Chapter 7. Corrupt access to higher education in Ukraine

This chapter focuses on integrity violations that occur as students seek to gain access to graduate and undergraduate programmes in public higher education in Ukraine. It examines integrity violations in access to master’s degree programmes, such as bribes and examination fraud, which are enabled by a decentralised admission process that is not guided by policy, open to scrutiny or subject to review. An opaque access to dormitories, based on a wide range of inconsistently used criteria, is a second area of concern.

Students have an incentive to engage in these integrity violations because of the anticipated returns to master’s degree programmes, which they believe to be substantial. Teachers and higher education institution (HEI) administrators’ incentive to seek informal payments and enrol high numbers of master’s students is tied to the prospect of more funding for the HEI, additional personal income and academic prestige.

The chapter recommends consolidating an effective system of higher education quality assurance and designing minimum standards and a unified procedure for admission to graduate programmes. Undergraduate degrees awarded within a quality assurance framework can be joined to external, independent graduate admission tests, which provide a basis for entry that is not prone to abuse. Additionally, it proposes improvements to the process via which dormitory places are allocated.


Regulatory and policy background

The Law of Ukraine on Education states that the citizens of Ukraine have the right to free education in public education institutions (Annex 7.A1, ref. 1), and the Law on Higher Education reiterates that the citizens of Ukraine have the right to be enrolled in public and municipal higher education institutions on the basis of competitive selection, provided it is the first-time degree the applicant is seeking through support from the public budget. The applicants are free in their choice of a higher education institution, mode of study and specialty (Annex 7.A1, ref. 2).

In academic year 2015/16, there were 288 higher education institutions accredited to provide degrees at International Standard Classification for Education (ISCED) levels 5, 6, 7 and 8. Of these institutions, 80 were private, 12 were owned by municipalities and 196 were owned by the state. This network of institutions enrolled approximately 1.4 million students. Just over two-thirds of them (68%) attended regular classes in public HEIs (daytime, in-person classes) (Table 7.1). About half of all students (49%) studied without tuition fees, and the remaining share was enrolled on a fee-paying basis (SSSU, 2016).

Table 7.1. Number of higher education institutions and students in Ukraine (2015/16)


Public - state

Public - local


Number of institutions





Student enrolment of which enrolled in:

1 375 160

1 234 728

24 537

115 895

Regular classes

938 214

863 675

18 893

55 646

Evening classes

1 964

1 649



Distance learning

434 982

369 404

5 644

59 934

Source: SSSU (2016), Основні показники діяльності вищих навчальних закладів України на початок 2015/16 навчального року [Key Performance Indicators of Higher Education in Ukraine at the Beginning of the Academic Year 2015/16],

Prospective students have a choice of four degree programmes: junior bachelor, bachelor, master and PhD (Table 7.2). The admission requirements are announced by the Ministry of Education and Science (MoES) annually for the next academic year (Annex 7.A1, ref. 2). Below is an outline of criteria and procedures for access to each level.

Table 7.2. Degree programmes in higher education in Ukraine, by ISCED level and duration

Degree programme

ISCED level


Junior bachelor


2-3 years



3-4 years



1.5-2 years



4 years

Source: SSSU (2016), Основні показники діяльності вищих навчальних закладів України на початок 2015/16 навчального року [Key Performance Indicators of Higher Education in Ukraine at the Beginning of the Academic Year 2015/16],; Article 5, Law of Ukraine on Higher Education of 1 July 2014.

Access to bachelor’s programmes

The 2014 Law on Higher Education and 2016 regulations for HEI admission (Annex 7.A1, ref. 3) identify five groups of criteria for admission to bachelor degree (and junior bachelor) programmes (Annex 7.A1, ref. 4):

  1. completed secondary education (School Leaving Certificate grade point average [GPA])

  2. results of the External Independent Testing (EIT) of knowledge and skills in a selection of subjects

  3. results of admission exams for specialties determined to require aptitude and talent (such as sports, arts, architecture)

  4. results from national knowledge competitions (Olympiads)

  5. membership in a class of applicants who enjoy preferential access.

Criteria 1 and 2 are mandatory for all applicants, regardless of the specialty and HEI to which they apply, except for applicants who enjoy preferential access. Higher education institutions can employ criteria 3 for a narrow selection of specialties, which require additional testing of aptitude and knowledge, such as arts, architecture and sports. The achievement of applicants who are winners of competitions is taken into account through criteria 4, which awards additional points to the overall score of the applicant. Finally, the competitive principle of admission (including the EIT) can be waived for certain categories of applicants who enjoy preferential access, such as military personnel, students with disabilities, victims of the Chernobyl disaster, or other categories defined on the level of the higher education institution, and explicitly for members of the national Olympic teams of Ukraine. Admission for all categories with privileged access is limited to 5% of all study places per year (Annex 7.A1, refs. 5 and 6).

Within limits, higher education institutions are free to determine the relative weight of each admission criterion in the overall admission score of applicants. The weight of EIT results in each subject tested for admission by the higher education institution (of which Ukrainian is obligatory) cannot be less than 20% of the overall score (HEIs are free to determine how many EIT subjects are required for admission); the weight of the School Leaving Certificate (SLC) cannot exceed 10% of the admission score; and the weight of admission examinations for the specialties requiring aptitude and talent cannot be more than 25%, except for architecture and building, and arts and culture, where it can be up to 50%. In 2015, enrolment on bachelor level in architecture/building and arts/culture was only 4% of total enrolment (SSSU, 2016). Criteria 4 may weigh up to 5% of the total admission score (Annex 7.A1, refs. 5 and 6).

The most important element in the admission score are the results of the EIT, which at the time of this integrity review was considered to be the most reliable and abuse-proof form of knowledge assessment in Ukraine (see also Box 7.2). Administered by the Ukrainian Centre for Education Quality Assessment on behalf of the MoES, in 2016 the test was taken by 267 172 school graduates in 12 subjects through a network of 1 100 regional and local testing centres (CEQA, 2016).

