International Centre for Policy Studies
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August 01, 2011

Education Reform

The market and political freedom have radically changed the environment in which Ukraines system of education operates. Still, the system itself has remained fundamentally unchanged. Some fine-tuning did take place, but the way that the basic institutions function, especially those that establish educational and professional standards, the way the quality of education is assessed, and the way that state-funded placements are both formed and distributed, have all been maintained from soviet times. In addition, the content of education no longer corresponds to the requirements of a democratic society and a competitive marketplace. New specializations and majors have emerged, but there is no basic education in civics or in the way that the individual needs to behave in a market. In other words, the links between education and labor market ensured by central planning have disappeared, but new ones have not emerged yet. Thus, there is a clear need for civil society organizations (CSOs) to engage in policy influencing activities and become agents of change in the sector.

Ukraine has every possibility to improve the quality of education and to ensure that it is connected to the labor market. All stakeholders agree that reform is very much needed. However, the means for undertaking such reforms and the depth of reform needed are seen very differently. On one hand, education reform has been outlinednot without criticismin the Economic Reform Program for 20102014 Prosperous society, competitive economy, effective government, although there is little evidence suggesting that the Ministry of Education, Science, Youth and Sports (MESYS) is acting to implement them. On the other, representatives of civil society such as employers and students are not sufficiently cohesive to influence the shaping of state policy or have not made a priority of the issue of how competitive education is. Currently, there is no single public position on the cost of not undertaking reforms.

Nonetheless, there have been some positive signals, both from the Ministry, such as engaging employers in the process of formulating a National Qualifications Framework (NQF)the actual mechanism for this cooperation has not yet been set in legislationand on the part of employers, such as pushing for reform by, for instance, lobbying for the State Targeted Program for the Development of Technical-Vocational Education in Ukraine for 20112014 to be adopted. The Bill On higher education proposed by MESYS, which contains a number of provisions related to the education-labor market link, has caused a considerable stir in Ukraine and adoption in the current version is strongly opposed by many student organizations, the university community, academics and independent experts.

To determine the best configuration of reforms that will ensure a real restructuring of the educational system in line with the needs of the marketplace and a democratic society, a clear vision of the reform needs to be developed and CSOs should play a role in this process. Moreover, CSOs should be more proactive in bringing the message of the cost of not reforming to underscore the urgency of reforms. Given the complexity of any broad reform, involving think-tanks, researchers and independent experts would make a positive difference, as they could bring the necessary substance to the public debate that is currently lacking. To demand real structural reforms that have long lasting impact, agents of change need to be supported among CSOs: firstly, by activating employer and student organizations to move the issue of education labor market mismatch higher in their agenda. Secondly, by assisting those university associations that try to challenge the status-quo. In order to ensure that positions of all stakeholders are taken into account cooperation between all interest groups need to be developed based on clear public policy instruments.

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