«The Ukrainian higher education system must open its door to international cooperation and exchange programmes»

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– Dr. Alexandru Cristian Fotea shared his impressions on Ukrainian system of education after his mobility programme at the International Office Department at National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy in Kiev

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1. Where are you from? What is your affiliation?
I am from Iasi, Romania. I am currently associated with the Educational Marketing, Events and Academic Image Department at Alexandru Ioan Cuza University of Iasi, Romania.

2. Where did you have your internship/post-doc/exchange programme in Ukraine (department, university, etc.)?
What was the international academic mobility programme you applied through (if any)?
I had my one-month administrative staff mobility at the International Office Department at National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy in Kiev. The academic mobility programme I applied through is called Erasmus Mundus IANUS.

3. What motivated you to choose exactly this education institution? What documents did you have to submit? Was the application process difficult?
I was motivated by the idea to visit Kiev, one of the most beautiful Eastern European    capitals and one of the most important cities of the former Soviet Union, with a rich culture and great history. I chose the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy due to its reputation of being one of  the most prestigious higher education institutions in Ukraine, with a pro-European perspective on education.
For the selection process, I had to submit a CV, a copy of my passport, a detailed work plan, an official language certificate, a letter of institutional commitment and an invitation letter from the host university. I did not consider the application process to be difficult.

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4. What project have you been working on?
My main task was to improve NaUKMA’s communication strategy with its internal and external audience.

5. What are the fundamental differences and similarities between Ukrainian and foreign higher education system experienced by you during your stay in Ukraine?

Well, generally speaking, Ukrainian higher education system has the characteristics of the former socialist countries. The best higher education institutions are concentrated in the traditional academic centers like Kiev, Lviv, Odessa, Kharkiv, Chernivtsi. The universities are still reluctant to change, they are not properly engaged in international cooperation. The teaching process still has the old socialist characteristics, doesn’t leave enough space for the students to develop their creativity and to express 100% freely, in spite of the great human capital potential that Ukraine is possessing.

Ukrainian system 96. What stereotypes have you had before your arrival in Ukraine (if any)? What interesting aspects in the life of Ukrainians did you discover for yourself? What surprised / impressed you?
Before coming to Ukraine I admit I was having some negative thoughts about safety (I was in Kiev in spring 2014). Everybody was telling me not to go because it is dangerous and there is a war going on. In Kiev I found the situation quite calm, even though there was a certain tension.
I enjoyed the Ukrainian cuisine, especially varenyky, kartoshka and borsch. I also enjoyed the capital city of Kiev and its famous landmarks. I even attended a religious ceremony officiated by a priest from Chernivtsi that could speak Romanian at Lavra Monastery Complex. I was very impressed by the young generation. Very intelligent, well educated, they could speak Ukrainian, Russian and English, enthusiastic and with a great desire to contribute to the development of their country.

7. What were the main impressions of the city, campus, higher education institution? How did you settle your everyday life? Were there any preferences, bonuses for students, faculty of your higher education institution?
Kiev is a wonderful cosmopolitan city. I could say it is nicer and cleaner than Bucharest.
The second day I arrived I was at Maidan Square. I got out of the metro station and the moment I saw the square I was overwhelmed. It was one of the most memorable landscapes I have ever seen in my life. The revolutionary spirit was still there – the burnt buildings, all the burnt rubber, the flowers, the pictures and the names of those who sacrificed their lives. I spent most of my time in Podil, in the campus of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, a beautiful, historical neighborhood of Kyiv.

8. Can you mention three main reasons for studying, working or living in Ukraine as for foreigners?
The main three reasons would be: the great hospitality of the Ukrainians (I could feel that   from the very first till the last day everywhere I went), the enthusiasm of the youth (they are extremely motivated to improve their country) and the rich cultural, historic, artistic, social, economic life that Ukraine has to offer to foreigners.

9. What do you consider to be the most attractive in Ukraine to visit the country?
Ukraine is a wonderful country with a great touristic offer for those who want to discover it. The city of Kiev, one of the most important cultural, artistic and educational centers of Eastern Europe, but also the cities of Lviv, Odessa and Chernivtsi have extraordinary cultural treasures that people will definitely enjoy.

Ukrainian system 1010. From your perspective: do Ukrainians share the European values? From your personal point of view what part of the civilization space Ukraine is?
I was impressed to see how much the young generation shares the European values. The young people show great concern for the future of Ukraine and want to help as much as they can. I could notice the motivation and dedication in all the young Ukrainians around me. They hope that they can go abroad, learn as much as they can, then return and use the acquired knowledge to the development of Ukraine. The older generation seemed still a little nostalgic about the Soviet Era. Maybe they are not sure that the European path is the right path to progress and development. So, I think that Ukraine is still very much divided between the Russian and Western influence.

11. What are the main achievements and problems of the Ukrainian state?
Ukraine is a very complicated country. It has a strategic geopolitical location of great importance both for Europe, but especially for Russia. It is a country with a great industrial power, with many natural resources and tremendous human capital. Being so big and ethnically diverse makes the situation even more complicated. In terms of problems, I think corruption is the biggest negative factor that is stopping Ukraine to develop. Conflicts between ethnic groups, poor transport infrastructure, a big development gap between the urban and the rural areas are just a couple of many problems that I noticed during my short staying in Ukraine. In terms of achievements, Maidan Revolution I would say was a great message that Ukraine showed to the world. If it was a real achievement or not, only time will reveal. It depends on how people and especially the young generation will further proceed. From what I have noticed, they are very determined to build a different future for Ukraine – one of international cooperation, liberty, dignity and honesty. I really hope they will find the necessary strength to accomplish it.

12. Are you planning to return to Ukraine? What do you consider it is worth to implement into Ukrainian universities from the foreign education system?
I am definitely planning to return to Ukraine. I still have so many beautiful places to visit like Lviv or Odessa. The Ukrainian higher education system must open its door to international cooperation and exchange programmes. Students, academic and administrative staff from Ukrainian universities must go to other universities and then come back and disseminate and implement the acquired knowledge. Universities must also find ways to promote themselves and to attract more foreigners. Also, they need to engage more to the process of local and regional economic development alongside government, administration, private and public companies, NGOs etc.

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