When applying to higher education institutions (and registering for the EIT), prospective students must indicate their preferences for institutions and specialties, and list them in order of priority. The chance of being admitted to the desired institution and course of study depends on the admission score of other applicants to the same institution and course. If the admission score is lower than needed, applicants may still qualify for access to their second, third, fourth, or lower choice, or for study on a fee basis.

Access to master’s and PhD programmes

Access to master’s and PhD programmes depends on the graduation results from the bachelor diploma and entrance examinations, the criteria for which HEIs may set on their own. The heads of higher education institutions are responsible for ensuring objectivity and openness of the admissions process (Annex 7.A1, ref. 5). To promote academic mobility, the regulations (Annex 7.A1, refs. 3 and 5) also stipulate that candidates may come from different higher education institutions and specialties, upon successfully passing additional entrance examinations and under consideration of the bachelor’s degree programme grade point average (GPA).

Access to student dormitories

The Law on Education guarantees the rights of students to support infrastructure, such as student dormitories (Annex 7.A1, ref. 7). This right is confirmed also in the Law on Higher Education, which stipulates that students enrolled full-time are eligible for placement in student dormitories and distance students can use dormitories during examinations (Annex 7.A1, ref. 8).

Beyond these stipulations of rights, regulations for admission to student dormitories have not yet been developed and approved. The only regulatory document that concerns access to dormitories, MoES Order No. 1004 of 13 November 2007 “On Approval of Regulations for Student Dormitories”, was non-binding and was recently abolished. HEIs are also permitted to charge up to 40% of the minimum student stipend as fees for student dormitories (Annex 7.A1, ref. 9).

A. Description of integrity risk and violation

When corrupt access to higher education programmes occurs, students obtain a higher education place or related advantages to which they are not entitled on merit. The access can be secured through different means, including bribery, fraud, misrepresentation, cheating, exploiting personal connections or other illegitimate means. This might typically involve someone else – often a member of HEI staff - granting the higher education place or related advantages because of financial or other inducements.

A higher proportion of school leavers go to HEI in Ukraine than in most OECD member countries. The gross enrolment ratio in tertiary education in 2012-13 was 79% in Ukraine, compared to 72% in Poland, 60% in France, Germany and the United Kingdom and 57% in Hungary (IED, 2015a).1 When a recent survey asked parents of Ukraine school children ‘Are you planning for your child to study in a higher educational establishment after leaving school?’, only 8% of parents said ‘No’ or ‘Probably not’ (IED, 2015b).

Table 7.3 shows the number of places at Ukrainian HEIs, the number of state-funded places, and the numbers of students studying, at bachelor’s, master’s and PhD level respectively, in 2014.

In 2014 there were 1.27 million places nominally available on bachelor’s degree courses and 690 000 for master’s courses. Some 70% of the available bachelor’s places and only 50% of the available master’s places were filled. There is no shortage of places for those who are prepared to bear their own study costs and go to any HEI that will admit them. However, many Ukrainian school leavers would find it difficult or impossible to get through a HEI course without financial support. As a result, there is competition for state-funded places at all degree levels. Students admitted to these places have their tuition fees of UAH 6 000 to UAH 12 000 a year paid for by the state. Around 75% of those with state-paid tuition also receive a small monthly stipend – slightly more than UAH 800 - to maintain themselves while studying. There is also strong competition for entry to the most prestigious HEIs, disciplines and specialties within disciplines.

Table 7.3. Higher education places and enrolments in Ukraine (2014)


Bachelor’s degree

Master’s degree or equivalent

Total number of licensed study places

1 267 751

690 651

Of which state-funded places

117 868

101 447

Total number enrolled

882 256

346 428

Enrolment in percentage of all places available (%)



Enrolled in a state-funded place

109 155

99 345

Enrolment in percentage of all state-funded places available (%)



Total number of bachelor’s degree graduates in 2013

328 775


State-funded bachelor’s degree graduates in 2013

122 125


x : not applicable

The figures exclude Crimea and the regions of Luhansk and Donetsk, but all national universities and research institutes formerly in these areas have been moved to areas controlled by the government of Ukraine.

Source: Center for Educational Policies (2014), Інформаційна система «Конкурс» Міністерства освіти і науки України. Вступна кампанія 2014 [Information system “Competition” of the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine. Admission Campaign 2014], (accessed 15 December 2016); SSSU (2015a), Key Performance Indicators of Higher Education in Ukraine at the Beginning of the Academic Year 2014/15, State Statistics Service of Ukraine, Kyiv.

Risk of integrity violations in access to bachelor’s degrees

Prior to 2008 an estimated one-third of HEI students provided bribes to be admitted to HEI (Osipian, 2009). The Government of Ukraine has made efforts to end this, and for bachelor’s degree admissions it has had considerable success. The biggest contributor to that success has been External Independent Testing (EIT), introduced in 2008 as a legal requirement for admission to HEI. Since then, it has won the trust of students and educators alike. In a recent survey of 2 086 EIT takers in 2016, only 6% expressed distrust in the test (Civic Network Opora, 2016).

Breaches of EIT security during testing are very rare, and the scoring of results is considered reliable. Recently the only case of a large-scale breach of test integrity was uncovered. It was a scheme for the manipulation of results after the test, before they were recorded in the EIT database. About 2 000 students had benefited from this scheme since 2008. The discovery triggered a criminal investigation against the former leadership of the Centre for Education Quality Assessment (CEQA), and at the time of this integrity review some of those students have already lost their study places on the state budget (, 2016).

EIT results are not, however, the only factor taken into account for bachelor’s degree entry. One HEI may calculate applicants’ composite entry scores in different ways than another, using different factors and giving them different weights. HEIs have applied these rules without independent supervision. In interviews during the site visits, students and representatives of student organisations raised concerns that rules are not always applied fairly and impartially to students.

