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Human rights in Ukraine – 2006. XVI. The Right to Education

   

[1]

Education is one of the oldest social institutions reflecting society’s need to pass on knowledge and skills and prepare new generations, helping them to resolve the economic, social and cultural problems which face society. In the contemporary world education is a vital factor for the development of any country, which makes the safeguarding by the government of the right to education of particular social importance.

Education in Ukraine, especially elementary and secondary education, is chronically under funded. There is a permanent shortage of money not only for developing the education system and its infrastructure, but even for the most basic needs to ensure the straight survival of educational institutions.

School education remains based on post-Soviet rather than market economics. A given school is funded not according to standardized expenditure per student, but on the principle: “the district budget will allocate so much, and let the school head find the rest where s/he can”. Control of school education is entirely under State departments of education. Educational associations and public councils are only allowed to imitate elements of civic society and have no access to the financial resources of the region, city or settlement. In general school heads and managers of the district and regional educational system are not educational managers. Schools, as before, do not have autonomous status. Their predicted costs for the year are drawn up without their participation. Since the list of such costs leaves out a number of school expenses, the schools are unambiguously pushed towards the “shadow” economy.

At the same time parents who have decided to place their children in private schools find themselves in a fairly strange situation since they pay for their children’s education twice: first through taxes for maintaining State-funded schools where their children don’t study and then directly to the private institution[2]

An analysis of laws and subordinate legislation on education creates a mixed impression since even those imperfect norms established back in 1996 are not implemented.  At the same time, the numerous references in the laws on education to future resolutions by the Cabinet of Ministers, as well as the norms of the yearly State Budgets, give grounds not only for untimely or partial implementation, but even for their being reviewed.  We can cite the following examples:

1.  Article 53 of the Constitution which reads: “The State ensures accessible and free pre-school, complete general secondary, vocational and higher education …” which is transformed in the Laws “On education” and “On general secondary education” into: “Ukrainian citizens have the right to accessible and free education”. Then the “Regulations on general educational institutions”, approved by Cabinet of Ministers Resolution, state that “the main objective of general educational institutions is to ensure the exercising of the right of citizens to general secondary education”. In fact, a judgment of the Constitutional Court from 04.03.2004 regarding an official interpretation of Article 53 of the Constitution stated that spending on the educational process must be undertaken “on a normative basis from funding fully provided by the relevant budgets”.

2.   Article 61 of the Law “On education” stipulates that “the State shall provide budgetary allocations for education at a level no lower than 10% of national revenue”.

3.  Article 57 of the same law declares various guarantees from the State to educational staff including “establishing extra payment for specialists working in the education system to the level of the average monthly pay throughout the national economy” and “establishing average rates for educational staff of educational institutions at a level no lower than the average wages of industrial workers”.

4.   Articles 12 and 14 of the Law read that “the Ministry of Education of Ukraine sets minimum norms for the material, technical and financial provisions for educational institutions” and “local State authorities shall establish the size of budgetary funding for educational institutions which are no lower than the minimum norms imposed by the Ministry of Education”.

5.   “Self-government of educational institutions shall allow for their right to independently resolve issues of economic and financial management activities, and to independently use all forms of allocations” [Article 17 of the Law “On education”). Article 10 of the Law “On general secondary education” states: “a general educational institution is a legal entity.”

6.  Point 8 of the “Regulations on general educational institutions” reads: “a general educational institution is a legal entity, with its own bank accounts and financial statements”. Point 68 of these Regulations stipulates that the main source when drawing up the cost estimate shall be “funding from the relevant budget allowed for by the norms for funding of general secondary education within the scope of the State Standards for general secondary education”. Point 71 gives schools the right “to purchase or hire the necessary equipment and other material resources, use the services of any business, institution, as well as finance at their own expense measures to improve the social and everyday conditions of the collective”.

7.  Article 5 of the Law “On taxation on business profits” seemingly allows the inclusion among gross expenditure of “the funds or property transferred to the educational institutions”.[3]

 Like every registered institution, particularly those which are State-funded, schools work in accordance with yearly cost estimates of monthly income and outgoings. In theory such an estimate should, on the one hand, take into account all forms of school spending, while on the other, have an income part to provide for this expenditure. When the income part is more than the outgoings, one has a surplus, however when the income is less than expenditure, there is a budgetary deficit.  All of this is basic economic literacy. However since the State cannot afford that each of the 22.5 thousand schools approves a deficit budget, in practice the cost estimates include the expenditure only on certain, so-called protected items – salary, payments to State social security funds and (in recent years) communal services. Against the name of the remaining items of expenditure from the general fund, the form for a typical cost estimate has a blank, as though there weren’t any such expenses in the school.

