Dmytro Melnychuk: "We have a chance to successfully pass the international university accreditation in accordance with U.S. standards”

June 24, 2013

 The Head of the National University of Life and Environmental Sciences of Ukraine, Academician Dmytro Melnychuk initiated accreditation of NULES of Ukraine in accordance with U.S. educational and research standards. The expert committee of one of the centres for accreditation of higher educational establismnets in the United States stated that official accreditation of NULES of Ukraine will continue and there is every chance of its successful completion.

 

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- Dmytro Oleksiyovych, it is known that the university successfully completed national accreditation by the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine. Why is there a need to conduct a re-accreditation according with U.S. educational and research standards?

- The official certificate of accreditation according with U.S. standards means recognition of the international status of the university. In the post-soviet states it is done for the first time. Such certificate will serve as a guarantee of university stability in the world. For six months we have introduced American experts to documentation of our university: we had to prove that we have a chance to go through accreditation successfully. The experts expressed their comments and suggestions on how to improve objective indicators of status and effectiveness of the university both within the national and global educational networks, provided many other recommendations that we have successfully implemented. And now the university with its all regional subdivisions is ready to be accredited.

- Have you thought about this in the early 90s when you signed agreements on cooperation with the leading universities in the U.S. and Europe?

Frankly speaking, I felt that this time will come, but I knew that it would happen not so soon. From the very beginning we chose the tactics of direct contacts with the world leading universities: we studied their strengths, traditions, achievements etc. It proved to be very effective. In 1996 and 1998 after implementation of a six-years’ Ukrainian-American project the universities of Iowa and Louisiana signed memoranda on mutual recognition of educational systems of our university. It was our triumph, which imparted us with the possibility to work with other universities in Ohio, Arkansas, North and South Dakota, Pennsylvania, California, Illinois, Connecticut, Missouri, Vermont, Oklahoma, and Minnesota. These memoranda had a significant influence on establishment of contacts with the following universities in Europe and Asia: Humboldt University (Berlin), University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (Austria), Wageningen University (Netherlands), Ghent University (Belgium), Tokyo Agricultural University (Japan), Seoul National University (South Korea) and others. The majority of our students who studied there became successful businessmen, scientists, and government officials. For example, last year 700 students became participants of international training programs.

It all was taken into account by the current expert committee. We are very grateful to former and current leaders of our state who supported us: the President of Ukraine, Leonid Kuchma, Prime Ministers of Ukraine Valeriy Pustovoytenko, Viktor Yanukovych, Mykola Azarov, Heads of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine Ivan Plyushch, Oleksandr Tkachenko, Oleksandr Moroz, members of parliament, Ministers of Agriculture and Ministers of Education and Science, Ambassador of Ukraine to the United States and many others who contributed to this work constantly. Such experience was extremely helpful in the development of modern Ukrainian educational system, which is consolidated by the Law of Ukraine "On Higher Education". It also served as basis for the Bologna agreement. And we must remember that in those days conditions for reforms were much more complicated than they are now...

- In 1998, during the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the university you initiated establishment of Global Consortium of Higher Education and Research for Agriculture, which you headed for four years.  Even now you didn’t leave the helm. Did it influence the process of accreditation?

- History of this consortium is unique and, in my opinion, extremely positive. The main purpose of its creation was to speed up reforms in the system of agricultural education and science in countries with transitive economies and developing countries. Cooperation between the National Agrarian University with numerous universities in the U.S. and EU provided considerable impetus for this event. We started by creating the Consortium. Nearly 500 universities from more than 130 countries worldwide expressed a desire to become the members of this Consortium. Its first president was a recognized scientist, the president of the University of Iowa, Martin Zhyshke and I was appointed as the president-elect, in other words, the next president. The other presidents were Cheng Yanpinh (China), Jose Zahlul (Costa Rica), Nick Gateru Vandzhohi (Kenya) and now Philippe Choquet (France).

The main results of the Consortium work were modernization and unification of changes in curricula of educational system, adjustment of typical agricultural disciplines to market conditions. Of course, some people will find it unusual that today modern agricultural and food sectors are centres for latest knowledge intensive technique and technologies. It is extremely difficult for universities not having necessary laboratories, research institutes and departments to develop. We also cannot forget about the problems of biological resources quality, sustainable resources management and life safety. The Consortium successfully tackled above mentioned issues and it is the main result of its work. Today, the Consortium transformed into the Global Confederation of Higher Education Associations for Agricultural and Life Sciences - one of the largest educational and research establishments in the world. There is a great hope for financial support from the World Bank and the FAO. I have the honour to remain lifelong honorary president of the Confederation.

