April 20, 2020

Five Weeks of Quarantine: Results and Prospects from Director General of Higher Education and Adult Education Directorate of the MES of Ukraine Oleh Sharov

Five weeks of quarantine have passed. In my subjective opinion, on the streets of the capital there are more “brave” people without face masks, although for several days the thick stench from fires and dust storms did not leave them any chance to enjoy a nice spring breeze. It is clear that even the most ardent introverts who prefer loneliness increasingly need to communicate with colleagues from work or study. However, temporary atomization of society remains the best prevention of COVID-19. At the same time, it is painful to hear about faculty and students of Kyiv Theological Seminary among reported laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases.

1. On Thursday, April 16, the Ministry’s leadership held a video conference with a number of leading higher education institutions managed by the MES. Presidents shared their observations and concerns, informed about the progress of online educational process, preparation for the completion of the academic year and enrollment of applicants. The Acting Minister Liubomyra Mandziy and Deputy Minister Yehor Stadnyi announced plans for the near future, answered questions and wished everyone health.

The key point is that higher and professional pre-higher education institutions have academic autonomy, which is sufficient to independently decide on the issues of organization of the educational process and completion of the academic year. The Ministry of Education and Science does not object to holding all kinds of control measures together with the assessment of applicants using remote technologies (except for the unified state qualification exam in medical specialties and the defense of theses for academic degrees) and provided reliable identification of participants in case if the ban on visiting educational institutions by students in the scheduled time remains in effect. Thesis topics can be reasonably narrowed, but the quality of higher education cannot be a subject of a compromise.

Admissions campaign — external independent evaluation, unified entrance exam in foreign language for Master’s degree applicants, unified professional entrance exam in law and international law for Master's degree applicants will definitely be held. In general, EIE and other entrance exams using EIE technologies not only ensure fair admission but also prevent crowding at admissions committees and entrance exams, which is very important this year. The dumping that is destructive to higher education institutions must be gradually overcome.

External independent evaluation will be held around the period from June 25 to July 17. The eleventh grade admissions campaign will be shifted one month forward (August instead of July), the academic year for first years will probably start on September 15 (for other years of study, it can start within the normal timeframe). The calendar for other admissions campaign will be determined by the end of April. These dates may change if the ban on attending educational institutions is extended after June 1, 2020.

In case if students will receive certificates of secondary education by the end of June, the admissions campaign for professional for ninth-grade graduates can be conducted without changing the predefined deadlines in July. The Scientific-Methodological Center for Higher and Professional Pre-Higher Education conducted a viber survey of professional colleges regarding the ninth grade admissions campaign. The survey showed that 82% of its participants did not want to change the time of the ninth grade admissions campaign, even if the eleventh grade campaign is postponed to August.

All requests for inclusion in the List of Professional Editions of Ukraine will be considered in due course. If all requirements are met, the proposals will be considered at the next meeting of the Graduate Council (second half of May).

According to the Law of Ukraine “On Higher Education”, the Ministry of Education and Science can award PhD and DSc diplomas until December 31, 2020. That is, defenses in thesis committees should take place before November 1, 2020. At present, the Ministry of Education and Science, together with the People’s Deputies of Ukraine, is studying possible solutions that will allow to continue to hold defenses in thesis committees during quarantine restrictions or until December 31, 2020.

2. Quarantine has made many people rethink their views on family values and personal responsibility in work or study.

The second month at home drew our attention to the importance of relationships with families and friends. We have all better felt the interdependence on each other, the need for communication and understanding, the importance of intergenerational contacts. It is important to preserve and develop these unplanned achievements, both during and after quarantine.

Our lives, working relationships, studying are filled with collective, corporate or group responsibility (of course, irresponsibility too). Quarantine unexpectedly pulled us out of this swirl, and made us do strictly individual types of work. Completed learning and production tasks, online classes or verified work have become largely individual. This is a very interesting phenomenon that will surely affect both the organization of the academic process and office work in the near future.

3. It is time to reflect on the organization of the educational process in the 2020/21 academic year. Obviously, a significant factor of changes will be coronavirus infection and appropriate restrictive measures, at least until herd immunity is developed, or a vaccine becomes available, or doctors learn how to effectively treat severe complications, etc. This was also discussed in the video conferences with heads of higher education institutions.

The need for preventative measures becomes more and more evident. These measures should be thought over and prepared in advance and in a timely manner. Social distancing (masks, safe distance between the educational process participants, protective barriers, etc.) is likely to become the norm, and new quarantine restrictions may expect us in some periods. This situation will inevitably create both risks that we must learn to prevent and opportunities to implement long overdue changes.

There are currently favorable circumstances to:

— provide digital content for educational programs;

— accustom students to study theoretical material individually (using digital content!) in order to leave contact time for the new knowledge, practical tasks, laboratory workshops and subject discussions;

— introduce or continue a policy of reducing faculty’s purely teaching load below 600 hours per year;

— invite unique Ukrainian and foreign specialists to conduct online classes;

— transform part-time education into an online one, which requires proper educational and technological support, etc.

The following measures can be helpful to minimize risks:

— mandatory measurement of body temperature at the entrance to educational buildings (using contactless thermometers, preferably in automatic mode);

— creating stationary isolators for temporary accommodation of hostel residents with characteristic symptoms of coronavirus infection;

— holding online scientific conferences, seminars, meetings of administrations, departments, supervisory boards, academic boards of different levels;

— scheduling classes to avoid crowding in halls, public areas, wardrobes, changing rooms, catering facilities, etc. (in particular, differentiating break schedules for different schools, years of study);

— unloading busy passages between buildings and transit corridors;

— providing a regime of distancing in catering facilities, with emphasis on packed take-out food;

— increasing the space per student in classrooms, avoiding their tight placement, installing security screens, etc.

4. Last Thursday, the competition for vacant posts of state experts of the Higher Education and Adult Education Directorate of the MES ended. Among the winners is Evgen Nikolaev, a well-known FB community educational expert. I am confident that the winners of the competition will strengthen the Directorate’s analytical and financial work, which is very important for reforming the economics of higher education, in particular financial autonomy of higher education institutions. By the way, the total number of our staff has remained almost unchanged for many years.

On behalf of the whole staff, we wish everyone health and inspiration, strength and patience. The pandemic will pass. Ukraine FOREVER.

Oleh Sharov 

Director General of the Higher Education and Adult Education Directorate of the MES of Ukraine
(based on the official Facebook page)

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