One of the lawful ways around this is to create a supplementary cost estimate, a so-called special fund for income and outgoings. In this variant, the duties are as follows: the school head is responsible for seeking investors, and the government  – for permitting or prohibiting any use of the investments attracted (departments of education, the State Treasury, the Control and Audit Department). The special fund can finance everyday or stationery requirements, the purchase, repairs and servicing of educational technology, work-related trips by teachers, transport and communal services, repairs to premises, purchase of medicine, textbooks and teachers’ handbooks, etc  A separate subject for the special fund estimate are paid services, with this enabling payment for supplementary lessons out of class time with students. However the normative base for paid services is so inadequately set out that even an unbiased prosecutor’s office check can always find financial irregularities.

A typical example was the case against the Head of the First Ukrainian Lyceum in the Donetsk region, Mykola Konobrytsky, which resulted in the Kramatorsky City Court on 19 May 2006 sentencing him to 3 years imprisonment. The grounds were that some positions had been created for technical assistants and cloakroom attendants, with the salaries allocated in fact being used to buy everyday, stationery and medical items.  Records were scrupulously kept of all expenditure (receipts, invoices, etc), yet nonetheless, the court stated that the school head “had appropriated 4,436 UAH 88 kopecks which constituted appropriation of property on a large scale”[4]

Another, seemingly lawful way is to register a separate legal entity – “an educational donor”, for example, a charitable fund which will take on the extra financing of school needs. However in this case too it is impossible to avoid accusations of extorting money. Particularly since the money for such funds are effectively collected on a compulsory basis from all parents of the children studying in the given school.  That means that education stops being free. There is, as well, absolutely no control over how the money gets spent.

A solution might be to seek real, and not declared, autonomy for each of the 22.5 thousand schools, while at the same time reforming the system of education management along European lines. A system also needs to be established of socio-economic support for schools from civic support via school councils, educational associations, independent trade unions etc. It would also be important to move towards the funding of schools from the budgets of different levels (nationwide, regional, local) according to standardized norms for expenditure per student. Finally, the economic skills of school heads and educational managers need to be significantly improved with them gradually moving away from being “housekeeping” or “methodologist” heads to real managers.[5]

At the same time, however, it should be noted that these objectives are complicated by the fact that the self-sufficient authorities, limited in their material and financial opportunities, systematically ignore proposals from schools while demanding that “equal access to high-quality education” be provided at no cost to parents. Civic society is not mobilized and politicized deputies have no contact with the public.

Parents of school children want schools to spare them as much as possible from issues with education, upbringing and the leisure time of their children. In general they don’t want to deal with these problems and become irritated at reports of school difficulties.

Schools are forced to manoeuvre between all the shortcomings of the authorities and society, balancing on a tightrope between financial infringements and instructions on providing a high quality level of education.

Teachers are en masse disgruntled with their social position yet remain passive, being afraid of losing their jobs, while head teacher or teacher associations are few in number and have little influence.

Problems are not restricted to schools, but are also experienced by higher education institutions. There is a fairly large divide between teaching work and research in favour of the former. This is leading to a situation where the academic component has gradually moved into the background. Up to 30% of Ukrainian universities do not carry out research during studies. As a result, one sees a standard transfer of old knowledge, according to notes yellowed with age.

There are also problems at higher education level with providing student accommodation. This was vividly expressed in an appeal by the civic network OPORA to the Minister of Education and Science S.M. Nikolayenko. The appeal stated that the regulations or charters functioning in student hostels are not open and do not guarantee students a “human existence”. There are reports of identical problems and similar situations from all parts of Ukraine. For many students it is clear that there is corruption and abuse of their official position among hostel administrations. It is even clearer that administrations try to cover this up rather than systematically setting out to resolve the most urgent problems.

It is also noticeable that the current normative base regulating how students are placed in hostels or removed from them, as well as their stay there, is outdated and does not comply with the needs of the day. Young people these days cannot imagine their studies without computers and the Internet. The Resolution of the Council of Ministers of the Ukrainian SSR from 3 June 1986 No. 208 “On approving Sample regulations on hostels” and “Sanitary rules for setting up, equipping and maintained hostels for working students and young school students”, approved by the Head Sanitation Doctor of the USSR No. 4719 from 1 November 1988 are still in force. On the other hand, the standard regulations approved by Order of the Ministry of Education from 9 December 1993 No. 440 have not been registered with the Ministry of Justice.

