Level of Corruption in Higher Education Admissions Reduced
In 2008, conditions of admission to higher educational institutions (HEI) in Ukraine were changed radically: the certificate of standardized external testing (SET) became the only document which opens the doors of HEI. Monitoring studies conducted by the Promoting Active Citizen Engagement in Combating Corruption in Ukraine (ACTION) Project indicated that the nationwide introduction of SET contributed to a considerable reduction of the level of corruption during admission processes and is now perceived by society as a promising method for combating corruption and increasing the quality of knowledge of graduates.
In 2007 and 2008 in cooperation with the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KIIS) the project Promoting Active Citizen Engagement in Combating Corruption in Ukraine (ACTION) carried out two waves of sociological studies in regards to the state of corruption in the sphere of access to higher education. As studies of 2007 were held before the introduction of the obligatory usage of SET and studies of 2008 afterwards, they were aimed at evaluating the first results of the impact of the procedural changes upon the level of corruption.
Changes in problem perception. Studies of 2008 recorded real changes in the perception of corruption during admission to HEI on the part of those who participated in the process of taking or conducting SET or simply were interested in this; for example, graduates’ parents. Among the polled were graduates, their parents, students, teachers and school administrations. All four groups believe that corruption during the overall admissions process has decreased as compared to 2007.
Encounters with corruption in the process of taking SET exam are negligible. Actual encounters with corruption during SET procedures was acknowledged by only an inconsiderable share of those polled: 1% of graduates (as compared to 3% in 2007), 3% of graduates’ parents, 3% of students (as compared to 6% in 2007).
This index is a lot smaller as compared to the last year when entrants had a choice between SET and traditional entrance exams. Overall attention and novelty were an obstacle to corruption - that’s why there exists the possibility that later on such corruption schemes will be elaborated.
Violations during SET have become more frequent. Various types of violations during the standardized external testing increased in the last year. Among students, the use of crib notes, unauthorized communication, exchange of answers that was not punished and the use of cell phones all increased. More suspicious/cheating behavior was noticed during the SET in the Kyiv region - the number of violations here is greatly exceeds the national average.
Regional Differences. Among all regional USEQAs, the most significant experiences with corruption took place in the Simferopol regional center. Corruption experiences with graduation exams in Simferopol region was 9%; and during SETs 4% of those polled used illegal methods. Also the highest index of corruption behavior during admission processes was registered here; 15% entrants made attempts to enter HEI illegally.
Efficiency of Government Anti-corruption Actions. Representatives of all four groups consider that this reform turned out to be effective. A number of those who believe that a change of all forms of entrance exams to SET is a promising step in combating corruption increased. Teachers and school staff supported this opinion (their number is growing: 52% to 42% in 2007) and graduates hold a similar point of view
(34% to 17% in 2007). The number of students who supported this measure also shot up, from 13% to 29%, although students are usually most skeptical and are generally not disposed to positive assessments.
Method of studies and degree of samples: by means of personal interview method 2758 respondents aged over 18 were polled, including people living in villages, regional centers and cities of all regions of Ukraine, including Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Kiev. Apart from the quantitative part, both studies consisted of quality components which included 10 focus-group discussions in 5 cities of Ukraine and 10 deep interviews with rectors of HEI, officials in the sphere of education and leaders of key NGOs.
Information about SET methods
Corruption is perceived as an everyday activity in the sphere of higher education as a whole and specifically in admission campaigns. According to the results of a nationwide poll conducted by the Promoting Active Citizen Engagement in Combating Corruption in Ukraine (ACTION) Project in 2007 on The State of Corruption in Ukraine, 46.3% of citizens feel that corruption is very widespread amongst the management of HEEs, while 34.5% believe it is only partially prevalent. Almost 38% of respondents who gave bribes in higher education establishments admitted that these were in relation to the enrollment process.
According to the definition, corruption at the enrollment stage to higher education establishments results in inequality for university entrants, which in turn violates the constitutional right to equality in education (Constitution of Ukraine. Article 53).
Thus, to fight corruption in the higher education admissions process, in 2003 SET (standardized external testing) was introduced. SET was aimed at evaluating graduates’ knowledge in various subjects. The results of such the evaluation are indicated officially in the Certificate.
The standardized external testing (SET) approach is viewed as a way to make the admissions process more transparent, accountable, less susceptible to corruption, and thus more equitable. In April 2008, the SET is being rolled out nationwide with the assistance of the Millennium Challenge Corporation Threshold Program in Ukraine.
In 2008, it becomes obligatory for every entrant to use their SET results when applying to any establishment of higher education. It should be noted that one’s SET results can be applied as his/her State Summary Attestation results if one so desires.
The SET testing is organized by the Ukrainian Center for Educational Quality Assessment (UCEQA) - a separate budgetary organization not affiliated with either general secondary education establishments or establishments of higher education. The tests are developed and kept secret and are transmitted to the testing locations using special communication means. Answer sheets completed by graduates are coded and sent for checking using the same communication means.
Overall, the goal of standardized external evaluation is to make the knowledge assessment of graduates applying to establishments of higher education considerably more objective and unbiased, thus decreasing the opportunities for corruption in the admissions process.
The admission requirements of establishments of higher education have been modified accordingly.  UCEQA certificates for the corresponding subjects must be used instead of the establishment’s own oral and written exams. However, foreign language exams remain in place (SET modules for foreign languages have not been developed yet) and special forms of entry examinations may be used (for example, creative competitions) for admission to some departments. At the same time, the special entry conditions that existed previously have been preserved in a modified form.
Please see ACTION’s website for more information: http://www.pace.org.ua