Interesting times for Ukrainian higher education

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Whilst this blog has a key focus on higher education in Central Asia, it occasionally visits other post-Soviet countries to catch up with developments there. Today we’re in Ukraine, at the western edge of the former Union.

Map of Commonwealth of Independent States

Whilst Central Asian countries and Ukraine share a Soviet heritage, there are also some notable differences. For example, Ukraine’s geographical location at the western edge of the former Soviet Union thereby puts it on the eastern fringe of the current European Union. With the addition of Bulgaria and Romania to the EU in 2007, and with Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and other Eastern European countries members since 2004, this eastern fringe has become less of a fringe and more of a normality. Other than Russia, Central Asia’s key neighbour is China, with potential growth in relationships with India (and Pakistan, to a lesser extent). The EU is far less significant for Central Asian countries.

Politically, Ukraine has appeared to be more open to opposition than the Central Asian countries, as the Orange Revolution of 2004 demonstrated – though like Central Asia, the country has by no means thrown off its Communist-era bureaucracies and corruption in public service. The sum of politics and geography equates to Ukraine’s relationship with the European Union, often testy but never really moving anywhere.

The influence of the European Union is relevant for Ukrainian higher education, as many players in the sector are keen to integrate more closely with the European Higher Education Area (EHEA). However, at the start of this year, the Minister of Education and Science Dmytro Tabachnyk seemed to have made a literal about face on this European enthusiasm by returning to Russo-centrism in his draft Law on Higher Education. The draft Law was criticised in January as being ‘shaped primarily by purely technical aspects of the “Russian model”‘ (Kvit, 29 January 2012). Kvit also claims that the draft Law blocks university autonomy and by doing so, prevents alignment and integration with European (and other international) partners and organisations.

So far, so bleak for the prospect of change.

It was therefore a pleasant surprise to read of yet another volte-face for higher education. Again reported by Serhiy Kvit in University World News, an early April article notes that despite the draft law having already been shown to parliament, the prime minister Mykola Asarov “took part in a round-table discussion with representatives from the academic community, and said that he wanted them to review the draft law on higher education”.

This was totally unexpected – and made all the more enigmatic by the banning of Education Minister Tabachnyk from the meeting! The working group has taken on board more than 4,000 proposals from the wider academic community. As Kvit says, “literally everyone could participate.”

The end of this twisting and turning story has not yet been reached. Whilst the prime minister has promised that previous drafts of the new Law will be withdrawn so that a version drawn up by the working group can be considered, I think Kvit is right to reserve his optimism for now.

Will Tabachnyk claw his way back into the process (he remains Minister)? Or will prime minister Asarov, Kvit (rector of the western-facing National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy) and colleagues see their draft through parliament?

I will be watching University World News closely to find out what happens next…


Kvit, S., 29 January 2012, Draft higher education law is retrogressive, obstructs integration, University World News issue 206. Accessed 19 April 2012 from

Kvit, S., 08 April 2012, New dawn for higher education in Ukraine?, University World News issue 216. Accessed 19 April 2012 from

For more information about Ukraine’s higher education sector, read their 2004 report submitted as a new member to the Bologna Process (which led to the EHEA). UNESCO has also published a monograph on higher education in Ukraine (2006).

My first journal article has been published!

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I’m delighted to let you know that my first article has just been published online!

Entitled Understanding universities’ responsibilities to their wider communities, the article investigates what responsibilities universities have to the communities around them beyond their immediate constituents of students and staff. Using a framework developed by the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement to highlight some of the issues a university may need to consider when undertaking engagement activity. The article uses case studies from eight UK universities and concludes that:

Universities needs to be clear about what their aims, purposes and priorities are. Engagement can be a motivation for searching for these purposes and, if necessary, redefining them to fit today’s circumstances.

You can access the online version on Taylor & Francis’ website at

And if you can’t access the online version, download it here: Sabzalieva_Understanding universities’ responsibliities to their wider communities

Reference details:

Emma Sabzalieva (2012): Understanding universities’ responsibilities to their wider communities, Perspectives: Policy and Practice in Higher Education.

