Supporting Higher Education in Ukraine: A Conversation with Ukrainian University Deans
James Leonhardt is the Phil and Jennifer Satre Professor of Marketing and an Associate Professor of Marketing in the College of Business at the University of Nevada, Reno (USA)
Yuliia Goncharova is the Dean of the Faculty of International Trade and Law of the State University of Trade and Economics (Ukraine)
Tetyana Oriekhova is the Dean of the Faculty of Economics of the Vasyl Stus Donetsk National University in Vinnytsia (Ukraine)
Since February of 2022, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been widely publicized across independent, mainstream, and social media outlets, including widely followed Twitter posts from business and political leaders, including Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. As media consumers, we’ve watched videos of missile strikes and on-the-ground interviews with Ukrainian military leaders and personnel. We’ve read articles and social media posts on the viability of alternative military strategies, and we continue to anticipate the direct and indirect economic consequences of this war domestically and abroad. However, this rampant media coverage largely overlooks how the war has affected the everyday person still living, working, and going to school in Ukraine.
In this article, we learn about the state of higher education in Ukraine from Dr. Tetyana Oriekhova, the Dean of the Department of Economics of the Vasyl Stus Donetsk National University, and Dr. Yuliia Honcharova, the Dean of the Faculty of International Trade and Law of the State University of Trade and Economics. Interested readers are also encouraged to see our previous article, “A Call for Engagement with Ukrainian Faculty and Students,” in which Dr. Mehmet Tosun (UNR) and Dr. James Leonhardt (UNR) spoke with Dr. Iryna Degtyarova from the SGH Warsaw School of Economics. Through these conversations, we get a firsthand perspective of the challenges facing students and faculty in Ukraine, and, importantly, we learn how we can support higher education in Ukraine by engaging with their faculty and students.
For our readers: Please describe your current position.
Dean Goncharova: “Since March 2020, I have been the Dean of the International Trade and Law Faculty at the State University of Trade and Economics, formerly Kyiv National University of Trade and Economics. The university is in Kyiv, Ukraine. Our primary research and teaching focus on economics, business, and trade-related disciplines. The university was founded in 1906 and is one of Ukraine's oldest and most prestigious universities. The university offers undergraduate and graduate international trade, finance, marketing, and business administration programs.”
Dean Oriekhova: “Since 2020, I have been working as the Dean of the Faculty of Economics of the Vasyl’ Stus Donetsk National University. Before that, I worked as Vice-Rector for International Affairs for 6 years. Our university belongs to the classical type of university. That is, it includes study programs and conducts scientific research in all directions - natural sciences, humanities, technical and social sciences, economics, and law. This year the university celebrates its 85th anniversary. In 2014, because of the occupation of our native city of Donetsk by Russia, the university was relocated from the East of Ukraine to its central part - the city of Vinnytsia. We have been working in exile for 9 years.”
How has the war impacted education at your university? How are faculty and students adjusting to the changes? What have been the most significant challenges?
Dean Goncharova: “We have a hybrid system of offline and online or distance learning due to the circumstances and conditions of wartime. But most classes are online. Air raid sirens cause considerable inconvenience; one has to go down to the shelter, and not every educational participant has a good internet connection. But the most inconvenient is blackouts (complete shutdown of electricity of the whole city district), which happen daily. One blackout is no less than 4 hours and repeats three times, so electricity is off for 12 hours out of 24 hours. Working during the war is complicated, but our university tries to do its best to maintain a sustainable educational environment.”
Dean Oriekhova: “The war for us began in 2014. Then, when our city and university were captured by militants from the terrorist organization Donetsk People's Republic, we organized a secret registration of students and teachers who did not agree to remain under occupation and tried to leave the occupied territory and move to the territory controlled by Ukraine, leaving their homes driven by the common goal - to live and work under the Ukrainian flag. In 2014, approximately 60% of students who studied at the university before the war, expressed their will to relocate from the occupied territory to the new location of the University. 25% of students had already independently moved to other cities in Ukraine. The resumption of activities in the new city was difficult. An important role was played by the fact that since 2003 the university already had experience working with remote platforms, and in 2012 we implemented a project to develop cloud technologies thanks to the support of the Microsoft Corporation. For the first half of the year, most of the students continued their studies remotely, but gradually everyone gathered for off-line studies in Vinnytsia. Having such an experience of survival in 2014, on February 24, 2022, we did not get lost ourselves and did not let our students fall into a state of disorientation. We continued the educational process in a hybrid form, despite the difficult moral and psychological situation, with the aim of supporting our students emotionally.”