Concerns were also expressed about the continued use of School Leaving Certificate grade averages in candidates’ composite scores for access to bachelor’s programmes, which are considerably less trusted than EIT results. A recent report notes that when the overall SLC grade average became an official part of the composite score in 2010 this had a distorting effect on schools’ behaviour, inflating SLC grade averages, and annually increasing the number of applicants whose SLC average exceeded their average EIT test score by 50 points or more (Zhiliaev et al., 2015).

Stakeholders with whom the review team met were also worried about special groups that can obtain places in bachelor’s degree programmes without needing to pass the EIT. Under the 2014 Law on Higher Education, two groups are exempt from competition altogether. These are: 1) members of Ukraine’s national teams who participated in international Olympiads (specified by MoES); and 2) Olympic Games and Paralympic champions and prize-winners (if they are applying for specialties in the field of physical education and sport). According to an order of the MoES of 2015 (No. 1085 of 15 October), some categories of applicants can be admitted on the basis of an oral interview only. The categories include victims of the Chernobyl disaster, victims of the Euromaidan Revolution who have suffered injuries, and veterans of war. Other special groups are given the option of “competition according to the results of preliminary exams. . . in higher educational institutions”. This alternative competition is generally much easier to pass than the EIT, though the numbers of alternative competitors each HEI can accept may be limited by quotas. The special groups include people with illnesses that can make it difficult for them to pass the EIT; orphaned children; and, as stated in the Law of Ukraine on the Status of Veterans of War and Their Social Protection, participants in military actions and those who defended the “independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine” (Annex 7.A1, ref. 10).

The principal integrity risk that arises is that individuals can obtain these privileges by presenting false documentation to support a fraudulent claim to be in one of the special groups. Some interlocutors during the site visits noted that there are documented cases of parents disowning their child several months before HEI enrolment so that he or she can claim the privileges available to an orphan, and that the documentation to prove attestations of illness or disability can be bought.

Risk of integrity violations in access to master’s degrees

Most young Ukrainians who received bachelor’s degrees in recent years went on to study for master’s degrees. The number of those admitted to a state-funded place in a master’s programme (99 345) was equal to 81% of the state-funded graduates with a bachelor’s degree (122 125) (Table 7.3). While entry into bachelor’s degree programmes is based largely on results of external independent testing, entry to master’s programmes depends entirely on the decision of the HEI to which the candidate applies.

On several occasions during the interviews for this integrity review participants noted that this is an integrity risk area. Participants in a focus group of master’s students from different universities in Kyiv reported that they knew of cases where bachelor’s degree GPAs or exam results were misrepresented to secure access to the post-graduate programmes. They also reported that university leadership sometimes offers places on master’s programmes as gifts to friends, or as bribes to secure political patronage or favours, such as the support of student leaders.

Such claims are echoed in news articles, some of which describe in detail typical problems around access, such as bribes and examination fraud (Pravda, 2015). In a sign of recognition of the presence of such irregularities, in January 2016 the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine issued an order in which it recognised the need to apply the “positive experience” of “overcoming corruption risk” by introducing the External Independent Testing for first time access to higher education, to also “secure transparent access to master’s programmes”. The order confirmed that the Cabinet accepted a proposal by the MoES to pilot standardised testing for access to master’s programmes in law.

Risk of integrity violations in access to student dormitories

The allocation of places in student dormitories was often identified during our site visits as an area where corrupt access is commonplace, in part because it is not regulated – or, if regulated, only at the level of individual institutions. In the 2015 survey of student opinions on corruption in higher education by the Democratic Initiatives Foundation, 6.4% of all students said that they personally had paid a bribe to obtain a dormitory place, up from 5.2% in the 2011 survey (Sydorchuk, 2015). In discussions with the Commission of the Ukrainian Parliament on Science and Education during the site visits for this review, it was also stated that the shortage of dormitory places had been a major problem for decades; that allocation of those places had become a paying business in the 1990s; and that the corruption problems were not yet resolved. Some interviewees during the site visits indicated that irregularities, including bribery and corruption sometimes occurred, displacing the allocation criteria, according to which the HEI allegedly operated. The media and social media contain frequent examples and calls for action against the problems.

Box 7.1. Corrupt allocation of places in student dormitories, as described by a student representative

To get and keep a dormitory place at one HEI, students have to pay substantial bribes to the dormitory manager. The dormitory manager rents his/her position from the administration of the HEI, which receives a share of the bribes he/she receives from students. The students’ union has an oversight role, but does nothing about the corrupt payments because the student union leaders are also involved in the corruption, receiving permanent rooms in the dormitory as their reward. Dormitory placeholders who refuse to pay bribes, or try to stop doing so, are penalised: their room is reallocated to someone else, they are made to move to a worse room, or they are required to move out of the dormitory for a temporary reason, like room redecoration, which turns into permanent exclusion.

Source: Interview led by the OECD integrity review team.

Access to prestigious or high-earning specialisations

Another access-related area where malpractice can still flourish is the allocation of specialties, or specialisations, particularly in prestigious disciplines like medicine and law, where future earnings prospects vary considerably depending on the specialisation entered. Evidence of this can be found in a recent paper authored by three teachers at Kyiv-Mohyla University, entitled “Never ending story of brifts in health care in Ukraine. . . but does one part of the story start at medical university?” (Stepurko et al., 2015).2

The paper notes that in Ukraine the general public regard medical and health services as even more corrupt than education (77% to 69%). This perception is linked to the fact that the incomes of doctors in the most prestigious medical specialisations are swelled by generous patient payments or brifts. The most prestigious and profitable medical specialisations are gynaecology and surgery; at the other end of the prestige scale are non-profitable specialisations such as care of patients with tuberculosis or paediatrics in a state hospital.