Postscript to What’s your brand?

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Just a few days after my post about universities’ brands, I enjoyed reading an article in the Times Higher Education, the UK’s specialist higher education publication, about Nazarbayev University.

The article “No shame in the name” explains how a Cambridge University college has (at least temporarily) withdrawn a fellowship named after Nazarbayev. As in Nazarbayev University, not the President – but that lack of clarity was enough to embarrass Cambridge, which, it should be pointed out, has a growing partnership with Nazarbayev (Uni). Along with Pennsylvania State University (USA), Cambridge will help Nazarbayev Uni launch graduate degrees in education in 2013 and is already working on English language programmes with the Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools.

As such, it’s not entirely clear why the fellowship was withdrawn. But it does highlight the critical importance of a university’s brand.

It’s also worth noting that it’s a little odd that the Times Higher has chosen now to publish this article. As far as I can see, the Fellowship was advertised some months ago with one Kazakh website suggesting it closed in January. Ah well. News doesn’t always travel fast from Central Asia to the rest of the world.

Post-soviet universities need academic salaries reform to succeed – University World News

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Re-post of an interesting article from:

By Gregory Androushchak and Maria Yudkevich

For decades, universities in Soviet countries were governed, evaluated and financed according to the same principles. The system is not like this any more. However, faculty contracts – a core element in any university – have not changed much.

Faculty contracts in post-Soviet countries reflect the fact that many universities are built around teaching and learning processes. So, faculty contracts more or less explicitly describe teaching loads and obligations, and most monitoring and reporting activities are concentrated around contractual arrangements.

At the same time, the professoriate in general has few incentives and opportunities to be actively involved in research; research is poorly rewarded and teaching loads are heavy.

Teaching is far more relevant as a source of income for faculty, compared to other countries. At the same time, faculty in many post-Soviet countries (Russia and Armenia are typical examples of this) do not participate in consulting but rather engage in non-academic jobs.

Compared to professionals outside universities, university teachers are relatively poorly paid. That is the case for both top rank (such as associate professor or full professor) and entry rank (assistants or lecturer) academics.

Low salaries, moonlighting common
It is a common pattern in all developed countries that academics obtain less money but enjoy non-monetary benefits. However, even taking that into account, faculty salaries in former Soviet countries are significantly lower than those in other countries.

At least in part these conditions are based on the fact that, in general, these countries are relatively poor, compared to Western European countries, the United States, Canada or Australia.

But this does not explain why these salaries are more than twice as low in terms of gross domestic product per capita. In Nigeria, Ethiopia or India, where GDP per capita is also low, relative earnings of university professors are huge, compared to the rest of the population.

Since salaries are low and insufficient, moonlighting is quite common. Many teachers are engaged in teaching at several universities (including on for-profit programmes), offer private lessons or take on extra teaching at the same university.

Many teachers use the university reputation of their main employer (a position that does not pay very much money as a salary) to gain a good per-hour contract at a less reputable, for-profit university, which provides good money.

Many post-Soviet countries gave up university-specific entry examinations and substituted them with unified government exam systems, which have not continued in a widespread form.

However, private tutors are still in great demand, since they now help people to prepare for these unified tests; and many applicants from all income groups use preparatory lessons to increase their chances of enrolment to the best universities.

Fringe benefits
While academic contracts in post-Soviet countries differ substantially from those in developed countries, the fringe benefits are more or less the same as in the rest of the world.

Faculty enjoy retirement funds and longer vacations – the only time that academics who are overloaded with teaching but have not given up on research ambitions can engage in research. Other potential benefits, such as housing or work loads, are generally unavailable.

In the Soviet period, university teachers had access to many non-monetary benefits, and also had a higher social status than those who worked in business. So, the academic profession at that time attracted the brightest graduates and was able to provide them with quite good remuneration, high social status and fringe benefits – as well as clear career prospects.

Today, the conditions offered to university professionals, especially young ones, have the opposite effect with the best potential researchers choosing non-academic work or leaving the country to work in universities around the world.

Whether proper incentives can be restored, and how, are the key questions for building word-class universities in Russia.