Given the demands of the present time, the material and technological conditions in hostels which often fail to meet elementary sanitary norms are out of date. The toilets are in a terrible state, with both the plumbing and the tiles being broken and there are problems with heating. One could continue for a long time listing such problems. The annual cosmetic repairs are usually carried out at the students’ expense. This leads to numerous cases of abuse by the administration. Furthermore, the shortage of places in student hostels is catastrophic and often provides another source of corruption. In practice, so as to free up places for the “right people”, hostel residents find themselves under pressure from the administration since a couple of formal reprimands provide justification for evicting a person. Sometimes manipulations with places and collection of money for repairs are accompanied by threats and intimidation. Students from other places, who need the reasonably cheap accommodation in hostels, are forced to endure even violations of human rights, their honour and dignity[6].

The situation is also not good with regard to the appointment of top management staff for higher institutions. This sometimes takes place in a non-transparent fashion and with infringements of legislation.

It is worth citing the example here of the conflict which arose over the appointment as Rector of the Zaporizhya Regional Institute for Postgraduate Educational Studies V. Pashkov who represents the Party of the Regions. For example, there was no competition to fill the vacancy which is a direct infringement of the law. This was confirmed by the protest made with regard to the decision by the regional prosecutor’s office. The conflict was accompanied by a protest from the staff of the institute against such a violation of legislation, as well as by civic activity around the issue.[7]

Another problem is the system in Ukraine for financing expenditure on training specialists with higher education on government commissioning which does not meet the requirements of current legislation. It also fails to promote the efficient use of government funding since the end result, the training and graduation of specialists with higher education does not directly depend on the need for such specialists, the actual requests for them from State enterprises, institutions and organizations, and does not guarantee employment according to one’s chosen profession.[8]

The analysis carried out by the Accounting Chamber shows the lack of a government approach to using government funding on training specialists with higher education. It also demonstrates that in higher education there is effectively a commercial approach to the provision of educational services, with the level of these steadily declining together with the huge increase in the number of university or institute graduates. Over the last ten years the number of State-run institutes has decreased by almost 200, while more than 100 private institutes have appeared. The number of students in private educational institutions has become almost six times greater without the corresponding provision of lecturers. Nor is a high quality of lecturing personnel assured in State-run higher education institutions. It should however be mentioned that in 2006 the Ministry of Education and Science tried to bring order to the work of higher education institutions by carrying out checks and revoking the licenses of those which did not meet the relevant standards.

The auditors commented that the Cabinet of Ministers had not provided for the implementation of the President’s instructions on defining predicted indicators for the country’s need for qualified workers and specialists, and in contravention of legislation had not designated a network of higher education institutions. The inaction of the Government had led to State-funding of higher education institutions from the State Budget without the socio-economic and cultural-educational need for these having been identified. It had also caused duplication by higher education institutions of areas of training, frittering of State funds and inefficient use of these funds. This was linked to the fact that the Ministry of Education and Science, as well as other main bodies in control of higher institutes define the need for specialists with higher education on the basis of what the institutions themselves actually offer. As a consequence, the admission figures exceed the yearly need by 50-80 percent, especially in medical, legal and economic specialities. This is inevitable when the institutions are oriented on an uncontrolled and stirred up demand for higher education, and not on the actual needs of the State.[9]

The inadequacies of the current normative base for preparing, placing and implementing government commissioning for the training of specialists with higher education, which is based on the need to provide for the needs of the State sector of the economy, restrict the employment opportunities of graduates and are ineffective. Over recent years jobs were not found for 1,646 graduates and therefore the 22 million UAH which the State had spent on their education had been used inefficiently. A further 1,686 graduates found work by themselves in private business, this reflecting an inefficient use of nearly 19 million UAH of State funds and the effective investment in business.

The Ministries of the Economy and of Education and Science have not taken measures to prepare new methodological approaches in determining the State order for training of people with a higher education which take into account the public need, the needs of those placing the order and of the specific individual. The irresponsible attitude of the Ministry of Education and Science, together with other ministries and departments, as well as heads of higher education institutions, leads to a glut in the market for people with a higher education with a low level of qualification, and additional spending by the State on retraining these people.