Prospective students choose their future professional pathway or medical specialisation after two to three years of higher education study. Interviewees in the study by Stepurko et al. described how they brought their entire available social and financial capital to bear to obtain a “specialty for profit” that would guarantee them a stable future career, personal wealth and prosperity; they discussed choosing a specialty in terms of “investment” and “return expectations”. Higher education in these specialisations is effectively open only to the children or relatives of medical leaders (such as professors, chief doctors and health care decision-makers at the regional or national level), or those who are prepared to pay universities a great deal of money to enter them, or both (Stepurko et al., 2015).

At present there is no similar evidence for other disciplines, but where some discipline and some specialities offer much higher prospective income (official and unofficial) than others, there is a risk of integrity violations in access to those specialties.

B. Factors that create opportunities for the violation

The closing opportunities for corrupt access to bachelor’s degrees

Access to places in bachelor’s degree programmes now depends for the most part on a standardised test set and marked by an independent body (CEQA). Because the EIT is a fair and genuine competition (see Box 7.2) and because the CEQA has no stakes in any of the HEIs and their admission decisions, corruption opportunities are rare or absent from bachelor’s degree entry.

Box 7.2. External Independent Testing - a Ukrainian success story

The introduction of standardised testing was at the centre of official efforts to stop the rampant corruption in first-time HEI access. The external independent testing (EIT), which in 2015 involved written standardised tests in 12 school subjects, succeeded in that, for several reasons.

The tests are designed and developed, and the nationwide testing process managed, by the Ukrainian Centre for Education Quality Assessment (CEQA), an arm of the Ministry of Education and Science (MoES). They are of good quality, valid and reliable. EIT tests are prepared by professional test developers. They are designed to establish that the core elements of the national curriculum in each test subject have been mastered in the depth necessary for HEI study. The test development process described to the integrity review team is in line with international best practice. Individual questions and whole papers are tried out on groups of recent school leavers before use in the national tests. Research carried out from October 2009 to March 2010, when the test was quite new, confirmed the effectiveness of the external assessment model that is used. The research also found that educators, secondary school students and HEI students were positive about using EIT as a HEI admission procedure, and that trust in the EIT results, and their acceptance as fair, were high and growing over time (Kovtunets et al., 2010). Schools visited by the team were satisfied that the tests constituted a fair evaluation of their students’ readiness to enter HEI.

The testing process is highly secure. The CEQA, which is responsible for the EIT, has gone to great lengths to make testing cheat-proof. The agency employs no outside staff in any part of the test development or production process. Papers are printed and printing quality checked in the agency’s own offices. Entrance to the production and printing areas is tightly controlled, and the printer cannot see the test questions. There are checks to ensure that the sealed packages handed to the carrier contain the original papers. Carriers are specialised, carefully chosen and monitored: no test papers have ever been lost or stolen on the way to test centres.

Students who have registered on line to take the test get a letter of invitation telling them which test centre, room and desk to report to, and must bring their personal invitation and some ID. Every test room of 15 students is supervised by two teachers, neither of whom teaches the test subject. Test papers are given to invigilators two hours before the exam starts, still in their sealed envelopes; the seal must be verified as unbroken by one of the students taking the test (decided by desk number) and then opened in front of all the test-takers. Students must leave all personal belongings outside the room; only pens may be brought in. Staff from the agency may make unannounced appearances in test rooms; if they find anything out of order the results of every student in the room are invalidated.

When the test ends, completed papers are sent to the CEQA regional offices, where papers are verified, marked and transferred to the central office. Appeals are considered in a different region; the central office makes the final decision. Results only become official once on the CEQA central database; only the central office staff can put them there and see what is on the database.

The tests enjoy high levels of support among students and parents. A survey of students and their parents in October 2013 showed that 65% approved of the new system and, when asked about their personal experiences, 68% were satisfied with the way their tests were administered (Klein, 2014). In addition, 58% believed that the new admission system reduced corruption. The way the authorities have handled the recent discoveries of manipulation of test results, described in the previous section, testifies to a strong commitment to preserving the integrity of the EIT.

At the time of this integrity review (2015-16), some limited opportunities for corrupt access were still present, but they were already being targeted by improved regulations and distribution of responsibilities. One of these opportunities was the freedom of HEIs to define what the overall admission score of prospective students is composed of beyond the EIT results, and how the different elements are weighted. This presented them with certain opportunities to interpret and manipulate the overall score in support of selected candidates or groups of candidates, for instance of those from more affluent backgrounds. This practice will be far less likely in future. From 2016 onwards, three legal changes will have taken effect.

First, the 2014 Law on Higher Education (HE) as amended in 2015 requires HEIs to publish their admission rules on their websites. In particular, they must publish exactly how they build up applicants’ composite entry scores, what factors are used and what weightings apply. This is not a guarantee of fair and impartial application of the rules, but it should give applicants the basis for challenging apparent misapplication.

Second, the provisions in Article 44 of the 2014 Law on HE require HEI admissions rules to conform to clear and specific rules in future, which leaves little room for misinterpretation. MoES letter No. 1/9-615 of 22 December 2015 to heads of higher educational institutions set out the formula each HEI should use in 2016 to calculate the composite score for each applicant. At least 85% of the composite score must be derived from the applicant’s scores in 3 or 4 EIT subjects, to be specified by the HEI to fit the requirements of each programme. A weighting of at least 20% must be given to each of these EIT subjects (except for applications for disciplines requiring creative or physical abilities that have been assessed through a separate national competition. In this case, the result of the national competition has a weight of 25%-50%, and the requirement for EIT subjects to be weighted at least 20% applies to only two EIT subjects). The applicant’s School Leaving Certificate (SLC) grade average cannot be weighted more than 10% and “special achievements” (in high-level competitions outside the school or HEI coursework in science, technology and mathematics) cannot be weighted more than 5%.

