Assessment and recommendations

Integrity violations in education can be deeply harmful to the students they serve, and to the wider society and economy. Public funds and family spending are misused, access to learning opportunities may be denied or unfairly awarded, the quality of teaching and learning is diminished, and trust in reliability of education credentials and the institutions that award them is undermined. Nations are deprived the full rewards that a high-performing education system can offer – social inclusion, civic trust, and economic productivity.

Integrity violations are unfortunately common in Ukraine’s education system. Nine out of ten parents of school-age children contribute to school and class funds – which operate on a cash basis, beyond public accounting scrutiny and at high risk of misappropriation through fraudulent billing. Assignments in basic schools may often be mismarked – in return for gifts and bribes. Textbook procurement has been exposed in the past to fraud. Serious conflicts of interest in basic education arise as teachers engage, for pay, in tutoring students from their courses whose work they mark. The price at which marks on assignments can be purchased may be posted on the doors of higher education faculty. Professors who choose not to take bribes from students are popularly known as “white crows” – to signify their rare conduct.

This integrity review was undertaken to identify integrity risks and challenges in Ukraine’s education sector, to spur discussion and reflection, and to identify policy options that permit further improvements to the integrity in education in Ukraine. The review recognises the important work that political leaders in Ukraine, supported by civil society organisations and international partners, have done to strengthen the integrity in education in Ukraine and aims to assist its further development. Drawing upon consultations with stakeholders from government and civil society organisations throughout Ukraine, the review identified nine integrity challenges facing the nation’s education system, ranging from access to pre-school education through informal transactions to academic dishonesty and undue recognition of achievement in higher education. These challenges, and the review’s recommendations to address them, are described below.

Access to pre-school education through informal transactions

Initial access to pre-school education is marked by informal transactions between parents and the principals of pre-schools, in which personal relationships and financial support for pre-schools are used to gain access to early childhood care and education (ECEC).

Substantive and technical limitations in the online system for pre-school enrolment (e-queue) create opportunities for integrity violations. Shortages in enrolment capacity result from deficiencies in the co-ordination and planning of the pre-school network, and from outdated and cumbersome procedures for licencing of ECEC providers that prevent the efficient use of existing infrastructure and create incentives for integrity violations.

To address these problems, the report recommends improving the functionality of the e-queue system and ending the involvement of pre-school principals in the selection among ranked candidates for places. The report also recommends expanding enrolment capacity by liberalising accreditation standards and by introducing additional sources of funding for public pre-schools.

Misappropriation of parental contributions to schools and pre-schools

Parental donations to schools and pre-schools are an important source of education financing in Ukraine, in which 90% of parents with school children report they have participated. Parental donations to schools are at high risk of misuse through fraudulent invoicing, which allows the difference between misstated and actual prices to be captured for personal benefit. This risk arises from strong incentives for education providers to bypass formal requirements for management of parental donations – combined with weak budget oversight of schools, and the absence of a parental right to require an account of how school funds are used. The report recommends expanding the legal rights of parents to oversee how donations are managed and used; improving the transparency of budget allocations and strengthening internal audit on a local level of governance; strengthening the role and capacity of the School Inspectorate to reduce opportunities for misappropriation; and widening opportunities for schools to make flexible use of extra-budgetary resources from parental contributions.

Access to school education through informal transactions

Irregularities exist in access to public schools offering primary and secondary education programmes in Ukraine. Aptitude-based entry examinations are administered by schools that are proscribed by law from doing so, and schools that are authorised to administer admission exams may use them to advantage some children over others.

These practices are facilitated by deficient admission regulations and ineffective monitoring of compliance, and by the merger of schools of different levels, which transform primary and pre-school institutions into “shadow” entry points to the elite schools with which they are merged.

The report recommends deferring early student selection to upper secondary education and reinforcing comprehensive schooling on lower levels. It advises reconsideration of the current school admission policy and eliminating the conditions that permit shadow entry to elite schools. The report also suggests improving the balance between supply and demand, which will help to ease the pressure on sought-after schools.

