Today Ukraine has 231 higher education state institutions (HEI). Ministry of Education and Science, international experts consider such a number of them ineffective, given the population decline. Fortunately, many of the graduates cannot find the use of the skills obtained at the university after receiving a diploma.
"Nearly 60% of academic universities teach fewer than 5,000 students," the World Bank documents say.
The investment project to improve higher education with the support of the World Bank aims to create conditions for increasing the efficiency, quality, and transparency of higher education in Ukraine. Thanks to a $ 200 million loan, the Ministry will be able to audit universities with their further modernization.
However, only those universities that will be subject to the "merger" will be able to "modernize", while others may be threatened with closure altogether.
The idea of shrinking universities has been repeatedly voiced by Ukrainian reformers. For example, former Minister of Education and Science Anna Novosad called it optimal to reduce the number of Ukrainian educational institutions by three times - from more than 230 to 80. This rhetoric was continued by the current head of the Ministry of Education and Science, who several times mentioned in his statements that the state does not have funds to finance all universities...
In fact, World Bank experts are not so advocating for reducing the number of Ukrainian universities as for making the cost of a student's education reasonable.
“If we take the structure of spending on higher education, then we allocate more than 1% of GDP for education from the state budget. In percentage terms, we are ahead of many EU countries. However, in absolute terms, European universities receive more. first of all, it is necessary to provide schools, and in relation to universities - a different approach: they themselves should cooperate with industry, business, international organizations in the context of grants,” explains Mykola Skyba, an expert on education issues.
Overseas higher education systems have several trends. For example, science is happening within the walls of the Western Military District (USA, Canada, EU countries, Japan and others). And students earn with the help of their knowledge, bringing dividends to universities (academic entrepreneurship). That is, universities attract American or European accelerators and business incubators, which help students create a job for themselves, and not wait for it.
In Ukraine, there are also manifestations of such optimization. However, this is not happening at the expense of the ministry, but thanks to technology companies that are interested in universities as sources of future workers.
Experts are also worried about the principle of distributing funding between universities, because now there is often no logical reason for one university to receive $ 5 million a year, and another - 10,100 USD. Now it is planned that the audit will show the effectiveness of the use of public funds by universities (for laboratories, repairs or energy modernization). Further in the plan - to modernize universities that will be subject to "merger" (allocate funds for equipment, modern campuses, and digital infrastructure for distance learning).
However, it is still unknown whether institutions that show excellent audit results will receive certain subsidies.
“Even if all 300 universities live as legal entities, the funds should come to those that benefit society. And this should be determined at the intersection of the interests of at least a few stakeholders,” he adds.
It is also planned to modernize the automated management system for higher education, introduce a national survey of students and a unified electronic system of competitive state funding for research and development, and the like.
Why do we need to combine universities?
Half-empty streams of students in some specialties are one of the problems that "pulls" down the efficiency of Ukrainian universities, becoming a kind of weak link in each of them. This is confirmed by the indicators of seven domestic universities, which are included in the international ranking.
To find them, you need to carefully scroll down with the mouse cursor – Ukrainian are from the 400th place. We are talking about Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv and Igor Sikorsky Kyiv Polytechnic Institute, Karazin Kharkiv National University, Kharkiv and Lviv Polytechnics, Ivan Franko National University of Lviv, and Sumy State University.
It would seem that at least these popular universities do not need reforming. But no. There are specialties requiring "cleansing" in every university in the country. Last year, at the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv only 7 students were enrolled in "Metrology and information-measuring technology". And on "Fine arts, decorative arts, restoration" of Kyiv Polytechnic - 6. Whether such specialties are necessary for the university, it is necessary to ask not the rectors, but the teachers, whose salaries depend precisely on the enrollment of students.
If such a situation happens with universities, in which graduates line up for admission, then what can we say about other HEIs.