Finally, the 2014 Law on Higher Education transferred from individual HEIs to the MoES the responsibility for allocation of state-funded places in bachelor’s degree programmes. From 2016 onwards, applicants seeking a state-funded place (i.e. virtually all applicants) will declare their enrolment preferences to the CEQA, which acts on behalf of the ministry and is charged with the allocation of study places following an externally defined algorithm. Students will be allowed to apply to up to 15 HEIs and will be requested to list them in order of preference. The CEQA will then list the applicants in the order of their priorities and admission score, calculated according to the admission rules of each institution. This development is significant because it effectively closes the opportunity to manipulate the allocation of state-funded places to students.

The impact of over-stated or corruptly obtained School Leaving Certificates on HEI admission has been limited by two recent developments. In 2015, it became mandatory for all school leavers, not just those intending to go to HEI, to take the EIT tests in Ukrainian language and literature, and either maths or Ukrainian history (whichever the student chose as their second mandatory subject). In addition, EIT test results replaced school grade averages on the final version of each student’s SLC for their two mandatory subjects. Furthermore, the 2014 Law on HE limits the weight that can be given to SLC grades in composite HEI entry scores to not more than 10%.

The only remaining opportunity for corrupt access is through claiming a special status (orphans, Olympiad winners, etc.) with the help of forged proof establishing membership in one of the categories with preferential access. Those with whom the review team met were particularly concerned about the possibility of applicants misrepresenting their status as war veterans. The definition of “participants in military actions” is very wide, including individuals on non-compulsory military service and those involved in mass actions of civic protest, which can facilitate the fraud. The risk (if any) would pay off. These individuals, and in some circumstances their children, not only bypass EIT competition but are given a variety of “targeted support” once at HEI: free or part-paid tuition, preferential long-term credits, bursaries, free accommodation in a student dormitory, free textbooks and free Internet.

Flawed competition for access to master’s degrees

Unlike state-funded places on bachelor’s degrees, state-funded places on master’s degrees do not depend on the results of independent and objective testing and are not allocated by an independent agency. Decisions on who gets the state-funded master’s degree places are made entirely within the HEI to which the student has applied.

According to the focus group of master’s students organised for the purpose of this review, master’s programme students take two tests for entry: an English proficiency test and a comprehensive test in the selected specialty. To enter a programme for specialists, only the comprehensive test in the selected specialty is required. The comprehensive test in the specialty is set and marked by the HEI offering the programme. Because competition for master’s entry is decentralised and unguided by national standards - and not subject to external validation and review - it provides significant opportunities for integrity violations.

The focus group participants who took tests for master’s degree entry said that their test papers were generally of poor quality, with many elementary errors in the questions. Some HEIs set the same test questions year after year, just changing the order of their appearance in the paper, which made the tests easy to prepare for. Consequently, the students did not feel that their tests were very challenging or that the results were particularly significant in decisions on whether or not to admit them. Furthermore, papers for competitive entry are set and marked by HEI personnel, who may not be impartial.

For a minority of programmes, according to the focus group, HEIs set no entrance tests at all. They took into account only the final exam/graduation thesis result and grade point average from the student’s bachelor’s degree. As discussed later in this report, neither the bachelor’s degree final mark nor the bachelor’s degree GPA can be regarded as independent or objective criteria.

The Government and Parliament of Ukraine recognise that arrangements for admitting students to master’s degrees fall short of fair and open competition (Annex 7.A1, ref. 11). The 2014 Law on Higher Education (Articles 44-45) required entrance exams to be used for admission to all master’s programmes. The same articles contain special provisions for admission to master’s programmes in the medical, pharmaceutical and veterinary fields. The law proposes that the bachelor’s degree system will, in future, apply to these master’s programmes. Access will depend on the results of external standardised assessment. The CEQA will award state-funded places according to external assessment results, published admission criteria and candidates’ preferences.

The CEQA has been asked to develop a test for master’s degree entry, although only for the field of law at this time. The Centre has agreed to do so, but has asked for a delay to allow time to recruit suitable test developers. The field of law is a distinctive case: there are only 3 000 places on master’s degrees in law across the whole of Ukrainian higher education, and a bachelor’s degree from any discipline can be presented as an entry qualification, creating a particularly large imbalance between demand and supply, and strong incentives for integrity violations.

Opportunities for corrupt access to student dormitories

Places in student dormitories, like places to study prestigious specialties, are examples of valuable goods and opportunities in the gift of individual HEIs. The combination of a valuable commodity that is in limited supply, autonomous and discretionary decision-making, and the absence of independent monitoring provide wide scope for corruption. Because allocation criteria are not set by the MoES, widely varying criteria are used by different HEIs to allocate student dormitory places. There is also no standard way of organising the business of allocation; it is delegated to a wide range of individuals, from HEI employees to student representatives. Administrators from one HEI told the review team that their allocation criterion was how far away students lived. At another institution the review team was told that priority access was given to orphans, children from single-parent families and children from families with more than three children, and then places were allocated on the basis of family income, having asked students’ parents to show evidence of their earnings.

Culture of acceptance of gifts and bribes

Following the break-up of the Soviet Union, poorly funded HEIs and poorly paid HEI staff came to regard it as essential to their institution’s survival - and therefore justifiable - to obtain extra money from any available source, particularly from students seeking admission. Klein noted:

“In times of transition and economic crisis of the 1990s and early 2000s, public higher education budgets were radically cut; faculty’s salaries decreased below the subsistence level; and wage delays were commonplace. Informal payments and duties compensated [for] the absence of formal funding and became institutionalised at many HEIs. At certain prestigious institutions, bribes up to USD 10 000 were demanded for admission, adding up to an annual admission corruption volume of approximately USD 200 million” (Klein, 2014).

Though the introduction of the EIT in 2008 cut off the supply of funds previously paid for entry to bachelor’s degree, entry to master’s and doctoral degrees remained only nominally subject to competition, allowing previous systems of payment for admission to continue.