Many post-Soviet countries are experiencing a demographic shock: the size of the 16- to 19-year-old age cohort is critically low. Few babies were born in the early 1990s as not many people felt brave enough to have children.

The lack of students creates huge competition in the university sector, for good or even not-so-good students. While university administrators are facing up to this challenge, they also need to reform the university sector by removing weak institutions and cheap diploma mills.

Reforming academic contracts is a key ingredient for creating better incentives for teachers, and would attract new young people into the higher education sector.

Gregory Androushchak is adviser to the rector at the National Research University – Higher School of Economics. Email: Maria Yudkevich is vice-rector of the National Research University – Higher School of Economics.Email:

This is an edited version of the chapter, “Faculty Contracts in Post-Soviet Countries: Common features, different futures”, inPaying the Professoriate: A global comparison of compensation and contracts, edited by Philip G Altbach, Liz Reisberg, Maria Yudkevich, Gregory Androushchak and Iván F Pacheco. New York: Routledge 2012. It is republished with permission.

(c) University World News, 08 April 2012, issue 216

What’s your brand?

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My MBA graduation, April 2012
Institute of Education academic dress as modelled by me at my MBA graduation ceremony, 4 April 2012

Yesterday, I attended my MBA graduation ceremony (I completed the MBA last year but the ceremonies only take place in April). My university, the Institute of Education, University of London, put on a great day and the Director  gave a congratulatory speech that managed to be motivational whilst grounded in pragmatism, a difficult feat to pull off.

My MBA was not your typical finance-and-business course, but specialised in higher education management. So whilst we covered finance, it was geared towards higher education – how to interpret university financial statements, understanding resource allocation mechanisms, what a temporary creative cross-subsidy means and how to implement one and so on. The MBA also allowed us to explore higher education specific topics, such as managing teaching and research and managing the student experience. It was hard, hard work to study part-time whilst working full-time but well worth it, not just for the knowledge obtained but the networks I now have and the skills I have developed. I’d be very happy to discuss the course with any readers who might consider an application – just leave me a comment or email me.

During his speech, the Director spoke about the Institute (affectionately known as “IoE”) and its early 20th century foundation as a teacher training college for London County Council. Today, it offers more Master’s degrees in education-related subjects than any other university in the UK,  a range of other graduate and doctoral courses, and still offers high quality teaching qualifications. So whilst the IoE is rooted in its past, it has adapted and diversified to meet contemporary needs. In corporate speak, the IoE has a clear brand that it is becoming increasingly sophisticated about communicating to its own students and staff as well as the outside world.

I think branding in the higher education sector is a fascinating subject. It uses a concept taken from the profit-making private sector and applies it to a sector that is, these days, semi-public and semi-private but more importantly, is influenced by the students and staff that are part of the institution. Paul Temple (coincidentally, one of the MBA course directors!) makes this point in his article University branding:

So I draw a distinction between branding – which, in our case, is what people come to think about a university as a result of what it does and what its staff and students have achieved over the years; it is slow to change and comes from inside – and branding work, which can come from the outside, can make a marginal difference in some cases, but usually has little impact on the things that matter.

Paul Temple (2011): University branding, Perspectives: Policy and Practice in Higher Education, 15:4, 113-116

(Let me know if you would like a copy of the article – it’s an entertaining read)

Universities are also hugely diverse places and this adds to the challenge of trying to create a clear message about what it is trying to do. For the IoE, this is made by simpler by its focus on education and related social sciences, but for multi-faculty institutions with (for example) full-time and part-time students, sciences and arts courses, face-to-face and online learning, this message can be much more difficult to find and talk about.

As a result, the impact that branding can have in a university is unlikely to be the same as branding in the corporate world. Changing a university’s logo is superficial compared to the influence that its people (staff, students etc), its history, and its offerings (teaching/research mix, interaction with different communities – local, national, regional, international) have.

