Euro­maidan hopes re­mote

THE (Times Higher Education) - - NEWS -

Ukraine’s stu­dents are no dif­fer­ent from those in other coun­tries: they want to at­tend world-class uni­ver­si­ties. But world-class uni­ver­si­ties are only pos­si­ble when they unite top-notch re­search and ed­u­ca­tion. And Ukraine cur­rently has nei­ther.

Re­search in the coun­try is largely con­fined to the 174 re­search in­sti­tutes of the Na­tional Academy of Sciences. A plan to merge th­ese with Ukraine’s 200 or so pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties was one of the re­sults of the peo­ple’s up­ris­ing that has be­come known as Euro­maidan, cul­mi­nat­ing in the over­throw of the pres­i­dent, Vik­tor Yanukovych, in 2014. Stu­dents took part in the con­fronta­tions with riot po­lice and claimed the right to a bet­ter ed­u­ca­tion and bet­ter fu­ture in a new, re­formed coun­try.

How­ever, no merg­ers in­volv­ing academy in­sti­tutes have yet oc­curred. Rea­sons in­clude the un­usual level of au­ton­omy en­joyed by the NAS and its sense of be­ing un­der siege from bud­get cuts and of­fi­cials and busi­ness­men in­tent on ac­quir­ing some of its prime as­sets, es­ti­mated to be worth a to­tal of

$40 bil­lion (£28 bil­lion), an astro­nom­i­cal fig­ure for Ukraine. Al­though it is less than half the size it was at the end of the Soviet era, the academy still has about 40,000 em­ploy­ees, and its own fi­nan­cial sur­vival has be­come its rai­son d’être.

Last year, for in­stance, was marked by bat­tles for land, fish­eries and nat­u­ral reser­va­tions be­long­ing to the academy. Its pres­i­dent, Bo­rys Pa­ton, had to in­ter­vene per­son­ally in order to pre­vent a hos­tile takeover of the land by raiders of all kinds, in­clud­ing lo­cal au­thor­i­ties, busi­ness­men and even poach­ers. The Kiev premises of the re­search in­sti­tute that stud­ies the safety of nu­clear power sta­tions and deals with ra­dioac­tive ma­te­ri­als was taken over and held for sev­eral months by armed men who be­long to one of Ukraine’s para­mil­i­tary na­tion­al­ist bat­tal­ions. Even so­cial ac­tivists got in on the act, de­mand­ing that a lux­ury Kiev fur­ni­ture store that they at­tacked, which turned out to be rented from an academy in­sti­tute, be given to the Mu­seum of the Euro­maidan.

Such rent­ing out of academy land is not un­usual. With a shrink­ing state bud­get al­lo­ca­tion, di­rec­tors of re­search in­sti­tutes were quick to of­fer their premises – es­pe­cially their ground floors – to night­clubs, pizze­rias, den­tists, lawyers and all man­ner of other small busi­nesses. Such ac­tiv­i­ties are not le­gal, but are far from the only fi­nan­cial ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties in which academy in­sti­tutes have been in­volved. For in­stance, last year the In­sti­tute of Molec­u­lar Bi­ol­ogy and Ge­net­ics in Kiev was ac­cused of be­ing in­volved in em­bez­zle­ment, fraud, money laun­der­ing, nepo­tism and il­le­gally rent­ing out state prop­erty. Later in the same year, state se­cu­rity ser­vices and po­lice raided the premises of the Pa­ton In­sti­tute of Elec­tric Weld­ing, also lo­cated in the cap­i­tal, and seized 200 com­put­ers that had al­legedly been used for il­le­gal Bit­coin min­ing and were found in a derelict swim­ming pool. The in­sti­tute was for­merly run by the academy pres­i­dent and was founded by his fa­ther.

In a 2015 in­ter­view, Ukraine’s min­is­ter of ed­u­ca­tion and sci­ence at the time, Ser­hiy Kvit, de­scribed the NAS as “a state within a state”, which has had “a spe­cial kind of au­ton­omy since the days of Stalin. In the Soviet era, the Com­mu­nist Party con­trolled all of our re­search ac­tiv­i­ties, but now the Com­mu­nist Party has dis­ap­peared and the state does not know what the Na­tional Academy does.” The academy’s numer­ous spe­cialised units were es­tab­lished to serve dif­fer­ent branches of Soviet in­dus­try, but Ukrainian in­dus­try has been dy­ing for the past quar­ter of a cen­tury, so the in­sti­tutes have lost their pur­pose.

Yet in­stead of try­ing to re­vive and re­pur­pose the academy, the gov­ern­ment in­tro­duces fur­ther bud­get cuts and lay­offs – all while de­mand­ing to know when it will pro­duce a No­bel prize for Ukraine. As things stand, there is lit­tle point merg­ing dys­func­tional re­search in­sti­tutes with cor­rupt teach­ing-fo­cused uni­ver­si­ties that are more akin to US com­mu­nity col­leges than Hum­bold­tian re­search uni­ver­si­ties. Un­til de­ci­sive mea­sures are taken to re­form both sec­tors, the hope for a bet­ter fu­ture that in­spired the Euro­maidan revo­lu­tion will not be ful­filled. Ararat L. Osip­ian is a fel­low of the In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Ed­u­ca­tion in New York and an honorary as­so­ciate in the depart­ment of po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at the Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin-madi­son. He spent the past four years study­ing aca­demic cor­rup­tion in Ukraine.

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