Agents of Change: Western Education as a tool for the Europeanization of Ukraine

2014/12/07 • Ukraine

Article by: Svitlana Skob

A project by the Ukrainian Institute for Public Policy “Western Education as a Tool for the Europeanization of Ukraine” aims to assess the potential of young professionals with foreign diplomas to contribute to quality changes in Ukraine, bringing Ukraine closer to the EU.

In the 23 years since Ukraine’s independence, the change of elite in Ukraine actually never took place. The post-Soviet political system effectively blocked the younger generation from entering politics. At the same time, those few young people who managed to get in were bound to play by the old rules, soon becoming victimized by the system. This leads to the conclusion that a mere change of generation would not be enough to change the system. In addition, the Ukrainian educational system, often corrupt and isolated from the global academic community, contributes to the preservation of the current situation.

According to Kakha Bendukidze, studying abroad is what helps to eliminate the post-Soviet way of thinking, mostly owing to the host country’s overall environment rather than just the education itself. Likewise, the new-generation politician Lesya Orobets believes that western education encourages people to become results-oriented, thus breaking the old pattern of “coming up with a fancy story to justify the failure”.

Surprisingly, since Ukraine’s independence, the government machine never intended to engage professionals with western degrees and did not even collect data on the number of Ukrainian students studying abroad. Moreover, low public salaries combined with the ultimate inability to influence the decision-making processes deterred ambitious graduates from attempting to become “agents of change”.

The experience of the recent ex-Minister of Economics, Pavlo Sheremeta, who held his office for six months in 2014, proves that the system’s main concern is to retain the status quo and resist reforms by any means. This suggests that having fully functional teams of professionals join government institutions would be more likely to bring success where an individual reformist might fail, being unable to resist the system.

There has been a community of qualified experts in Ukraine for a long time, although it actually has had a very limited impact on the government so far. There are presumed to be over 400,000 Ukrainians who have diplomas from some of the best universities in the world, with approximately 60% of them having returned to Ukraine after their studies.

The momentous events of 2014 finally mobilized society, and encouraged it to put the government under pressure to initiate reforms. In particular, one of the successful examples so far has been the citizens’ initiative “Reanimation Package of Reforms.” In less than a year it produced important draft legislation, all of which was eventually transformed into laws passed by the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s legislature, while some of the initiative leaders became MPs as a result of the October 2014 parliamentary elections.

The project’s conclusions and advisory opinion will be made available in due course.




Edited by: Handzia Savytska
Source: Ukrainian Institute for Public Policy, Project “Western Education as a Tool for the Europeanization of Ukraine”

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  • Paul P. Valtos

    If I were not 73 but possibly 30 years younger, I would be happy to teach in Ukraine as I have both a BS, Assoc in Aero Eng and MBA. Unfortunately I do not speak Ukrainian and my Galician Polish is poor. There is no doubt that there will be corruption in all governments otherwise they would not be human but it can be limited to where it does not effect governing. In Russia you still have the rabid corruption which was endemic in the USSR for 70 years. Stalin’s cronies were well taken care of and it continued through Breznev and was only diminished by Gorbachev but his dumb decisions got him thrown out. The Ukraine, having been ruled by both the Poles, Austria and then Russia had a taste of free trading, a middle class, and a possibility of rising up from poverty. No human wants to continue to be a coal miner forever ( their health does not last) and no one wants to be considered unequal to another which was the pitch by Marx and Engels but there has to be a freedom by incentive to better yourself by hard work and initiative. That has always been the advantage the West has had for 300 years. In America my grandfather worked in the coal mines right off the boat from Galicia. My father was taught barbering by his brother and owned his own shop, putting through college three boys. From three boys there are now 12 BS degrees and 4 Master degrees. We all worked as professionals and of my sons, both are working for major global firms and a daughter with a BS and an MS who teaches at college level. Hell, I’m bragging. In America, as you can see, people can protest, hold sit downs, laydowns or whatever but unless they destroy property or assault someone they are free to go or even come back to the demonstration. You will not find that in Moscow with Czar Putin in charge. You will not get into a university without the pull of a politician nor will you get a decent job without a connection. My kids had no pull and they are all professionals and received positions because they earned them.

  • Michel Cloarec

    Et voilà Ukraine , vous avez tout compris ! BRAVO !

  • JT

    I applaud the drive to get the Western-educated professionals to join and revitalize the government – it is absolutely the right thing to do. For those of us who stayed abroad, the barrier to entry back is quite high though – unless wealthy, the student loans alone (which are not dismissible even by bankruptcy and must be repaid) would prevent a significant number of highly qualified professionals from taking their involvement in the evolution of the country to the next level. But we will help, just ask us.