Executive summary

Ukraine has embarked upon an ambitious process of political reform with special urgency and prominence since the Euromaidan Revolution of 2014. Efforts are underway to increase transparency, accountability and integrity across the government, from public procurement and tax administration to energy and healthcare. Notwithstanding many accomplishments, integrity problems persist in Ukraine’s education system, and they are harmful to the nation’s society and economy. Public and family spending on education is wasted, trust in educational credentials is undermined and family wealth and connections often provide unmerited preference to schooling opportunities.

The motives of education actors are seldom ill-intended. Often they believe that the education system is performing poorly, and that circumventing rules is the best - or only - solution to their needs. Parents may conclude that regular instruction in class is badly deficient, and that bribing teachers for additional lessons is the only way their children can obtain instruction that allows them to thrive. Poorly maintained school buildings and classrooms may spur principals to admit additional children in return for payments allocated to school renovation. Widespread failure to ensure fair competition for places in graduate programmes may motivate students to offer gifts and favours to faculty who select entrants.

This report was undertaken to identify integrity challenges and policy options for further reforms. Drawing upon consultations with stakeholders from government and civil society, the review team identified nine integrity challenges: access to pre-school education through informal transactions; misappropriation of parental contributions to schools and pre-schools; access to school education through informal transactions; undue recognition of learning achievement in primary and secondary education; private supplementary tutoring; corrupt influence in textbook procurement; corrupt access to higher education; academic dishonesty in higher education; and undue recognition of academic achievement in higher education. Detailed recommendations specific to each of these challenges are provided. Taken together, the recommendations point to three broad strategies policy makers, educators and civic organisations can employ to further strengthen integrity in education. Adopting policies that reduce incentives and opportunities for educational malpractice is a first step towards the long-term goal of building an education system that is marked by trust, openness, and transparency.

Reform policies that incentivise integrity violations

Violations of educational integrity - unmerited grades, misappropriated school funds, or gifts provided in return for preferential entry to selective school programmes - are rooted, in part, in poorly designed policies that create incentives for misconduct among educators and learners. For example, some cities in Ukraine lack a supply of pre-school places sufficient to meet demand, creating incentives for families to bypass prioritisation rules through gifts or family connections. In higher education, student work may be intentionally mismarked and plagiarised work accepted partly because institutional funding formulae and faculty compensation policies penalise stringent grading and the dismissal of students. It is difficult for policy makers and integrity advocates to swiftly change norms about acceptable conduct. However, they can adopt policies that encourage the right incentives and reform those that do not. Pre-school places can be increased to meet demand. Funding formulae can be modified, so that higher education institutions are not penalised when enforcing standards of academic integrity among their students.

Balancing autonomy with accountability to reduce integrity violations

Educational reforms that provide teachers and administrators with wider professional autonomy, along with increased opportunities to monitor and contest decisions, can achieve a balance between professional autonomy and accountability that substantially improves education integrity. For example, public schools in Ukraine routinely use parental donations to advance their educational mission, but they fail to record those donations to avoid losing flexibility in allocating resources and avoid unnecessarily burdensome reporting requirements. Educators are circumventing the system to achieve legitimate educational purposes. Policy makers can provide schools with more flexible use of extra-budgetary funds from parental contributions while, at the same time, establishing a legal right for parental donors and other responsible bodies to oversee how donations are managed and used; this would allow them to detect the misappropriation of school funds.

Where a framework of rules is absent - but needed - the review advises adopting a balanced approach between public accountability and professional autonomy. For example, fee-based private supplementary tutoring by teachers in Ukraine is widespread and unregulated. Teachers sometimes tutor their own students for fees, creating incentives for them to offer preferential treatment to the students they tutor, and to penalise those they do not. The review points to a policy framework that provides flexible accountability for teachers: authorise teachers to provide private tutoring while forbidding them to tutor their own students. This authorisation should be balanced with a requirement that tutors register in a simple web-based system and legal framework that defines the obligations of tutors to students, and allows unauthorised tutoring to be reported and penalised.

Increased professional autonomy cannot always be linked to increased scrutiny and public accountability, and it is sometimes risky and inadvisable. Here, as the review proposes, educational integrity is best achieved through impartiality, by designing policies that narrow or eliminate discretion. For example, it recommends ending the involvement of principals in the selection among applicants for pre-school places, making electronic queueing fully decisive instead. Also, where demands for public schools providing specialised secondary programmes is greater than study places, the review proposes the introduction of rule-based and impartial assignment methods.

Build capacity for integrity

A capacity for integrity can be built in education institutions and their practices. An effective way to build this capacity is to expand external reference points and validation of teaching and learning. This can be done through the wider use of benchmarking, peer review and externally set examinations – and supported through improved training and support.

Student work in Ukraine may be subject to mismarking by teachers, from primary school through advanced degree programmes. Some mismarking is intentional and done in the hope of obtaining preferment from learners. Opportunities for mismarking can be substantially reduced with external validation. Teachers in Ukraine can be provided much improved guidance and training with respect to marking procedures and assessment criteria. External moderation of marking can be used to provide more impartial and consistent marking. The wider use of low-stakes, external and independent assessment in primary and secondary schools can be used to create external reference points for teacher grading that families and school principals can use to monitor marking practices. The wider use of external and independent subject-based examinations for entry to higher education advanced-degree programmes, first proposed for legal studies, could sharply reduce favouritism now widespread in master’s degree entry. Equally important, it would raise confidence in higher education qualifications and boost their portability.

Additionally, the report advises, policy makers should take account of how improved training and support for teachers can be used to strengthen integrity. For example, classroom teachers in Ukraine were invited to select textbooks – though with limited guidance and too many options - and many coped with this added responsibility by taking guidance from publishers. Better support for teachers - improved guidance on how to choose among texts, dedicated review time and simplified options - can lead to a textbook selection process that is fully independent and fair.