Habits formed pre-2008 persist today, not least because many of today’s senior faculty and senior administrators were studying or starting their teaching careers in those days. In interviews during the site visits, it was repeatedly stated that professors and department heads tend to be the leaders in corruption, pressurising junior teachers to follow their corrupt practices. Younger teachers who enter the HEI system intending to deal honestly with their students are often pressured by their senior colleagues to co-operate with existing dishonest practices and to not “rock the boat”.

Very few HEIs and senior HEI staff in Ukraine are regarded - by students and by their peers - as corruption-free. Asked whether there are HEIs that come close to this ideal state, most counterparts in the interviews for this review pointed out the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy as a good practice example (Box 7.3).

Box 7.3. Kyiv-Mohyla Academy

Kyiv-Mohyla Academy is the only public HEI that all stakeholders with whom the review team met identified as mostly free of corruption.

The institution has three distinct features that likely help it operate with integrity: a tradition of international exposure and partnerships; academic staff which identify with the institution and its historic mission; and a preselection of outstanding students.

Since its re-establishment in 1991 (the university dates back to the year 1615), Kyiv-Mohyla has been modelled after North American universities, offering bachelor’s and master’s degrees, engaging in partnerships abroad, and adopting international standards. It is one of the few HEIs in Ukraine whose degrees are recognised outside Ukraine. Furthermore, the staff of the university seems to share a sense of mission and civic responsibility. The university was involved in the Orange Revolution of 2004, and in 2014 its rector became the first Minister of Education after the Euromaidan Revolution. Finally, the university is sought after, but small, and the threshold of admission to most of its programmes is very competitive. The students who pass that threshold are top high school graduates.

C. Factors that create incentives for the violation

Students’ incentives: degree inflation

The desire of Ukrainian students to continue beyond bachelor’s degree study – and the willingness of higher education institutions to enrol them – is rooted in basic features of demand and supply in the nation’s system of higher education.

Vocational education is not well regarded by students and parents, and the economic returns to it are negligible (Coupé and Vakhitova, 2011). HEI education is viewed as a necessary, if not sufficient, condition for advancement, and virtually all families aspire for their children to obtain a HEI degree. Tertiary enrolment has soared over the past 15 years - from a 52% enrolment rate in 2001 to over 80% in 2013 (Figure 7.1).

Though students often view the quality of higher education provision as uneven – or unsatisfactory – they are keen to study beyond the bachelor’s degree level (IRF, 2013). This derives in part from a perception generally shared among students and faculty in Eastern Europe - and Ukraine - that the bachelor’s degree is not a completed education, and that social recognition, employment prospects and labour market outcomes are improved with the completion of a master’s degree. With subsidies available to half of master’s degree and 85% of PhD students, the direct outlays associated with further study are often small and the benefits potentially significant.

HEIs’ incentives: academic standing and public funding

Most students are keen to continue their studies, and most higher education institutions are eager to have them do so. The number of graduate and postgraduate students is considered to be a proxy for research potential and academic standing; it helps each HEI argue in its own favour when negotiating the annual allocation of budget places (Stadny et al., 2014). While overall enrolment in higher education has fallen sharply since 2005, graduate and postgraduate enrolments were on the rise until 2010, and the downward trend has been much slower (Table 7.4).

Figure 7.1. Tertiary education in Ukraine: trends in enrolment, graduation and unemployment (2001-13)

Source: UNESCO-UIS (2016), Education Database, UNESCO Institute for Statistics, (accessed on 15 December 2016); World Bank (2016), Development Indicators, (accessed on 15 December 2016).

Table 7.4. Students enrolled in tertiary education (all levels) and in PhD programmes in Ukraine (2005-13)


Total enrolment

Change to 2005 (%)

Enrolment in PhD programmes

Change to 2005 (%)

PhD enrolment as share of total (%)


2 203 800


31 181




2 318 600


32 666




2 372 500


33 915




2 364 500


34 820




2 245 200


35 578




2 129 800


36 214




1 954 800


35 823




1 824 900


35 454




1 723 700


33 313



Source: SSSU (2015b), Вищі навчальні заклади [Higher Education Institutions (database)], (accessed 15 December 2016).

The reluctance of institutions to restrict access to their graduate programmes has a financial aspect too. Public funding is allocated in the form of subsidies for study places (Stadny et al., 2014; Annex 7.A1, ref. 12) and accounts for most of spending on higher education (71% in 2014) (SSSU, 2014). A sizeable share of the subsidised study places are allocated to postgraduate programmes: from 51% of place allocations in 2008 to as high as 60% in 2011 (Table 7.5).

Table 7.5. State subsidy for higher education, by share of subsidised places in bachelor’s and master’s programmes (2007-14)


Bachelor’s (%)

Master’s and equivalent (1) programmes (%)

























1. Includes programmes offered on the basis of bachelor’s degrees leading to the degree of “Specialist”.

Source: Stadny, Y. et al. (2014), Державне фінансування підготовки кадрів у вищій освіті: досвід та виклики [Public Funding for Training in Higher Education: Experience and Challenges],

HEIs have little incentive to introduce more selective, fairer and more transparent admission to these programmes, and they risk an adverse impact on enrolment and their public subsidy. Most of them are struggling to attract students to fill their oversized capacities. Rather, they have a strong financial incentive to allow as many students as possible to enrol in their master’s programmes, and to avoid rigorous selection procedures that would put them at a disadvantage vis-à-vis institutions which opt to continue granting access without restrictions and safeguards against corruption.

