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Statement of the National Agency for Higher Education Quality Assurance regarding the current government’s attempts to eliminate the gains of higher education reform and to suspend the integration of Ukraine into the EHEA

On June 30, 2020, a draft law “On Amendments to Certain Laws of Ukraine”, developed by the Ministry of Education and Science (MoES) was submitted for review and approval to the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine. This draft document aims to return Soviet-era institutions and practices to higher education management. Specifically, its adoption will increase centralization, reduce university autonomy, and liquidate the National Agency for Higher Education Quality Assurance (NAQA) as an independent collegial body responsible for higher education quality assurance.

NAQA was legally established as part of the radical reforms in higher education enacted immediately after Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity in 2014. For political reasons the Agency was able to start its official activities only in February 2019. The current NAQA members were selected through transparent competition by an independent commission whose members included several international quality assurance (QA) experts. Continuous consultations and support provided during the past 18 months by international partners have allowed to NAQA to develop a conceptually new approach to the accreditation of study programs which is fully aligned to ESG-2015 and to implement this regulatory framework in practice.  In 2019, NAQA’s secretariat (62 permanent staff units) was formed, 35 trainers were trained with the help of QAA experts (U.K.), 2,500 accreditation experts were trained and certified, 350 members of sectoral expert councils were elected, 96 trainings were held with a total of 2,813 participants, 26 round tables for HEIs were conducted. Since November 2019, 841 accreditation cases were reviewed, almost half of which involved teleconference site visits due the Covid-19 lockdown. NAQA has overcome corruption in the field of accreditation and has started to enforce its academic integrity policy by making infractions public. Since its inception, the NAQA has built its activities in full compliance with ESG-2015; the Agency is now an affiliate member of ENQA and a full member of INQAAHE, CEENQA, and ICAI. In a short time NAQA has established partnerships with QA agencies and experts from 14 countries and it is a partner in several international projects.

All of this testifies to Ukraine’s success in implementing the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement in the area of higher education reform, and specifically in combating corruption in this sector. NAQA is grateful to all international partners and values their efforts and continuous support aimed at enacting positive change in Ukraine’s higher education system.

The MoES has not had a legitimately confirmed Minister for almost six months, and the current head of this key executive branch Ministry remains an acting (interim) appointee – a fact that has caused significant difficulties during the challenging times of nationwide quarantine. Under such conditions, NAQA took leadership and supported HEIs with online consultations, webinars, Q&A sessions, weekly online rubrics such as ‘NAQA_advises’ and ‘NAQA_recommends’. Instead of supporting these NAQA initiatives, the MoES has responded with an attempt to establish state control over the accreditation process and to centralize (through state awards) the procedures for granting research degrees. In both cases, these proposals amount to an abandonment of the reforms implemented in the higher education sector during the past 6 years, and a return to Soviet-era practices in higher education.

NAQA considers any attempt to reorganize or merge NAQA with other executive government bodies to constitute a violation of the requirements and non-fulfilment of Ukraine’s obligations under the EU Association Agreement.

NAQA sent a statement outlining the position of this collegial body to the President of Ukraine, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine, the Ukrainian Students’ Association, the Federation of Employers of Ukraine and requested their assistance in support for domestic higher education reform and for the continued European integration of Ukraine’s higher education sector. The MoES draft law must not be approved by the Cabinet of Ministers, nor even tabled in Parliament.