Friday 19 August 2022 | 14:54

“Vertical universities”

25.05.2015  |  Society   |  Alena Barel,  EuroBelarus
“Vertical universities”

What is the nature of legal sterility of Belarusan students’ consciousness and cowardice of their teachers? Why do the chiefs and governor’s servants occupy the councils of universities?

The way how Belarusan students assess their own opportunities of access to he self-government bodies was made known from the Internet survey performed by the Public Bologna Committee with participation of Gemius. Simultaneously with that the monitoring of teachers’ participation in university’s management was conducted.

The presentation of the survey’s and monitoring’s results took place at the press conference in Minsk hotel “Garny”. The experts of the committee emphasized that they would continue monitoring the observation of obligations for broadening participation of teachers and students in management of the higher education.

Let us recall that on May 14 Belarus was accepted into the EHEA at the summit of EU Education Ministers in Yerevan. It was for the first time in the history of Bologna process when the country that doesn’t correspond to the requirements was accepted into Bologna process by convention.

Modest victims of examiners

The target audience of the Internet survey were 504 Internet users that are now studying in Belarusan universities, with 57% of them studying full-time, 39% are extramural students, and 4% are on distance learning; more that a half of respondents are doing their 4th and 5th years.

Only 4% of the respondents are studying abroad, with Germany, Poland, and England as top-three countries.

79% of the respondents are studying in universities, 9% in institutes, 7% in academies, and 5% in colleges. 18% of the answers said that the respondents are studying in the Belarusian State University (BSU), 11% - in Belarusian State University of Informatics and Radioelectronics (BSUIR), 9% - in Belarus State Economic University (BSEU), 8% - in Belarusian National Technical University (BNTU), and others – in the remaining universities in Belarus.

The answer to the question “have you ever participated in the election of student representatives to the council of your university?” 48% answered “no”, and 34% have never even heard about it.

When asked about the procedure of nominating candidates at these elections, 36% answered that the candidates were nominated by the university’s administration, 24% mentioned the leaders of the Belarusian Republican Youth Union (BRYU).

“Were these elections fair and honest?” – the answers to this question are the following: 52% believe that they are “quite fair”, 22% find them “fair to a certain degree”, 20% find them “formalized”, and only 6% of respondents admit that “there were basically no elections.

51% found it difficult to answer whether student representatives defend rights and interests of students in the above-mentioned organizations. 35% said “no”, 4% answered that “sometimes”, and 10% gave a positive answer.

Only 16% see usefulness from the student representation in the councils of universities and faculty; 43% don’t see any use from it; 12% believe that they could be useful if the students were more responsible to their duties; 26% don’t know anything about these councils, likewise the 16% that found it difficult to answer the question about the usefulness.

The answers to the question “What student rights are violated and should be protected in your university?” were interesting: 35.9% mentioned the right for free attendance of lectures and possibility to work during studies; 34.1% - the right for education of high quality that would provide for the good employment after the university. 32.1% - the right for free choice of employment, protection from the forced labor such as agricultural work and work in the student dormitory, as well as protection from forced assignment. 31.1% believe that the right for criticism of management of faculty and university is violated. 29.8% would like to protect the right for inviolability of dwelling (in dormitory), as well as get a twenty-four-hour access to the dormitory.

23% want fair assessment of their knowledge during the exams; 22.8% would like to abstain from the forced early vote; 22% would like to get protection from ideological and political censorship as well as free access to information. 16.7% would like to be protected from forced entry into public university organizations such as BRYU, and only 15.3% believe that their right for participation in university’s management is violated. Corruption among teachers and administration of dormitories was recollected only by 14.9%.

22.6% found it difficult to answer the question re violation of their rights. Victims of these violations were 41% of respondents with the main complaint in the form of fair assessment of the results of their studies. Only 13.2% stated that they suffered from violation of the right to participate in managing the university.

As it turned out, the majority of respondents – 35% - are the members of the BRYU. But 78% of the respondents knew nothing about the Public student council under the Minister of Education.

The right to participate in university’s management is viewed as not very important. It is evidence of the fact that students are not inclined to take part in the university’s life”, - noted Uladzimir Dunaeu, the expert of the Public Bologna Committee, former EHU pro-rector, and professor of philosophy.

Besides, corruption isn’t viewed as the dominating problem, although the experts were expecting the opposite.

The analysis is “very preliminary”, professor Dunaeu believes. According to him, we need deep analysis of the problems. Besides, it is the first experience of such research, though it gives general image of what is happening with the student self-government and what is the student’s attitude to it.

In reality, no research gives us deep knowledge about the real mechanisms of students’ participation in universities’ management unless it is supplemented with monographic research, - Uladzimir Dunaeu emphasized. – If we indicate all stages of election to the university’s council in several universities it will be a useful supplement that will help us to see the detailed picture”.

Professor’s fears

How are the teachers represented in the universities’ self-government bodies? Aleh Grableuski, a human rights defendant, tells about a corresponding monitoring.

We were aiming at finding out what is the degree of representation of teachers in universities’ councils, since it is an indispensable part of academic freedom”, - the lawyer explained.

For that purpose the experts found out what right for participation in universities’ councils teachers in the countries of Bologna process have.

Oxford and Cambridge were taken as an example – every teacher there automatically becomes a member of the Managing Council with the right to vote and, accordingly, they participate in the decision-making process.

According to the Belarusan legislation, the university’s council presupposes 75% of teachers. This 75 percent include a number of other actors.

“These are the leaders and representatives of structure departments, other workers of education sphere, representatives of local executive bodies and other state bodies”, - Aleh Grableuski told.

We examined 50 universities, and it turned out that only 14 of them allow to get acquainted with the membership of the councils. And these 14 councils include 755 people, and only 4% of them are teachers without any administrative functions”, - the human rights defendant cited the figures.

All the remaining people are rectors, honorary rector, rector’s councilor, rector’s assistant, secretary, directors, and all sort of heads up to accountant general, Aleh Grableuski told.

It appears that there are no teachers among the members of councils. The vertical of power built in the councils allows performing all sort of repressive measures against teachers and students. Students could have had their say but they seem to be built in the same vertical of power.

A certain roll call with the former research about the students: can the participation in the self-government bodies be useful for the students and teachers? In fact, it is fiction, not the experience of self-government, but a part of administrative vertical, professor Uladzimir Dunaeu believes.

Can we change the situation? Yes, if we follow the process of how these councils are formed. But why are the teachers silent?

In France a professor has a status of a state officer and cannot be dismissed. That is why they are not afraid to be dismissed by rectors, Dunaeu told. What the situation is with it in Belarus? According to law, academicians seem to choose each other, but in reality a rector has a right to disregard any decision of the council, and the council is controllable. Besides, the council also has such instrument as the arbitrary term of contract.

“I.e. it can sign a contract for a year with a person chosen for 5 years, - explained the expert. – Just dismiss this person in a year, and no legal mechanisms will work. Administrative arbitrariness is what exists in our education system. And while these mechanisms work we can hardly expect people to behave very bravely”.

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