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Today, the database contains 2,500 cases at various stages of processing.

Today, the database contains 2,500 cases at various stages of processing.

The National Agency has formed a community of people involved in tectonic shifts in higher education

Memories under the Christmas tree: two years NAME in official status

Two years ago, the National Agency for Quality Assurance in Higher Education was “reset” in Ukraine.

Among the various journalistic genres, there is one – truly immortal – the so-called “Danish” (not to be confused with one of the northern European countries!): Material that is preparing for a certain anniversary of an important event.

The pace of development of the modern history of Ukrainian higher education is so rapid that not even a year, but every month is significant and unusual, some terms are measured not so much by the number of days as by significance and richness. Therefore, it will not be about the results of the last year and not about the plans for the next year – other texts are being written for this – but about the significant achievements and priority prospects of the National Agency.

Historical background – without pathos

Two years have passed since the official beginning of the term of the current composition of the National Agency for Quality Assurance in Higher Education, when the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine approved the newly elected composition of this collegial body.

According to the Law on Higher Education, there were 23 of us, and the same normative act strictly defined the qualitative composition: representatives from applicants for higher education and employers, the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine and all national branch academies of sciences. Institutions of higher education of state, communal and private forms of ownership are presented. Looking back at that time, we note that the competition committee selected different people who are united by one thing – universality: teachers and scientists, administrators and experts in modern requirements for the quality of education, enthusiasts who could not imagine what awaits them.

When during our first meeting on January 11, 2019 we tried to determine why we are here, it turned out that everyone understands the scope of authority, everyone has their own vision of the most important goals and is aware of their responsibility, because according to the law the National Agency is recognized as a permanent collegial body. , authorized to implement state policy in the field of quality assurance in higher education “(Article 17, paragraph 1).

Then, two years ago, we did not know what a serious test any step would be, we did not even guess that we would become a kind of “babay” of higher education, which will scare – not naughty children, but each other – as retrogrades from higher education, and, in particular, due to lack of awareness, quite professional and responsible staff of Ukrainian universities.

It’s so interesting to read expressive haters now and remember how we started… With some completely unrealistic amount of tasks. With almost no regulatory framework. But also without illusions about 100% support and understanding from higher education institutions. Without permanent premises, without furniture, with lower salaries than at previous jobs.

We thank the state for supporting our difficult and responsible work. We support the idea that all educators should have a decent salary. Although it does not depend on us, but those on whom it really depends, for many years generously feed all stakeholders with promises.

A lot of interesting things, without exaggeration, arose around the National Agency both at the official level and in the form of conjectures and fabrications. In fact, the name of the institution, abbreviated to an uncomfortable ear, which is accustomed to abbreviations, also immediately became the subject of ironic intonations and contemptuous distortions.

Well, this is also an attempt to get acquainted and get used to the incomprehensible – of course, the question was not so much in the name as in the unusual status and powers. This determines the need for perception, and first the development of a common lexicon. And here it turned out that if the processes are unclear, then the thesaurus that describes it is also annoying. In particular, the use of terms of English origin, the same stakeholders, soft skills, fitness for purpose, justified by the lack of Ukrainian equivalents, is not accepted. Explanations and interpretations require seemingly familiar terms, such as ESGs or educational components.

Accreditation is our everything

The first and main task of the National Agency was to introduce a new model of accreditation, and it is not surprising that it has become the most difficult to implement. It focused on all the most acute problems of higher education: the accumulation of issues of professionalism of higher education staff, the need for radical change in the industry, the obvious distortion of society’s mentality in the perception of the true results of education, benchmarks and redistribution of priorities. 

Obviously, changes occur – mostly systemic, sometimes local. We believe that we are doing everything right, at the same time we see a lot of painful disagreement in the understanding between the various participants in the process. First of all, the prejudice and subconscious readiness of a significant part of the educational community to interpret everything that happens from the standpoint of their own experience, sometimes ambiguous, stand in the way.