D. Policy options

Closing the opportunities for malpractice

Develop and consolidate an effective system of higher education quality assurance

The 2014 Law on Higher Education mandated the establishment of a new body, the National Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (NAQA). The NAQA’s purpose is to fulfil the government’s vision of a European-style Quality Assurance Agency that ensures the quality of the system. The 2014 Law describes the role, functions and composition of the NAQA, and when the body should be in place: two months after the law came into force, September 2014. This deadline was missed, and establishment of the Agency has been delayed due to difficulties constituting the NAQA’s 25-person governing body.

There are varying mechanisms for the assurance of quality across the OECD. However, policy makers should be mindful that effective systems of quality assurance share two characteristics. First, they achieve a balance among the perspectives of the academics and administrators, students and graduates, employers and civil society organisations. Second, they focus broadly on quality, not only of inputs, but also of institutional processes (such as marking) and student outcomes (such as learning and employment outcomes) (OECD, 2008). Achieving greater integrity in higher education – in access (Chapter 7), student academic honesty (Chapter 8), in the marking of student work (Chapter 9) – depends crucially on the development of effective quality assurance institutions and practices in Ukraine.

Countries differ in how they use higher education quality assurance to achieve integrity in admission to advance degree programmes in higher education institutions. Some countries, such as those participating in the European Higher Education Area – EHEA of the Bologna Process, do not have external, independent admission tests to ensure integrity in advanced degree admissions. They rely instead on the academic credentials of undergraduate applicants (i.e. bachelor’s diplomas, course certificates, etc.), and safeguard the reliability of these credentials through internal and external quality assurance. HEIs in other countries, such as Australia, Colombia, Mexico, Turkey and the United States use the results of external, independent graduate admission tests such as the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or the Graduate Management Administration Test (GMAT) for their advanced degree admission decisions, in addition to undergraduate degrees awarded within a quality assurance framework.

Ukraine appeared in 2016 to be taking preliminary steps to implement both of these approaches in parallel. As a signatory of the Bologna Process, the MoES has mandated the NAQA with defining quality assurance guidelines and standards, as well as with the evaluation of quality assurance systems already in place (Annex 7.A1, ref. 13). At the same time, the MoES has initiated the development of a unified test for admission to graduate studies in law, as a precursor to external testing for a wider selection of master’s programmes. First piloted in 2016 in nine HEIs, the legal studies graduate admission testing could become a model for entry into other regulated professions, such as medicine. At the time of this review the NAQA had not yet commenced with its work.

Both reform initiatives should be fully implemented, and both should be part of a wider national graduate framework. This framework should both define a procedure and minimum standards for Ukrainian higher education institutions to follow in admission to master’s programmes. The framework should stipulate, for example, a set of obligatory criteria for admission (such as graduate admission test, minimum grade average in the undergraduate degree, relative weight of the various requirements for admission in the aggregate score of candidates, etc.), but otherwise leave the development of detail to HEIs. A robust quality assurance body should be mandated with responsibility for the development of the framework, the provision of guidance on how to comply with it and monitor compliance with it.

Mandate a standard system for allocating dormitory places, and monitor whether HEIs are adhering to it

The MoES can reduce opportunities for corruption in the allocation of dormitory places by requiring that all institutions allocate their places in the same way, using the same order of priority, unless they have a permission to follow a different order. For example, HEIs evacuated from the occupied regions of Luhansk and Donetsk might be authorised by the MoES to give students from those regions top priority. A standard system would be more consistent, predictable and transparent to students than the current system, and less vulnerable to abuse by HEI staff.

The standard order of priority for allocation of places should be decided by the MoES after consultation with all HEIs. It could propose, for example: (1) “special group” students who did not have to pass the EIT, such as orphans, those with disabilities or those returning from military service; (2) students from the occupied territories who have competed successfully for a place; (3) socio-economically vulnerable groups, such as those from large families; (4) students from beyond daily travelling distance, in ascending order of certificated family income; and (5) students living within daily travelling distance, in ascending order of certificated family income.

To ensure that students are fully informed of housing opportunities, all higher education institutions should be required to publish their system for allocating dormitory places in their published admission criteria. This would be particularly important for any HEI that has made a case to the MoES to vary from the standard system. Adherence to the published system should be monitored, for example, by the National Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education assessors during higher education quality assessments. If published and standardised allocation criteria are put in place, the ministry can also work with institutions to create a student appeal process. The existence of an appeal process could provide a robust means for ensuring compliance with published allocation priorities.

Eliminating the incentives for malpractice

Reduce excess capacity and reassess state support for graduate programmes

In 2014-15 the total number of places available in master’s programmes was twice that of bachelor’s graduates, and the number of state-funded places in master’s programmes was sufficient to support 83% of bachelor’s graduates who studied with state support. This high proportion of state-funded places available in postgraduate programmes gives bachelor’s graduates a strong incentive to try to enter higher degrees, reinforces their perception that an undergraduate degree is not sufficient for successful transition to employment and contributes to their readiness to enrol at any price. This situation has an impact on HEIs too, encouraging them to consider and manage their postgraduate offer as a lucrative channel of state funding, and not so much as an investment in academic values and excellence.

The MoES has recently reduced the size of the higher education sector by withdrawing the accreditation of HEIs which were found to be of sub-standard quality. The process was accelerated by more rigorous standards of quality introduced with the 2014 Law on Higher Education, and a new, reform-oriented leadership in the MoES. Between 2010 and 2015, the number of HEIs dropped from 813 to 659, with most closures taking place after 2014 and targeting public higher education institutions, particularly branch campus locations (Table 7.6).

Table 7.6. Number of HEIs closed in the period 2010-15



Number of institutions closed



of which







Source: SSSU (2016), Основні показники діяльності вищих навчальних закладів України на початок 2015/16 навчального року [Key Performance Indicators of Higher Education in Ukraine at the Beginning of the Academic Year 2015/16],

The optimisation of the nation’s network of higher education institutions provides an opportunity to reassess the allocation of state subsidy for master’s programmes, curb oversupply and also differentiate support according to the type of master’s programmes in demand. This should be done in favour of expanding state-funded access to better quality, sought-after programmes on both bachelor’s and master’s levels, including such in demand by the labour market. Demand for sought after programmes is likely to surge once a new MoES proposal for a reform of higher education financing, which envisages a voucher system in which students who qualify for state study support in a given subject select their HEI and programme.

