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Experts: Autonomy of universities requires their institutional readiness

Kyiv, March 20, 2017.

The expansion of university autonomy requires, firstly, institutional readiness of universities themselves, and secondly, the definition of criteria for assessing the quality of education and a set of tools for this. This conclusion was made by experts during a discussion held at Ukraine Crisis Media Center.

Autonomy = Responsibility

Mykhailo Vynnytskyi, advisor to the Minister of Education and Science of Ukraine, professor of the National University of “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy” and the Ukrainian Catholic University, noted that Ukraine has many universities with very narrow specializations, and their general number is large, so the problem is not just to grant autonomy but “take the matter to its logical conclusion” so that universities are responsible for their work, taking into account their specific features. But many Ukrainian universities really fear the prospect of autonomy, because not all have an understanding of how to organize their activities in such circumstances, the confidence that they can withstand competition, and the desire to do it. Yehor Stadnyi, executive director of the Analytical Center CEDOS, said that only 13% of faculties’ representatives considered the lack of autonomy a problem in 2013. According to him, the motivating factor for universities could become financing on general basis.

Dr. Žiga Turk, former Minister of Education, Culture and Science, former Minister for Growth of Slovenia, added that university autonomy leads to positive changes only when a university is ready for this. “I am quite skeptical about any institution of post-Soviet countries waving the banner of autonomy, because for them it is very often just a guarantee that no change will happen, that the old structure and model are protected and there will be no external interventions and motivation to changes. Autonomy is not always good. It’s good when a university has long democratic traditions focused on the interests of stakeholders. But if traditions are totally different, it is best to motivate it to change, and then offer autonomy,” he explained.

Inna Sovsun, vice president for public administration of Kyiv School of Economics, former Deputy Minister of Education of Ukraine, also noted that eventually autonomy was de facto granted not to the ones who raised the issue of autonomy, and often those who fought for university autonomy, suffer from unprofessional management.

To assess the quality of education: is the mission possible?

Measuring the quality of education is a major challenge because there should be an individual approach depending on the specialization of the university; and there are many of them in Ukraine. Besides, we should find a balance between the regulation of the way of teaching a particular subject and the freedom of the university to choose these methods and control the quality. “It is dangerous to assume that universities can assess the quality of education themselves; they cannot, because this assessment will never be objective. […] There should be a variety of tools, but they should be as objective as possible,” noted Inna Sovsun. According to Yehor Stadnyi and Mykhailo Vynnytskyi, it would be appropriate to introduce knowledge quality control for graduates and academic rank applicants, for example, external independent testing.

However, quantitative indicators alone (i.e. assessment by students, citation index and the number of publications in academic journals as well as graduate employment data) are not sufficient criteria. Universities should also be assessed by how they generate a discourse, discussion in society, and form the “backbone” of the national intellectuals, noted Žiga Turk and Mykhailo Vynnytskyi.

According to Žiga Turk, Slovenian experience shows that there is no simple solution as a panacea for improving the quality of education. In his view, the assessment of teaching quality should be delegated to the lowest level, the level of a faculty. However, there should be a national system of accreditation as a benchmark for universities and a principle of competition, which is to focus on the best world’s universities and the requirements for international accreditation rather than on national flagships. He noted that attention is also focused on the presence of the university’s tool for quality control.

The experts also stressed that in any case, rapid changes should not be expected. Žiga Turk said that whatever new rules are implemented, they should act without any changes for some time so that society and universities should have some predictable benchmarks and innovations should show themselves in practice. “We should understand that our universities have very different institutional capacities and readiness to reform. […] We should understand that we are steering a huge unwieldy ship, and to change the course of the ship we need small changes in many people who participate in this process,” noted Mykhailo Vynnytskyi.

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