 

Strategic Vision of Common Problems Is of Primary Importance

- What are other characteristic features peculiar to a large university, which unites more than 20 educational, research and production establishments?

- The fact that over the last quarter century we have created a new teaching and research laboratories, departments, faculties, and more than a dozen of research institutions is not new. The most quintessential task is a strategic vision of common problems concerning missions and goals of the megauniversity, where more than 60 thousand people work, learn, train and improve their skills. It is important to create the conditions for independent activities of each of its subdivisions while maintaining personal responsibility for the consequences to the centre. Another important component is a system of horizontal and vertical linkages between basic university and its subdivisions within the world and national educational, research and innovation networks.

The main aim of the university is the production, storage, compilation and dissemination of knowledge. It focuses its attention on life sciences, state and development of biological resources, sustainable resources management (especially provision of agricultural raw materials and food), environmental protection and ensuring quality and safety of human lives. Implementation of this strategy involves wide range of fields of study (now the university offers 45 fields of study) and their tight integration. Therefore, all subdivisions of NULES of Ukraine representing four levels of our educational accreditation should operate both individually and collectively. Take, for example, the training of an agronomist. It should be dependent on the place of study and future employment. Somebody wants to become an agronomist working for knowledge-intensive organizations (virologist, biotechnologist, parasitologist etc.), someone is apt to work in the field of industrial technologies (agronomist of grain crops, vegetables or other crops), and someone else sees himself as an agronomist-doctor in phytomedicine, soil agronomist or agronomist-farmer. All is possible at NULES of Ukraine.

It is also necessary to remember that training of specialists in knowledge-intensive disciplines requires professional support and logistics support which are pretty expensive. Now think about the diversity and complexity of relevant curricula, programs, educational and methodological support. Training of agronomist-famers can be conducted in groups of 18 people, while amount of people training for agronomist-biotecnologists cannot exceed 6 in a group and therefore will cost more. So no wonder that the government finances such universities individually. I believe that a try to identify such universities with all others either financially or by their curricula is ruinous for large universities and will deteriorate scientific and technological progress in the state. Thus, it is necessary to raise the question of individual diploma.

For example, all universities of the U.S.A. are divided into four categories. The first group consists of research universities which make only 7-8 percent of the total number. These are the universities of the highest level which mostly have federal projects and multimillion-dollar budgets. They offer almost all fields of study. The number of students varies from 30,000 to 100,000. More than 60% of all fundamental research is conducted here as well as a wide range of practical research and innovative developments. Their subdivisions include scientific and technological parks, business-incubators etc. In the U.S. there even exists the Association of Research Universities, which worked out the criteria governing access to it from the so-called educational and research universities (approximately 20% of the total number). They are similar to research universities but offer a less diverse amount of fields of study. The amount of students does not exceed 30,000 and scientific activities focus mainly on applied research. As a rule, these are state universities, funded mainly by their projects. They may also have the status of research universities and receive federal projects. Therefore they are responsible to the Governor for scientific support of relevant production technologies practiced in the state, their personnel and information support. The third category encompasses educational universities which make up the majority of existing universities. They work only for education and receive no funds for fundamental and applied research. Their main task is the application of modern scientific and technological developments in the production sector they are responsible for. The fourth category includes leaders among professional colleges that are trying to grow into educational universities. They train bachelors only.

So during the accreditation, NULES of Ukraine (Kyiv) will compete for the status of a research university, its Southern Branch «Crimean Agrotechnological University" will compete for the status of an educational and research university, Bereshany Agrotechnical Institute and Nizhin Agrotechnical Institute will compete for the status of educational universities and 11 colleges will compete for the status of colleges with university status (or simply colleges).

 

Reasons for Confidence

- Aren’t you afraid to compete for the status of a research university in accordance with U.S. standards?

- Any competition can be unpredictable. But we hope for a positive result, and there are many good reasons for that. Our scientists annually receive State Prizes of Ukraine in Science and Technology; we have approximately 350 patents and 250-300 monographs, textbooks and manuals per year. Our staff encompass 40 academicians and corresponding members, 350 doctors of sciences, more than 1,000 candidates of sciences. We have 14 research institutes and 3 research stations, 21 academic councils on defence of dissertations etc. Is not that the reason for such confidence?