References (2016), С 2008 года были подделаны результаты ВНО около 2000 человек [The Testing Results of About 2000 People were Manipulated Since 2008],

Center for Educational Policies (2014), Інформаційна система «Конкурс» Міністерства освіти і науки України. Вступна кампанія 2014 [Information system “Competition” of the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine. Admission Campaign 2014], (accessed 15 December 2016).

CEQA (2016), Зовнішнє незалежне оцінювання 2016 відбулося. Дякуємо партнерам за співпрацю [EIT 2016 took place. We thank our partners for their co-operation],

Civic Network Opora (2016), Опитування: Як ставляться до зовнішнього незалежного оцінювання його учасники? [Survey: What Do the EIT Participants Think about the EIT],

Coupé, T. and H. Vakhitova (2011), Recent dynamics of returns to education in transition countries”, Discussion Paper Series, June 2011, Kyiv Economics Institute and Kyiv School of Economics,

IED (2015a), Академічна культура українського студентства: основні чинники формування та розвитку [Academic Culture of Ukrainian Student Community: Primary Factors of Formation and Development], Institute for Education Development, Kyiv,

IED (2015b), Середня освіта в Україні: думка вчителів та батьків [Secondary Education in Ukraine: Attitudes of Teachers and Parents], Institute for Education Development, Kyiv,

IRF (2013), Lists of Typical Violations of Rights of Participants in the Educational Process, International Renaissance Foundation, Kyiv.

Klein, E. (2014), “Ukraine’s external independent testing innovation”, International Higher Education, Vol. 75, pp. 24-25.

Kovtunets, V. et al. (2010), Quality of Universities Admission Based on External Independent Assessment in Ukraine, IEAE,

OECD (2008), Tertiary Education for the Knowledge Society: Volume 1 and Volume 2, OECD Publishing, Paris,

Osipian, A. (2009), “Corruption and reform in higher education in Ukraine”, Canadian and International Education, Vol. 38, No. 2, pp. 104-122,

Pravda (2016), Майбутні судді и прокурор. Чому потрібне ЗНО для магістрів-правніків [The Future Judges and Prosecutors. Why Testing is Required for Master Students in Law],

SSSU (2016), Основні показники діяльності вищих навчальних закладів України на початок 2015/16 навчального року [Key Performance Indicators of Higher Education in Ukraine at the Beginning of the Academic Year 2015/16], State Statistics Service of Ukraine, Kyiv,

SSSU (2015a), Key Performance Indicators of Higher Education in Ukraine at the Beginning of the Academic Year 2014/15, State Statistics Service of Ukraine, Kyiv.

SSSU (2015b), Вищі навчальні заклади [Higher Education Institutions (database)], State Statistics Service of Ukraine, Kyiv, (accessed 15 December 2016).

SSSU (2014), Національні рахунки освіти України у 2014 році [National Education Expenditure in Ukraine in 2014], State Statistics Service of Ukraine, Kyiv,

Stadny, Y. et al. (2014), Державне фінансування підготовки кадрів у вищій освіті: досвід та виклики [Public Funding for Training in Higher Education: Experience and Challenges], Institute for Education Development, Kyiv,

Stepurko, T. et al. (2015), “Informal payments for health care services: The case of Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine”, Journal of Eurasian Studies, 6(1), pp. 46-58.

Sydorchuk, O. (2015), “Корупция у вишах: думки і погляди студентів” [Corruption in higher education institutions: Students’ opinions and views], Public Opinion, Vol. 4, Issue 27, Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation,

UNESCO-UIS (2016), Education Database, UNESCO Institute for Statistics, (accessed on 15 December 2016).

UNESCO-UIS (2009), Education Indicators: Technical Guidelines, UNESCO Institute of Statistics, Montreal.

World Bank (2016), Development Indicators, (accessed on 15 December 2016).

Zhiliaev, I. et al. (2015), Вища освіта України: стан та проблеми [Higher Education in Ukraine: Status and Problems], Institute of Higher Education of the National Academy of Educational Sciences of Ukraine, Kyiv,

ANNEX 7.A1. References of legal sources
  1. Article 3, Law of Ukraine on Education of 23 May 1991.

  2. Article 4, Law of Ukraine on Higher Education of 1 July 2014.

  3. Order of the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine No. 1085 of 15 October 2015.

  4. Article 44, the Order of the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine No. 1085 of 15 October 2015.

  5. Article 44, Law of Ukraine on Higher Education of 1 July 2014.

  6. Part 12 of the Order of the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine No. 1085 of 15 October 2015.

  7. Article 51, Law of Ukraine on Education of 23 May 1991.

  8. Article 54, Law of Ukraine on Higher Education of 1 July 2014.

  9. Order of the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine No. 284/423/173 of 28 March 2011.

  10. Article 7, Law of Ukraine on the Status of Veterans of War and Their Social Protection of 1993.

  11. Order of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine No. 121-r of 27 January 2016,, and preamble.

  12. Article 71, Law of Ukraine on Higher Education of 1 July 2014.

  13. Statute of the National Agency set through the Order of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine No. 244 of 15 April 2015.

Reference cited as source of Table 7.2:

Article 5, Law of Ukraine on Higher Education of 1 July 2014.


← 1. Gross enrolment ratio is the total enrolment in a specific level of education, regardless of age, expressed as a percentage of the eligible official school-age population corresponding to the same level of education in a given school year (UNESCO-UIS, 2009).

← 2. The paper uses the term ‘brifts’ to encompass both bribes and gifts with a corrupt purpose, since these are often difficult to differentiate.