The Guardian’s Higher Education Network commissioned a roundtable discussion recently about this very subject. Contributors to the discussion agreed with my view that a logo change doesn’t make a big difference, but argued that it is possible for universities to agree on core values, and that students and staff can be involved to help reinforce the brand. For example, this could mean featuring student case studies in a prospectus (there were some in my graduation ceremony brochure too, including a testimony from a scholarship student from Tajikistan that aimed to tell you about the importance of the scholarship to her ability to contribute to the future of Tajikistan… oh and by the way, here’s how to donate to the scholarship fund…).

These points about branding are not just applicable to UK universities. I have written before on this blog about Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan and how it is positioning itself as a centre of international excellence. Nazarbayev’s challenge is about both brand and reputation (not to be conflated, as Paul Temple will tell you). Other universities in Central Asia may not be aiming as high or as internationally as Nazarbayev but the growth of private providers in the region and the increasing number of students enrolling in higher education provides a good impetus for universities to understand their brand and consider whether they feel it is a good reflection of their past, their present and their future.

I’d like to end by reinforcing the point that a university’s people are major influencers in how its brand is perceived by others. Messages from students and academics come across as more authentic than slogans and campaigns dreamed up by marketeers (slick and effective as they may be). On a micro-level, I have contributed towards the Institute of Education’s brand by sharing my very positive experiences of studying for an MBA in Higher Education Management in this post. Students at other universities have done an even better job of “selling” their institution – just watch the video below made by 172 students at the University of Québec-Montréal (Canada), which has had over 10 million hits on YouTube. You can’t fail to be cheered by it!

Post-Soviet education, part 2: Uzbekistan

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Here are a couple of stories about cotton-rich Uzbekistan.

The first, from a blog called Why Nations Fail, looks at the phenomenon of children being forced to pick cotton when they should be in school. Below is an extract from the blog post specific to Uzbekistan:

… For starters, take Uzbekistan. Why does it have 1/15 of the US income per capita? Perhaps it is because of “human capital” — Uzbekis having less education and education and skills? Well there’s a surprise, Uzbekistan has close to complete primary and secondary school enrollment, and close to 100% literacy. But look a bit deeper, and you’ll see something a little unusual going on in Uzbeki schools.

The basis of Uzbekistan’s economy is cotton, which makes up 45% of exports. The cotton bolls start to ripen and are ready to be picked in early September, at about the same time that children return to school. But as soon as the children arrive the schools are emptied of 2.7 million children (2006 figures) who are sent by the government to pick the cotton. Teachers, instead of being instructors, became labor recruiters. In the words of Gulnaz, a mother of two of these children:

“At the beginning of each school year, approximately at the beginning of September, the classes in school are suspended, and instead of classes children are sent to the cotton harvest. Nobody asks for the consent of parents. They don’t have weekend holidays [during the harvesting season]. If a child is for any reason left at home, his teacher or class curator comes over and denounces the parents. They assign a plan to each child, from 20 to 60 kg per day depending on the child’s age. If a child fails to fulfill this plan then next morning he is lambasted in front of the whole class.”

Children in Uzbekistan bringing in their cotton quota (from WHY NATIONS FAIL, original from EJ Foundation).

The harvest lasts for two months. Rural children lucky enough to be assigned to farms close to home can walk or are bused to work. Children farther away or from urban areas have to sleep in the sheds or storehouses with the machinery and animals. There are no toilets or kitchens. Children have to bring their own food for lunch. In the spring, school is closed for compulsory hoeing, weeding, and transplanting.

So school or no school, children aren’t learning all that much in Uzbeki schools. They are instead being coerced to work. This type of coercion is actually all too common, and is indicative of the sorts of institutions that not only fail to impart human capital to children, but are at the root of much more widespread economic and social failure. “

(c) Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson

A more unusual perspective for those of us based in Europe/North America comes from South Korea. The Korea Times reports on Uzbekistan’s efforts to emulate South Korea’s experience in expanding educational opportunities and improving quality. This arose following an educational conference in Uzbekistan this February attended by a number of Korean universities. Here is an excerpt from the article, entitled Uzbekistan all out to reform education:

In an ambitious effort to upgrade and reform its educational system, the Uzbek government, under the initiative of President Islam Karimov, hosted an international educational conference last month: “Fostering a Well Educated and Intellectually Advanced Generation – A Critical Prerequisite for Sustainable Development and Modernization of a Country.” …

Addressing the global forum, President Karimov emphasized that the “National Program for Training of Specialists” his government adopted 15 years ago “stands as an inseparable and integral part of our own Uzbek model of economic and political reforms based on a step-by-step and evolutionary principle of building a new society in the country.”