It should be mentioned that the possibility to receive free education, enshrined in the Constitution, is being placed in question by the government. For example, back at the end of 2005, the Ministry of Education and Science  put forward a draft law “On amendments to the Law “On higher education” (on the training of personnel).[10]. The draft law flagrantly violated the constitutional rights of students. The latter were most outraged by the regulations which stated that graduates of a higher education institution whose studies were paid for by the State, must after the end of their studies work for three years in their field at a working place designated by the State. If a person refused, s/he would have to compensate the State for the cost of her/his studies with this being index linked to the rate of inflation. Effectively, in the most typical Soviet tradition, the State was imposing a three-year period of bondage for State-funded students. (Several months later the Minister of Health Mykola Polishchuk attempted to impose the same rule through his decree for medical students.)[11]

These regulations were unconstitutional since they contravened Article 22 of the Constitution by diminishing the content and scope of students’ existing rights and freedoms.  They also contradicted Article 53 of the Constitution which guarantees citizens the right to free higher education, i.e. without any kind of payment, as well as the Abolition of Forced Labour Convention which obliges Ukraine to abolish any compulsory or forced labour and to not resort to any form of this. At the end of 2005 the law was vetoed by President Yushchenko. Nonetheless, throughout 2006 the Ministry of Education and Science reiterated the alleged need to introduce amendments to legislation regarding compulsory work placing of State-funded graduates.

At the same time the vetoing of this notorious draft law did not remove many problematical issues, such as the need for a fixed linking of the size of student grants to the subsistence level (25-30%). The present law only establishes the minimum level for the student grant, making it possible to increase this though subordinate legislation. In the Law “On higher education” there is still also a point which states that decisions of bodies of student self-government are of an advisory nature, this rendering meaningless the whole concept of student self-government[12]

Recommendations

1)  Resolve the problems of school funding by allowing schools real autonomy, not just on paper; introduce a system of socio-economic support for schools from civic support via school councils, educational associations, independent trade unions etc; move towards a system whereby schools are funded from the budgets of different levels (nationwide, regional, local) according to standardized norms for expenditure per student.

2)  Ensure the unity of educational and academic processes in higher education institutions.

3)  Guarantee the rights of students to be provided with the necessary books, as well as with student accommodation.

4)  Guarantee that those in charge of higher education institutions will be appointed in full compliance with Ukrainian legislation.

5)  Ensure the functioning of an efficient system for funding the training of specialists with higher education commission by the State commission and to prevent and uncover abuse in this area.

6)  Ensure the constitutional chance to receive free higher education in Ukraine.

7)  Resolve problems with the development of student self-government, including through amendments to legislation.



[1] Prepared by Maxim Shcherbatyuk, UHHRU.

[2] О. Onyshchenko “Who calls the tune when the parents are paying?” // Dzerkalo tyzhnya № 4 (633) from 3-9 February 2007 р. http://www.zn.kiev.ua/ie/show/633/55730/

[3] Shushkevych, Y. The School economy: looking for a light at the end of the tunnel // Dzerkalo tyzhnya №2 (631) from 20-26 January 2007 р. www.zn.kiev.ua/ie/show/631/55619/

[4]  Hromovy, V. The Shadow economy within the schools: impossible to legalize banning?! // Dzerkalo tyzhnya № 48 (627) from 16-22 December 2006 р. www.zn.kiev.ua/ie/show/627/55353/  Material in English on this case (in which Mr Konobrytsky’s appeal was successful following a public campaign can be found at: http://khpg.org/en/index.php?id=1155573699, http://khpg.org/en/index.php?id=1154081597, http://khpg.org/en/index.php?id=1153872601&w=Konobrytsky

[5] Shushkevych, Y. The School economy: looking for a light at the end of the tunnel // Dzerkalo tyzhnya №2 (631) from 20-26 January 2007 р. www.zn.kiev.ua/ie/show/631/55619/

[6] Appeal from the civic network “Opora” to the Minister of Education and Science S.M. Nikolayenko. UHHRU site: www.helsinki.org.ua/index.php?id=1159957408

[7] Piskovy V. “School of ignorance” // Dzerkalo tyzhnya № 47 (626) from 9-15 December 2006 р. www.zn.kiev.ua/ie/show/626/55281/ , „Educational Problems” // Dzerkalo tyzhnya  № 45, 2006 р.

[8] Conclusion of the Accounting Chamber of Ukraine “State orders not for State needs” www.ac-rada.gov.ua/achamber/control/uk/publish/article/main?art_id=703971&cat_id=411

[9]  Ibid.

[10]  Registration No. 3323 from 2 April 2003 was passed by the Verkhovna Rada in 2005.

[11]  Pechonchyk, T: Council or Betrayal? Student councils linked to those with power – stillborn babies of post-Soviet democracy //  Dzerkalo tyzhnya  №13 (592) 8-14 April 2006 року http://www.zn.kiev.ua/nn/show/592/53058/

[12] Pechonchyk, T  Student veto for the law – old problems  // Dzerkalo tyzhnya  №48 (576) 10-16 December 2005 http://www.zn.kiev.ua/nn/show/576/52011/

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