How did universities adapt to the pandemic, what are the problems and what is the situation with foreign students – these and other questions were answered by Eugene Ponomarenko, head of foreign economic activity of the Business Center «INGEK».
— Eugene, how has quarantine affected the educational system of Ukraine?
The Ministry of Education of Ukraine recommended to completely switch to the distance learning system, including examination, term papers defense and thesis defense, with the exception of writing exams for matriculation. Unfortunately, there was little time for preparation, since the examination sessions had already begun and the universities were not ready for this. But now, after a while, all universities work in a single mode, adhering to the basic rules. The main requirement was the creation of conditions for distance learning, here PTS comes to help (PTS – personal training system). The student enters his personal account, watches lectures, completes assignments and passes exams.
— Will foreign students be able to finish the academic year and get their degree?
Our main task now is to help them pass the exams and finish the year. The exams were allowed to be taken remotely. The students will most likely be awarded diplomas after the quarantine, when they return. But there are other problems that we faced. Students left for their homeland, and it was technically difficult to contact everyone, which was necessary. There are, for example, students from Uzbekistan who live in distant settlements with problematic Internet access. We have completely lost touch with them. Not all students have the opportunity to pay for the second semester: banks do not work, and there is no possibility to pay online.
What has to do university in this situation is to expel a student. By law, a student can defer payment, but on the other hand, penalties are implied and they are rising every day. There is no explanation of how the university should act in this situation.
— How is student registration conducted this year?
The pandemic has amended the student enrollment process. Now every new student must take out COVID-19 insurance. Moreover, they need to take out insurance before they arrive, i.e. before receiving a visa. And insurances should be taken out in Ukrainian companies or their foreign branches. Otherwise, the embassies will not accept visa documents. Basically, this is right, of course, with one exception – how can the student get this insurance if there is no representative office of the Ukrainian insurance company in his country. This is only possible through agents who provide vocational counseling abroad for Ukrainian universities.
As for the learning process, it was organized in a mixed format, combining in one classroom those students who stay in Kharkiv with those who can only connect to the lesson remotely. For such students, regardless of their physical location – in Ukraine or at home, all courses are available in full.
It is also important to note that universities maintain a safe educational process with observance of the mask regime, distance and other requirements. We haven’t stayed sidelines and supported our students by purchasing masks, antiseptics and disinfectants for dorm rooms.
—How does this situation affect the country’s economy?
80 thousand foreigners study in Ukraine. The average cost of educating is 2500$. That is 200 million a year. These are significant figures for the country’s budget. And we do not take into account dormitories, apartment rent, medicine, food, entertainment, and so on.
— What actions should the state take to resume the flow of students?
First, clear instructions are needed to leave the opportunity to take exams remotely. We need admission regulations so that we could accept students for distance learning after an online interview. Now on that front each university acts in its own way. We need uniform rules. The education system will collapse without clear regulation.
Secondly, we will lose the market if we do not open the borders as soon as possible and do not extend the admission of foreign students. Already many countries are ready to accept students and are even ready to facilitate their admission. Students will simply leave with their degree at our universities and continue studying in those countries, which will accept them.
Also there are other problems that put at threat Ukrainian education and reduce the flow of students.
— What problems are you talking about?
For example, fly-by-night companies. They issue an invitation to a foreigner, take an advance payment, applicant arrives to the place, and suddenly it turns out that the university did not receive an advance payment, the student was simply deceived. The company disappears, but the negative attitude towards the university and the whole Ukraine remains. It is necessary to tighten the procedure for obtaining the status of “agent” by such companies and strengthen control of invitations issuing.
— How can a foreigner check the reliability of the company he approaches?
Typically, such fly-by-night companies are registered by foreigners, renting a small room and recruiting staff from their home country. First of all, you need to choose a company that concludes agreements with universities and the Center for International Education. If there are no agreements with universities, the company acts as an intermediary, and the price of education, accordingly, increases.
The simplest thing to do is to go to the website of the Ukrainian State Center for International Education and see if this organization is on the list of agents or not. Also it is important to check the availability of direct agreements with universities.
Another easy way is to call the university and find out if it cooperates with such an organization. This is not confidential information, and if the university decides not to talk about it, this may be better to reconsider a decision of entering this university.
You can also request data on how many invitations this company has given over the years of its existence. «INGEK», for example, has been on the market for 16 years. We issue over 1000 invitations per year from universities with which direct contracts have been concluded, and there are more than 10 of them throughout Ukraine.
— Ukraine is attractive for foreign students. What do you think helps us keep the market?
Quality of education – we offer not only a European diploma, but also knowledge that will help build a career, both in Ukraine and abroad. What attracts is living conditions and some freedom – in many countries you need to wear a uniform and sit at the desk holding yourself still. We don’t have that. And tuition fee – although it’s not the lowest in the world.
We are technologically advanced and we are moving forward. For many years, «INGEK» has been using its own system for registering foreign students (SRFS). All the information about student such as the cost of tuition, missed assignments, data about relatives and much more is kept in his personal student’s card. Invoices are sent automatically. And students don’t need notebooks, magazines etc. – everything is automated.
This year, while everyone was just thinking of how to adapt student’s life and make learning more mobile, we started developing the first mobile application for all students, applicants and teachers of Ukrainian universities. There is no need to look for information on different sites, stand in a queue at deans’ offices and banks. You can take your phone at any time and see the schedule, find the contacts you need, order a certificate, pay for your studies, check the expiration date of the permit and much more.
Ukrainian universities are interested in foreign students and the Business Center «INGEK» for its part is ready to provide a stable flow of students. The main thing for us is to have support from the Ministry of Education of Ukraine and other ministries, as well as to have clear goals and objectives.