“The program is aimed at completely rejecting stereotypes and dogmas of the communist ideology imposed in the past, consolidating democratic values in the minds of the people, and firstly, among the young generation,” he said.

The program features 12-year universal compulsory and free education via a “9+3” plan, namely nine years of study in a secondary school and the next three years in specialized professional colleges and academic lyceums where students obtain vocational training in the two to three specialties demanded by the labor market, he explained.

Intellectual treasure

Noting that more than 1,500 new professional colleges and academic lyceums have been built, Karimov said, “We attach great importance to giving pupils not only a broad-scale knowledge and vocational skills, but also to compulsory learning foreign languages.”

“This is the most important condition for active communication of our young people with their counterparts from foreign countries, and allows them to get an extensive knowledge of everything that is going on in the modern world and enjoy a huge world of intellectual treasure.”

The higher institutions play an important role in reforming the educational process and training highly qualified personnel required in the labor market, he said. During the last years their number has increased twice and now there are more than 230,000 students studying at 59 universities and other higher educational institutions, he added.

“The annual expenditure for reforming and developing education in Uzbekistan makes up 10-12 percent of GDP and their share of the spending side of the government’s budget exceeds 35 percent, and this by itself serves as confirmation of the huge attention being paid to this sphere,” he said.

Article is (c) The Korea Times.

Karimov concluded that “The new generation, the educated youth who are free of any vestiges of the past are today turning into a vital driving force for democratization, liberalization and renewal, and the confident growth of the country.”

I will leave you to make your own conclusion, particularly contrasted to the cotton picking story, about whether Karimov’s words sound genuine or not.

Post-Soviet education, part 1: Russia

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By happy coincidence, I’ve read a number of articles recently looking at education in a number of the post-Soviet countries. Below is an interesting story about Russia, written just before Putin’s re-“election” as President, and it also touches on higher education.

The story is (c) Ria Novosti.

Putin praises Russia’s educational revolution

An “educational revolution” is transforming Russia’s society and economy, Russian Prime Minister and presidential hopeful Vladimir Putinwrote in an article published on Monday in the Izvestia daily.

“Russia’s main hope is a high level of education, especially for our young people,” Putin wrote.

Fifty-seven percent of Russians between 25 and 35 years old have higher educations, a level matched only by Japan, South Korea and Canada, Putin said in the article.

“Demand for education is skyrocketing” in the 15-25 age group, with 80 percent of young men and women aspiring to or receiving higher education, he wrote.

Even if the Russian economy is at times unable to absorb so many professionals, “there is no way back,” Putin wrote. “It’s not people who should try to adjust themselves to the existing structure of economy and labor market – it’s economy that should change to allow citizens with high level of education and high demands to find a decent job.”

While the Russian constitution guarantees the right to higher education free-of-charge, the lackluster showing of Russian universities in recent global rankings has triggered a spate of national discussion.

Not a single Russian institution is included in the top 200 of the 2011-2012 Times of London Higher Education rankings. Only two Russian institutions have been included in the rating, Moscow State University in the top 300 and Saint Petersburg State University in the top 400.

Foreign rankings have been repeatedly criticized by Russia’s top education officials and university staff as lacking fairness, objectivity and transparency. Education Minister Andrei Fursenko has said he believes a lack of information about programs and graduates from Russian universities provided to rating agencies is partly to blame for their poor showing.

In August, Putin called for the urgent modernization of Russia’s higher education system so that it meets the demands of today. He promised to allocate some 70 billion rubles ($2.4 billion) to create an innovative educational infrastructure in Russian universities in the next five years.

Higher education budget expenditures have more than tripled since 2005, reaching 390 billion rubles (almost $14.5 billion) in 2011.