“Presidential University”, or how to ignore the problems in the higher education system

We could not stay away from when we heard about Volodymyr Zelensky’s new initiative – to build a “Presidential University”, which “should become a modern innovative educational and research center.”

The university is planned to teach specialists in the following fields: information technology, cybersecurity, and artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, aerospace, energy technology, biotechnology, and health sciences, globalization, and international communications.

According to the Minister of Education and Science, the construction of the new higher education institution will cost 7.2 billion UAH. The university itself should be located on the territory of the “Expocenter of Ukraine”.

The President’s initiative has yet to be approved separately by the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine. Still, we draw attention to the need to address other issues that accompany higher education as a matter of priority.

The education system is a critical area for the country’s development, so changes should be carried out comprehensively, using research rather than the desire to raise the rating. The creation of a new university, no matter how good it will be, does not solve systemic problems, of which there are many in Ukraine. This includes low salaries of research and teaching staff, corruption on some levels of higher education, and an epidemic of plagiarism, and, most importantly, in this case, a large number of already established educational institutions that do not provide consistently high-quality education for all students.

In 2016, the experts of the Agency prepared a Shadow Report, analyzing the reform of the education system, and unfortunately, many of the problems mentioned in it are still relevant today. In this report, we noted the need to provide priority funding for “strong” Ukrainian education institutions that have the potential to join the leading universities in Eastern Europe by gradually reducing state support for lower-level higher education institutions.

We should also not forget that universities are created not only for students. First of all, they are research centers. The money planned to be allocated to the new university could be used to fund research programs in the areas mentioned above.

Universities that have existed in Ukraine for decades already have the necessary base and reputable capital, so they will need much less financial investment than creating a new institution. As a result, the probability of spending 7 billion UAH on the construction of the “Presidential University” seems to be an inefficient use of available funding and certainly not a priority step to improve the quality of education in Ukraine.

Another problem with Zelensky’s new project is that it is planned to be implemented in Kyiv. The capital already has a significant number of universities, including the most prestigious and best in the country. Implementing a project of this scale outside Kyiv could accelerate economic development and increase investment attractiveness for the regions.

The creation of a new university can be seen as a purely populist step, as it completely ignores the institutional problems of Ukrainian education, turning its attention to one striking point example that creates the visibility of changes.

And here you can read our Shadow Report on Higher Education Reform.