Why is it essential for students (e.g., intellectually and emotionally) to ensure the continuation of higher education in Ukraine during this war?
Dean Goncharova: “Because students are the future intellectual potential of the country, not only do we want to give future generations a better perspective here, but we also prepare first-class specialists who will help to rebuild and strengthen Ukraine.”
Dean Oriekhova: “When I ask this question to our students, most of whom returned to study in Ukraine or stayed in the country during the hot phase of the war: "Why are you continuing your studies in Ukraine?" They answer: "Because we are patriots of our country. We want to study and live here. We want to rebuild our country after victory. We want Ukraine to be a prosperous European state."
What are the most prominent challenges to ensuring the continuation of higher education in Ukraine? What are some specific needs of faculty and students?
Dean Goncharova: “Although we did our best to save the budget this year, financial and technical assistance is still highly required to maintain other educational processes. Also, open library access and developing academic mobility programs would be preferable.”
Dean Oriekhova: “Of course, in conditions where 70% of the state budget goes to support military needs and the needs of internally displaced people, the opportunities for state financing of education and science are sharply reduced. In the condition of a sharp economic decline caused by the war, the solvency of parents, who used to pay for their children's education, is reduced. Therefore, the most urgent need of young people to continue their education is financial means. For universities, it is equipment for developing hybrid forms of education. But, having the experience of restoring the university after the beginning of the war in 2014, I can say that support in any form is important for us - online lectures by visiting professors, opportunities for the mobility of students and staff, development of double degree programs, opportunities for joint scientific research and project activity - all this gives us the feeling that we are not alone in this struggle for the independence of our country and for the democratic values. We know that the whole civilized world is with us!”
How can faculty from the USA help students and faculty in Ukraine? How should interested faculty initiate contact with you?
Dean Goncharova: “The best help now is to provide an opportunity for students to exchange under the Erasmus + programs, to hold webinars, and master classes so that the academic community of Ukraine does not feel left out so that students understand that despite the war, they have opportunities to develop and gain knowledge and to develop their cross-cultural communication skills. We are also open to joint scientific and grant activities, our teachers are authoritative in their fields, and today we are implementing ten grant projects under the Erasmus + programs. The only problem is that there is a limited number of journals indexed in the Scopus and Web of Science databases in Ukraine. Hence, assistance in such publications is critical so that the university does not lose its high ratings (publication abroad is most often paid, and money transfer abroad during martial law is prohibited). Please do not hesitate to contact us via our Office of International Relations: Daria Ivashchenko, Head of International Relations Office, or myself directly (firstname.lastname@example.org).”
Dean Oriekhova: “We would be very grateful to our colleagues from US universities for the opportunity to establish direct communication with our teachers and researchers who teach similar disciplines, conduct research in related fields of knowledge, for online lectures for our students on the latest trends in business development, for example, digital marketing, data-driven economy, digital economy. All this will help us and our students maintain our competitiveness and the competitiveness of our state for the future! If anyone has initiatives for the development of cooperation with us, you can contact our Head of International Relations Department, Anna Osmolovska (email@example.com), or myself (firstname.lastname@example.org).”
In closing, we hope that by learning about these first-person accounts, you’ve gained a better understanding of the needs of students and faculty in Ukraine and potential ways in which you can help. As we advance, the UNR College of Business will continue to work with the SGH Warsaw School of Economics to find ways to support faculty and students in Ukraine. In addition to the above contacts, interested readers can also contact Iryna Degtyarova at the SGH Warsaw School of Economics and Mehmet Tosun and James Leonhardt at the University of Nevada, Reno.