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Civil society can become a full-fledged member of the higher education reform

26.09.2016  |  Society   |  Piotr Kuchta,  EuroBelarus
Civil society can become a full-fledged member of the higher education reform

Minsk hosts a representative conference "Public participation in modernization of higher education: the role of state education in implementing the Belarus Roadmap for higher education reform."

The conference was organized by the Public Bologna Committee (Belarus), the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum and the Belarusian National Platform, the international consortium "EuroBelarus", Research Center "Analytical Group CET" (Belarus), and the Agency of Social and Political Expertise (Lithuania). The partner of the conference is the Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Belarus).

Andrei Yahorau, Director of the Center for European Transformation, the head of the special commission (Ad Hoc Commission), acting on the basis of the Belarusian National Platform of the EaP CSF and monitoring the implementation of the "Belarus Roadmap for higher education reform" referred to the conference as to the "stage of monitoring the implementation of the Roadmap as a mediated dialogue with the government." "National Platform oversees the implementation process, and we must admit that in situation of Belarus’ declaratory entry in integration processes with Europe, the reform of higher education at the moment is actually simulated. The role of the civil society in this regard is crucial, but not obvious for the state," - Andrei Yahorau said.

As Ulad Vialichka, the co-chair of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum Steering Committee, Director General of the International Consortium “EuroBelarus” pointed out in his speech, it is important to understand the diversity of civil society actors who, for one reason or another are concerned about the state of higher education in Belarus and are willing and able to work with this issues, using all the means and resources available to them. The list is extensive, "from student organizations to entities involved in economic relations with different parties, intellectual groups, as well as organizations representing the interests of the group."

According to Ulad Vialichka, the civil society "seeks to be informed and understand what is happening in the country in this regard, but, unfortunately, isn’t always able to understand certain trends, reforms, strategies, and programs that run both on the level of government and at the level of international organizations." Ulad Vialichka recalled that the education reform includes “the aspect of Europeanization of Belarus through the implementation of European standards and practices, and integration with various European institutions, in this case with the European Higher Education Area". This, in its turn, stimulates the overall political dialogue between the various stakeholders within the country and globally.

But the question appears how can the civil society take part in of these processes? Civil society is used to being "perceived as a thorn, as a problem, as an alarm clock, which is constantly worried and does not sleep." "This assumption is right; however, though far from complete, - Ulad Vialichka emphasized. - It seems to me that the significant potential of civil society is simply not recognized, understood, and, accordingly, not used. The civil sector is able to provide feedback on reforms that is needed to make some management decisions, correct mistakes, etc. The second role is the one of the expert. The situation is, that the part of the civil society that has significant professional expertise, including education sector specialists, is not able to implement it for a number of flaws in the existing system of Belarusian universities today. Third, partners, which has already become a specific format of relations that involves a number of investments and responsible actions."

Accepting the civil society actors as partners "can give a huge resource: human, financial, information, intellectual, which today is actually available for the Belarusian higher education."

One of the most important roles of the civil society is Watch Dog function, i.e., public control, monitoring and evaluation. Promoters of the reform should be present, too: the "process is possible not only thanks to the excellent ideas; the reform should be accepted by the society, which requires active engagement with the public using the whole variety of tools,” - Ulad Vialichka said.

According to him, today there are several strategic ways for civil society to engage in a process of higher education reform: "Firstly, to start communication with stakeholders in order to mobilize the process and establish a dialogue. To present a roadmap of reforms as a national program; not the one written in the ministry, but the one that will be prioritized by the Belarusian society. And here I would outline the problem of consolidating forces and vision: unity of ideas is important. In addition to the above-said, the expert dialogue. And again, Watch Dogs: resource support of the higher education reform, as such actions always need funding, and not only financial, but also ensuring transparency and accountability of all stakeholders."

The representative of the Public Bologna Committee Uladzimir Dunaeu believes that "some dialogue with the government is now outlined; we can talk about some positive developments." "We are ready to help with what have, what we can, including with our expert opinion. But, of course, these are very disappointing results. We are running out of time; but we don’t have the results yet. Maybe it would be possible to accelerate this process, although even advocates of reforms among the government agencies meet strong resistance. Firstly, there’s no political will for reforms, and secondly, there is no agreed position of various ministries and departments - they block each other's efforts, and it also makes the process unproductive and generates a sense of powerlessness, even for those people in the government agencies, which are inclined to reform. Third, the resistance of the medium, both academic and Belarusian society in general. There’s cautious attitude to the reforms as such, there is a fear of change - and this in many ways also blocks the efforts of reformers," - said Uladzimir Dunaeu.

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