Undue recognition of learning achievement in primary and secondary education

School teachers sometimes intentionally over-mark or under-mark student work in the expectation of obtaining money, gifts or services for themselves or their school. Serious weaknesses in the assessment of learning outcomes, combined with a culture of acceptance of gifts, provide teachers with opportunities to mismark - and parents with the expectation that marks are negotiable. All sides involved have reasons to engage in the integrity violation: parents in the conviction that better marks can secure admission to good higher education, schools because of their dependence on parental contributions and teachers because of their unsatisfactory income.

The report recommends ways to improve classroom assessment, including the wider and earlier use of low-stake, external assessments; raising awareness about the limited importance of school marks for admission to higher education institutions (HEI); and the adoption of marking moderation. The report notes that incentives for malpractice might be diminished if teacher salaries were raised, but only after evaluation of actual teacher income and working conditions to determine what changes to compensation would be fair and effective.

Private supplementary tutoring

Teachers in Ukraine often provide fee-based private supplementary tutoring to their own students. This practice – which is not prohibited or regulated - creates undesirable incentives. Teachers may offer preferential treatment in class to the students they tutor, or teach and mark poorly those they do not to create demand for their tutoring services. The report focuses on the conditions that lead families to seek private tutoring, and teachers to provide it. It recommends a range of measures to prevent tutoring that gives rise to conflicts of interest, including prohibiting teachers from tutoring their own students for a fee; introducing an obligation for tutors to register; providing better-quality feedback to parents on the learning progress; strengthening confidence that the External Independent Testing (EIT) can be mastered with the help of regular schooling; and evaluating teacher compensation.

Corrupt influence in textbook procurement

Reforms to textbook procurement have been adopted, but there remain shortcomings in procurement that expose the process to the risk of corrupt influence. The report identifies weaknesses in recent reforms to the textbook acquisition process that have permitted continued integrity breaches, such as publicising the names of those chosen to evaluate textbooks, exposing them to influence by textbook publishers and authors. Reducing opportunities and incentives for corrupt influence in textbook acquisition can be achieved through improvements to the confidentiality and conflict of interest regulations that govern expert staff in screening textbooks for review, and by providing improved guidance and support to teachers who choose among texts, including dedicated review time and simplified options from which to choose.

Corrupt access to higher education

Integrity violations occur as students seek to gain access to graduate and undergraduate programmes in public higher education in Ukraine. The report examines integrity violations in access to master 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. 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 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 report 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 through which dormitory places are allocated.

Academic dishonesty - cheating and plagiarism in higher education

Higher education in Ukraine is marked by academic dishonesty in which learners misrepresent the work they have completed and the knowledge they have acquired through cheating, plagiarism or the purchase of work performed by others. Acts of academic dishonesty in Ukraine are facilitated by gaps in law and regulation that permit its continuation, by the absence of widely-shared ethical norms concerning academic dishonesty, and by the limited capacity of higher education institutions to assess and detect its presence.

The report recommends making fraud detection a regular part of assessing a wide and representative range of academic work within academic programmes, and assisting higher education institutions in developing their capacity to detect dishonesty. Additionally, the scope of regulations against academic dishonesty should be broadened to include a wider selection of forms of academic dishonesty, for example cheating, and should underline that compliance is the responsibility of teachers and students alike.

Undue recognition of academic achievement in higher education

Undue recognition of academic achievement is widespread in higher education, and it is manifested in over-marking in return for payment and services, marking students based on the work done by other people, assessment in absentia and nepotism.

Teachers and students have clear incentives to engage in over-marking: teachers are reluctant to invest in rigorous and time-consuming assessment because it could jeopardise their routine of holding multiple jobs, while students are keen to benefit from over-marking, and have weak intrinsic motivation to study and low awareness of and attachment to norms of academic integrity. Opportunities for malpractice are facilitated, in part, by opaque assessment principles and by assessment criteria that are not disclosed to students.

The report recommends that HEIs make their assessment procedures and criteria transparent, and that they introduce an assessment appeals process, the operation of which is subject to review by the higher education quality assurance body. To reduce incentives for malpractice, the report recommends revising HEI funding methodology to remove incentives for over-marking.