"At our university, there is a specialty Social work. Every year we face lack of students at this department," teacher of the Cherkasy National University Inna Nikolaescu notes.
According to her, if there is no demand for a particular specialty, this should be taken into account and the graduates should be interested in alternative options. But instead, the leadership of some universities resorts to "closing the holes." In simple words, the "transfer" of students from the "re-enrollment" of popular specialties to those that, on the contrary, are empty. For example, a student wanted to enroll in English philology, but instead, he was transferred to Romanian. Ukrainian universities do not disdain this practice, even without looking at the fact that it is illegal. The main thing is that the university shows the best efficiency.
The oversaturation of the city with specialties. This thesis is mostly related to large cities. Regardless of its main direction, philological or not, 6 metropolitan universities train future journalists, at least 4 - teachers, and about 5 - offer training in the specialties "Psychology" and "Philosophy". And we are talking only about large universities. In total, more than two dozen repeating specialties can be collected in the higher education system. Legal specialists, for example, are trained in 35 universities in the capital.
It is noteworthy that in order for the university to offer students training in certain educational programs, they must be accredited by the National Agency for Quality Assurance in Higher Education. In the criteria, you need to indicate the peculiarity of a particular specialty in each individual university. So what is the peculiarity of the above educational programs is not clear.
To increase efficiency, the former head of the Ministry of Education and Science Vasyl Kremen proposes to unite universities in large cities, and in the regions - to unite universities with medical universities, subordinating regional clinics to them.
“This is what happens in European cities. For example, in Germany, university clinics are subordinate to the University of Cologne,” says Kremen.
This thesis was dictated by the experts of the World Bank. In particular, it is noted that in order to optimize a huge network of universities, further aggregation of universities is needed with the differentiation and diversification of their types (such as research, professional, teaching) and optimization of their geographical coverage.
If on the issue of "cleaning" specialties, the professors and rectors we interviewed are more in favor than against, then there is strong resistance to the unification of universities. Rector of Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv Volodymyr Bugrov emphasizes that the HEI is not going to merge with another university. But on the issue of expanding specialties, the answer is no longer so categorical.
Why rectors and deans are against can be understood from the mercantile positions. Some Ukrainian universities have actually turned from a forge of professional personnel into personal feeding troughs for their leaders, and in the process of the merger, half of the rectors will lose their positions. But the teachers are also against unification.
“First of all, it’s about jobs. How will specialists be selected during the merger of universities (who will be left and who will be fired)?” Inna Nikolaescu explains.
Scientific publications. Today, the HEI sets forth a condition for printing in "Scopus" - scientometric databases that are indexed only abroad. It is by their indicators that universities can defend the legitimacy of their existence. For example, for 2020 in the top 10 universities, according to the database, in addition to the seven, which was included in the international ranking of universities, the Odesa National University is also included. I. Mechnikov, Chernivtsi National University named after Fedkovych, Lviv National Medical University named after Danylo Halytsky, and Donetsk National Medical University. It is noteworthy that the motivation of teachers also plays an important role in this process.
"As far as I know, at Sumy State University, which has flown into the international rating, teachers are financially encouraged to publish. After all, the articles themselves are paid (from $ 400 and more). Therefore, if a teacher spends money on them, thereby raising the rating university, it is fair when the institution rewards them," says one of the teachers of the capital's higher education institution.
It is necessary to strengthen cooperation between Ukrainian universities and business representatives. After all, an increase in funding will not only provide new opportunities for the development of universities from the technical side but also from the educational and scientific side, having decent wages and additional payments, teachers will be able to attend various internships and exchange experiences.
One way or another, but taking part in such an innovative project, it is worth taking into account other ways to achieve the goal, which actually lie on the surface. After all, blindly following the advice of experts from abroad, the Ukrainian system of higher education can take a dozen steps back: losing not only talented teachers (who will be left behind through university associations) but also the “unborn” potential of those universities in increasing efficiency which just needed a different approach.