The mechanism proposed by the National Agency does not suit those who are accustomed to the “push the button – get the result” scheme (no matter because of good relationships, connections or money). We are not sufficiently controlled – as some would like. It turned out (oh my!) That at least formal, and better yet, essential requirements must be met during accreditation.

It was not so easy to orientate in the types of accreditation, but in fact, not so much in their gradation as in the real motivation for implementation. Thus, conditional (deferred) accreditation is provided for in the second part of Article 25 of the Law on Professional Higher Education, but the very fact of its existence has caused unfounded accusations of corruption in the “outraged public”.

It seems that the authors and distributors of such curiosities are not clear in whose favor such “mercantilism” is taking place. All payments are taxed in favor of the state, significant amounts are withdrawn from the shadows. Conditional accreditation is proposed as a compromise with the possibility for weaker programs to improve, and for universities – to determine the need to include such educational programs. Communication with colleagues confirms that now wise leaders understand the benefits of conditional accreditation, are ready a tree that grows in brooklyn summary to understand it, and even offer additional models of “conditionality”, intermediate, with a longer period of accreditation.

Let us occasionally mention the frequent argument of dissatisfaction – payment for accreditation. Let’s be honest, dear readers. Yes, these are significant funds, although the payment for the accreditation of one educational program in comparison with the funding of the same student-budget by the state is not so great. Significantly uncomfortable is the imperfect mechanism of “non-allocation” of funds for accreditation to higher education institutions, not timely included in the university budget – first, and the uncertainty of the result (paid – does not mean accredited) – secondly. And when this money was not important, but how big or small it is – a matter of resources of each particular university, to say goodbye to them is equally difficult.

Another mysterious story concerns the denial of accreditation, which some pseudo-scholars believe violates the rights of students in non-accredited programs (and only about one percent of them). Does the National Agency violate these rights, such as the right to education? Obviously not. These rights (as well as a number of norms and laws) are violated by the institution of higher education, providing low-quality educational services.

The need to relevantly assess what is “thrown” into the scientific and educational community, is spread by gullible recipients, is not always satisfied in time, so we suggest to understand. The infamous letter to the Ministry of Education and Science of its advisory body, the Council of Vice-Rectors for Research of Higher Education Institutions and Directors of Scientific Institutions, expressed concern about the near destruction of Ukrainian science due to allegedly unbelievable prices to the National Agency for education of own members of special councils and opponents).

The common myth about the threat of non-accreditation of educational and scientific programs of the doctor of philosophy is similarly far-fetched. Some statistics: to date, the decision of the National Agency has been adopted on 181 accreditation cases of doctors of philosophy, 153 of them are accredited, 15 are accredited with the definition of exemplary, only 12 are accredited as conditional and one was denied accreditation … That is, in comparison with usually the third part of conditionally accredited programs at other levels of education, the indicators of accreditation of educational and scientific programs of Doctor of Philosophy are significantly higher.

Let’s discuss resources and principles

Something about educational program evaluation experts is also in numbers. In the register of the National Agency today there are 2,202 scientific and pedagogical workers and 828 students, ie a total of 3,030 people. Not all of them participated in accreditations, but all passed training and testing. Many debatable questions arose about their preparation and operation. Whether or not you can learn the examination in two days of training – the answer is obvious. Experience and self-education are required.

Where the tsunami of criticism comes from is also clear: who likes people who say you are doing something wrong? We will be grateful to each high-level specialist who will join the register of experts, will find an opportunity to cooperate with us, discussing the problems of their preparation.

There are easily refuted legends about papers in the office and communication policy of the National Agency, as well as about expert groups. Today, the database contains 2,500 cases at various stages of processing. As you know, all documents are submitted and passed through the information system of the National Agency, without which the participants of the accreditation process can no longer imagine the normal functioning. But for all its advantages, the system has one drawback – under no circumstances can anything be removed from it, the most important part of it is public, and therefore accessible to both genuine stakeholders and those who want to find flaws and shortcomings.

In general, the experience of communication policy shows that negatively colored facts quickly become public. The National Agency has to work in a specific, rather unfavorable information field.