Occupy the Ministry of Education: Ukraine on the Path to European Education

Euromaidan has shown the prospect of a new life to all the Ukrainian people. We have witnessed the power of community action and a possibility of a real change. And Ukrainian students are not willing to let this chance slip! On February 21st, around 200 students occupied the Ministry of Education and Science in Kiev. It started with a peaceful protest with the demand of the resignation of the current Minister of Education Dmitro Tabachnik and his deputy Yevgen Sulima – the two government officials routinely criticized by the student protesters during the last few years.

Students’ patience wore out when Minister Tabachnik did not support them standing up for their rights on Maidan and instead commented that  “students have to attend classes in order to receive scholarships, and after 3 pm they are free to do whatever they please.”  When students entered the building of the Ministry in order to start the negotiations in regards to the new candidate for the post of the Minister of Education, the officials began leaving their work places and refused to discuss students’ demands. Irritated by such an attitude, student activists made the decision to stand up for their rights in a more radical way.

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It did not take the students long to tape the office doors, bring in enough food and water to sustain themselves inside the building, and even appoint security people around the Ministry of Education.

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Shortly after, Facebook and Youtube  featured a video in which a student reporter voiced the opinion of the protestors:

“In the past four years we have witnessed incredible increase of corruption, centralization of education, the destruction of autonomy of education institutions, academic environment of Ukrainian intellectual community and the possibility of integration into European environment of higher education and scientific research. We are systemically observing the deterioration of problems in the sphere of welfare of students and teachers. During the administration of this Ministry we have witnessed the decrease of student scholarships, an attempt to increase the GPA for student scholarships in order to not pay them. This is absolutely an anti-social and anti-student policy of the Ministry! Hence, Verkhovna Rada has to consider the resignation of Tabachnik! As of tomorrow, all students will stop giving bribes. Ukraine has to adopt a new and quality European education!”

The deputy Minister of Education Oleksiy Dniprov claimed that such destabilization of the work of the Ministry may cause a delay in paying out the scholarships and salaries of teachers. He also argued that “the demands of the activists, or the ‘students’ as they call themselves, are political, and unfortunately, are out of the competence of the Ministry.” However, the actions of the students had an almost immediate result: Verkhovna Rada has fired Tabachnik – twice. On February 23rd, 236 deputies supported the idea of removing Tabachnik from his post.  The next day, when the second voting process took place due to the suspicion of illegitimacy of the first one, the resignation was supported by 249 deputies.

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This is only the first step. Only one of the demands of the students has been satisfied and they are not willing to give up. Who is going to take Tabachnik’s post?  The students are demanding that the people who will become heads of the Ministry of Education in the new government have to be experts in their professional area, be respected in the academic world both in Ukraine and in Europe, and initiate a reform plan that will be agreed upon by all the interested parties in the Ukrainian system of education.  In addition, activists proposed three candidates for the position of the Education Minister: the president of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy Serhiy Kvita, the rector of Kyiv Politechnical Institute Mihailo Zgurtovskiy, and a deputy Liliya Grunevich.

The students are not content with the current development of the situation, since the Cabinet of Ministers proposed a new candidate on February 24th – a deputy of the fraction “Svoboda” (eng. “Freedom”) Irina Farion. The students refused to give up the building of the Ministry of Education to Farion because “she has absolutely no skills for or experience in education policy-making and during her work in the Committee on Science and Education she has not taken on any leadership role.”

Now the power to shape the direction in which the Ukrainian education is going to develop belongs to the student activists who will only open the doors of the Ministry to the person who deserves it and who will lead Ukrainian education towards the European standards. Thousands of students are impatient to know who it is going to be.

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