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Uladzimir Dunaeu: We are the witnesses of how academic freedoms are violated

27.01.2016  |  Society
Uladzimir Dunaeu: We are the witnesses of how academic freedoms are violated

Today, on January 27, the Public Bologna Committee presents its report on the monitoring in education from the moment of Belarus’ conventional admission to the Bologna process till the end of 2015.

Is there any development in the Belarusan education system in connection with the Bologna process membership? Why does the Ministry of Education talk only about achievements without mentioning its negligence of conditions? It’s time to draw the first conclusions of reforms in the educational sphere.

Uladzimir Dunaeu, professor of philosophy, a former Vice Rector of the EHU, the member of the public Bologna committee voiced his thoughts on the matter in the interview with the EuroBelarus Information Service.

- Eight months have already passed since Belarus joined the Bologna process. How is the realization of the Roadmap for Belarus being monitored?

- Belarus joined the Bologna process 16 years later than its pioneers. That’s why we need to be much ahead in order to get closer to the leaders. The action plan is described in the Roadmap.

In order to monitor the fulfillment of the Roadmap in the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) the Advisory group was formed. This group should have helped Belarus with reforms in the higher education and issue a report on realization of the Roadmap before the Summit of the Ministers of Education in Paris in 2018.

Now we, the Public Bologna Committee and the National Platform Commission, are preparing alternative reports that will illustrate our vision of Belarus’ readiness to fulfilling the requirements of the Roadmap from the position of independent experts and civil society. The report that we prepared and will present is the first in six months and we will tell about everything that has been done in this period.

- What conclusions can we talk about already? Some provisions of the Roadmap were to be realized before the end of 2015…

- For now we don’t have much to boast of. However, in this report we note that the Roadmap is now mentioned in the Instructive letter and in the Minister’s directive on the implementation of Bologna System elements, which is good. At first the Ministry of Education was refusing to tell anything about the terms on which Belarus was admitted to the Bologna process. It was for the first time in history that the country was admitted by convention! The convention was for Belarus to reform the higher education system in accordance with the Roadmap. And now the text of the Roadmap is missing from the Ministry of Education webpage and from the National Institute for Higher Education webpage. However, the instructed letter has the link to the English version published at the EHEA webpage. Well, at least now the Roadmap is officially registered and implementation plan is adopted by the Ministry.

We are criticizing this plan because the Ministry is only talking about the tools of the Bologna process, which include European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS), appendix to the diploma, and the National Framework of Qualifications. It is important. However, apart from that there is also the presumption of European academic values. The Roadmap gives instructions about the need to implement the tools as well as values, whereas the documents of the Ministry of Education carefully avoid this topic.

- Thus, they avoid it not only in the documents, but also in practice, don’t they?

- Yes, and that is another question. The reluctance to discuss the system of values shows that it is now really sore point for our education and we are the least optimistic on that issue. We are witnessing how these academic values are violated in our country. No change in the situation for the better happened neither in terms of academic freedom, nor in terms of university autonomy.

Our report reflects the important issue of student participation in university management. And this concerns not only the students’ rights, but also other things, such as the lack of transparency. Even the Minister’s directive, which was discussed above, is not in the public domain. It might be necessary to encourage the Ministry of Education; it has updated its website and it has sections devoted to the legal framework, but there is only five documents mentioned from the whole higher education database, which shows how the Ministry responds to its obligations.

The problem of transparency remains one of the most important in our education system. And the situation has only worsened. A few years ago, the legal framework has been fully available, but today it is mostly unavailable. A lot of information about universities, from their statutes to their Councils is also unavailable. Why should the board of the university be kept a secret? Our European colleagues are complaining that they can’t even get information on the gender composition of the boards of the Belarusian universities. It is just as impossible to understand this non-transparency, as it is impossible to determine the percentage of students in the boards of universities. There is a corresponding regulatory compliance, and in 2014 we were forced to appeal to the Prosecutor General's Office in connection with the failure of universities to comply with these standards. Our appeal was justified then.

There is a number of the EHEA documents; and in order to implement the elements of the Bologna process one needs to know this legislation. But we don’t have it on the webpage of the Ministry of Education!

In fact, we cannot judge what the Ministry does for the implementation of the Bologna process, if it takes place behind closed doors.

Violation of academic freedom is manifested in the existence of censorship. And, unfortunately, there are no changes for the better. In particular, we refer to the destruction of the books of the late political scientist Vitaly Silitski "Long road to tyranny: the post-communist authoritarianism and the struggle for democracy in Serbia and Belarus" to the order of the Ministry of Information. It is, in fact, a continuation of the policy of academic repressions that have existed before Belarus entered the Bologna process.

- Speaking about the repressions: what does the dismissal of students, who were protesting against the paid retaking of exams mean?

- It seems very scandalous when administration of universities uses repressions against its own students, who were brave enough to state about their legal right to take part in the decision-making.

- Thus, summarizing the above said, does Belarus have future in the Bologna Process?

- The task of the civil society and all those who are interested in the high quality of higher education is to make everything possible for the implementation of the Roadmap no matter what. We are motivated by the implementation of the reforms; therefore, we pay attention to the conflicting evidence in the hope that the commitments will be met.

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