I would like to add a few words about the vertical and horizontal integration of universities in the United States. The first involves the mutual cooperation between research universities and professional colleges, while the second implies external relations between universities of corresponding categories. First of all, it concerns mutual recognition of educational systems and, therefore, the diplomas. It is possible only horizontally: the state does not interfere into this process. Each university grants its own diploma. Mutual recognition of diplomas is stated in the memoranda signed by the universities. If one of the universities, for example, a member of the Association of Research Universities, recognizes educational system of your university, then the other members will treat you with respect and will not force your graduates pass additional exams in specific subjects, undergo additional training etc. We experienced it by ourselves when at the end of the last century the University of Iowa and the University of Louisiana, which have the status of research universities, signed cooperation agreements with NULES of Ukraine that are prolonged for nearly 15 years.

Similar vertical and horizontal links are implemented at NULES of Ukraine and we consider it to be a great advantage.

- So, we can come to the conclusion that you have to remake almost all tutorials and manuals, don’t you?

- Yes, you are right and I am glad to say that a lot of work has already been completed. One third of 45 academic disciplines are taught in English. It is a considerable step to international recognition. In the nearest future we plan to organise English-speaking groups for all academic disciplines and German- and French-speaking for a few fields of study.

One should understand that today technique, farms, warehouses, processing plants, actually, everything that applies to agriculture is a new generation technology. So, whether we like it or not, we need to learn a lot of new sciences and technologies: geographic information systems, cutting-edge electronics, hydraulics, computer control systems, etc.  We are forced to create a new logistics training base. It is necessary to establish new technical service stations, connect technologies with environmental, legal and social requirements, examine international management and economics, and be able to work efficiently under conditions of competitive market economy, crises and emergencies. There is no other choice.

- As far as I am concerned, at the moment you finish the establishment of a scientific park at NULES of Ukraine...

- Yes, and we already have the first news about its work. A few days ago, in the presence of the Prime Minister of Ukraine, Mykola Azarov, and members of the government, NULES of Ukraine signed a cooperation agreement with Amaco company (USA) on the establishment of the Educational and Innovative Ukrainian-American Centre of Modern Technique and Technologies in Agriculture.

 

Double Diploma of NULES of Ukraine and Yale University is Achievable Reality for Ukrainian Students

- Last year, on your initiative the government of Ukraine prepared an appeal to the Ukrainian-American Commission with the request to support the suggestion of establishment by NULES of Ukraine and Yale University (USA) of the joint Centre for Radiation and Biological Safety…

- Today this issue divided into two branches: the first one is the creation of an international regional East European Centre for Monitoring Forest Fires in the Chernobyl zone, while the second is the establishment of the Ukrainian-American Educational and Research Centre of Environmental and Biological Safety (of Yale University (USA) and NULES of Ukraine - Ed.). It is expected that future graduates of the Centre (the Institute) will obtain two diplomas – of Yale University and of NULES of Ukraine. It’s an attractive prospect for Ukrainian students, isn’t it? It is also important for positive result of the accreditation of NUES of Ukraine in accordance with U.S. standards.

- The university has considerable achievements at the international level, but the number of foreign students is very small. What is the root of this problem?

For one thing, training foreigners for Bachelor’s degree for less than 3,000 dollars a year, for Master’s degree for less than 4,000 and for PhD degree for less than 6,000 dollars is unprofitable. Secondly, usually it is a slapdash training. Of course, sooner or later it will be discovered and universities will face serious problems. It is even laughable to say that some universities teach for less than 600 dollars a year. Foreigners prefer to study there as it is cheaper and diplomas are the same. I want also to mention that the cost of education for Bachelor’s degree at U.S. research university is 30,000 dollars a year and in similar universities in EU countries 8,000 -12,000 euros per year.

- Management system of the university now resembles the American model. The university is a national autonomous research university. Are you satisfied with the current status?

- It is not difficult to guess that any change in the status of the organization during its accreditation is not desirable because it might be not clear for the accreditation agency and might lead to negative accreditation results. So, it should not be done now. Moreover, our experience as a self-governing autonomous university should be extended upon other worthy Ukrainian universities. In my opinion, there should be no less than 15 autonomous universities. It is unreasonable to slow down the process of university movement towards global educational and research standards.

It is desirable that the new law "On Higher Education" would take into account all above mentioned problems and ensure the progressive movement of Ukrainian universities and their close cooperation with the international community.

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