learning, one will be advanced intellectually. Higher education fosters self-development. Apparently, our state would prefer having an intellectually advanced nation rather than face problems to be dealt with law enforcement agencies; problems that are created by jobless and uneducated people. Therefore, I regard an opportunity to receive education as a very positive aspect.

“Our university was the first in Western Ukraine to join the European University Association in 1999. After attending conferences on the principles and mechanisms of the Bologna Process and watching them at work in Europe, I would like to note that they have the same structural problems, although they have far better funds and their society pays far more attention to science and education. Still, the process of unification of education and science in Europe is anything but simple.

“Therefore, I believe that what we have is not just the Ukrainian educational system integrating into the European intellectual space, but that this is a two-way process. They are faced with the same problems as we are. Perhaps the shortcomings of our educational system are explained by our institutions of higher learning having far less autonomy than those in Europe—or maybe it is an advantage of sorts, considering that we are moving in that direction structurally at a quicker pace.

“History must be taught in school. The school curriculum is similar to the university one, in principle. I don’t mean higher schools specializing in liberal arts. History is taught there on an altogether different level, although in this case there is a degree of duplication. There are also other disciplines that duplicate the school curriculum.

“As a vice rector of a technical university, I can say that a number of my colleagues are rather critical about the large share of the humanities in university curricula. Thus, the issue of teaching Ukrainian history has been repeatedly raised with the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine and with scholarly pedagogical commissions in view of our transfer to a two-level system (bachelor’s and master’s degrees), with the first bachelor’s degree being limited to 180-240 credits.

“In other words, the government actually pays more than it could, and this is because of the humanities in the curriculum. Ukrainian history is taught in school on a rather serious level and in a proper manner, and then this subject is taught at a technical university. In contrast, the history of science or technology in Ukraine indeed needs to be taught to the future engineers. Likewise, teaching certain specialties in the sphere of economics involves the history of economics. In other words, there are specialized historical subjects.

“The ministry finally decided to somewhat reduce the humanities’ share in the curriculum for the benefit of technical disciplines. Yet we must know Ukrainian history. I, for one, believe that this is a must for every Ukrainian. However, looking at this from a different angle, our state has its special features. It is young, and there is a cultural and civilizing aspect to Ukrainian history as an academic subject, so I think this subject shouldn’t be discarded.”