Ukrainian Higher Education in Transition: Perspectives and Policy Implications

By Gleason, William | Demokratizatsiya, Summer 2001 | Go to article overview

Ukrainian Higher Education in Transition: Perspectives and Policy Implications


Gleason, William, Demokratizatsiya


Study, Study, Study," the Leninist quotation reads. "The Party Is the Mind of the Nation." The quotation, a leftover from the Soviet era, sits high atop Building Number One of the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. (1) But inside the building and others that house the academy, administrators, faculty, and students are working to make sure that the culture of the Soviet era and the education system associated with it remain firmly in the past.

Kyiv-Mohyla is symbolic of the impact of visionary leadership on institutions in Ukraine. Symbolic too of what can happen to an institution with clear ties to the West and a steady stream of western funding for reform initiatives. On the other hand, the story of Mohyla highlights how far Ukrainian education has to go and the challenges facing western policymakers whose support for higher education constitutes a pivotal component of democracy promotion and the building of an open society in Ukraine and other countries in the region (Poland and Russia in particular). Ukraine is the third-largest recipient of American governmental assistance, trailing only Israel and Egypt. By looking at Mohyla, we can begin to understand what is right and what is wrong, or at least problematic, with Ukrainian higher education and what it means for our policymakers.

The academy is at once Ukraine's oldest and one of its youngest universities. (2) Mohyla was founded in 1632 by the leading orthodox clergyman of Kyiv, Petro Mohyla, who was convinced that the "survival of orthodoxy" depended on radical and immediate reform of the monastical order. The curriculum was based on the Jesuit model, replacing Old Church Slavonic with Greek and Latin. Mohyla, to the dismay of some of his more conservative orthodox colleagues in Kyiv and elsewhere, sent many of his fellow priests off to Poland for additional training. (3) He was successful beyond his wildest imaginings but not in the way he intended or foresaw. Within a generation of Mohyla's establishment, Kyiv and two-thirds of modern day Ukraine lay in Russian hands, but the Russian Orthodox Church, headed by the Patriarch Nikon, took most of its priests from the academy. (4) Unfortunately, at least for Mohyla, that happy occurrence did not last because by the early nineteenth century, Mohyla's doors were closed forcibly, because of St. Petersburg's suspicions that Polish influence was still too strong in Kyiv and that culturally conscious Ukrainians might destabilize the empire. The doors remained closed from 1819 to 1991, when, like Ukraine itself--that is, less a result of general social movements than of the maneuvering of small groups at the center--the doors reopened and a new academy emerged, an academy dedicated to the aims of its founder: westernization, this time with a secular twist.

The founder of the new academy and nearly a decade later still its president, Vyacheslav Brioukhovetsky, was a leader of Rukh, a coalition of democratically minded Ukrainian nationalists formed in 1989 to oppose Communist and Russian rule. Brioukhovetsky and those around him saw the re-establishment of the once famous academy as their contribution to Ukraine's renaissance.

At the undergraduate level, Mohyla resembles an American liberal arts college with its tripartite division into humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. Three years after its inception, Mohyla opened the country's first graduate school of social work. One year later, master's degrees were introduced in most of the liberal arts disciplines. There is a law school. And earlier this year an Institute of Civic Education opened to serve as a resource center for democracy studies and to help implement a western assistance grant to train high school teachers in democracy education. Finally, although centered in Kyiv, smaller versions of the main campus function in Mikolaev, in southern Ukraine, and in Ostrog, the latter not far from Lviv to the west. The academy is aided by a nationwide consortium of so-called "feeder" schools, although anyone can apply to the university. …

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