How did the war in Ukraine affect the educational process, do foreign students continue to study at Ukrainian universities, and are there any prospects to start the academic year in 2022? We discussed it with Ponomarenko Eugene, head of foreign economic activity of the company Business Center “INGEK”.
The morning of the 24-th of February took everyone unawares. Did you manage to evacuate all students from Ukraine?
Of course, on February 24, everyone was in shock. Nobody understood what to do. Students needed to be evacuated, many had their passports at the migration service, so they were evacuated even without documents. After a week or two, we took the last student out and exhaled. Now we are solving the issue of how to hand over the passports — we reported official letters to the embassies.
How many foreign students study in Ukraine? Is it possible to communicate with them after the evacuation?
In total there were 76 thousand foreign students, in Kharkiv about 20 thousand. We had a tenth, about 2.5 thousand.
We communicate with everyone through parents, social networks, and partners — we find options. There are many questions about connecting to distance learning, documents — we are trying in every possible way to help and support.
Are students ready to continue distance learning in Ukraine?
We conducted a survey and asked this question to each student. Initially, the result disappointed us: 50 to 50. The senior students wanted to finish their studies, and the freshmen wanted to change universities, especially since many universities simplified the conditions. Students ended up in different parts of the world, asked to send documents to Germany, Turkiye, Italy.
But a few weeks later, we made another survey and saw that the situation had changed. 95 % wanted to stay!
95% of foreign students want to finalize their studies in Ukraine.
It turned out that everything is not so simple and some problems arise in European universities. Education is much more expensive, students often lose a year, difficulties with documents begin. Everyone understands that it’s cheaper and easier to finish studies remotely.
How much has the distance learning process been adjusted since the pandemic? Are Ukrainian universities ready for a complete shift?
As strange as it sounds, the pandemic seems to have prepared us for war. During COVID, we moved 70 % of students to distance learning.
During COVID, 70 % of students studied remotely. Universities stand technically fulfilled.
Universities are fully technically tuned and students already understand personal learning systems, there are no more difficulties in zoom-conferences, software selection.
Moreover, the pandemic has raised the level of teachers in Ukraine. Many countries have begun to attract our specialists to read subjects abroad.
Online courses have been added, for example, there are partners in China where business administration is in demand. Last year we recruited 250 people for these courses. There were an online preparation for enrollment, and language courses. We started enrolling more schoolchildren in their last year of study so that they would immediately enter and not spend a whole year preparing.
And one more important change: the Ministry of Education has finally allowed remote admission. During the pandemic, we were unable to achieve this solution, but the war moved the stone. Ukraine has taken an important step towards European education.
The Ministry of Education has allowed remote entrance.
How does the Business Center INGEK function now? Where are all the employees located?
Office employees who are responsible for different countries, we relocated to our office in Istanbul. We have distributed the second part of the employees who are responsible for universities among the cities of Ukraine and have begun to establish communications with Ukrainian universities in Vinnytsia, Khmelnytskyi, Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk.
Some employees didn’t cope psychologically and finished their work in the company, someone could not leave — the war made adjustments.
One employee left for Spain, and we thought, why not open a representative office there, because there are good universities? So the idea came up to enroll foreigners not only in Ukraine but also in other countries. We made an analysis and saw that the Turks, for example, are actively studying in Azerbaijan, in Italy. We are developing in this direction. In general, there is a serious restructuring in the company and universities.
What are the main tasks now and what areas do you plan to focus on?
Now we are focused on retaining current students and enrollment to other universities, not Ukrainian ones.
We also continue to develop distance admission to Ukrainian universities.The Ministry put forward a limitation: for distance admission, universities must have an agreement with foreign companies. For example, if a student is from China, you need an agreement with a Chinese company that will provide and control the remote examination.
We have official companies in Turkiye, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan. In Morocco, Nigeria, China and other countries, we have already found partners and signed agreements.
Of course, a number of problems have arisen. For example, how to identify a person if a student needs to apply for a visa. This is, firstly, the costs, and secondly, there is no answer yet if the student needs to receive it again in a year? How to invite the current conditions, sign it, stamp it — many technical difficulties. We are making a decision now.
How do you assess the prospects for enrolling students for this academic year?
I think there will be another 25 % drop from the time of the pandemic. The market fell by 20 % due to COVID.
But I understand that if you give up and let it take its course, then there will be no chance to return. We need to move, even though it is unprofitable for the company. Many one-day firms that wanted to make a quick buck have already disappeared. We think about the future and we will stay afloat.
Many one-day firms have already disappeared. We think about the future and will stay afloat.
Education in Ukraine remains attractive for foreign students. The distance format allows you to get a diploma and at the same time reduce the cost of accommodation, food, and travel. Many universities offer dual education programs: you can graduate from two universities in parallel.
You are optimistic, that’s very encouraging.
Yes, we believe that Ukraine will get a chance to reach a new level. This will be a serious driving power to raise the flow of foreign students. The situation is now radically restructuring the education system and optimizing the functioning of universities.
For us, this is an opportunity to develop new directions for foreign and Ukrainian students in other countries, optimize processes and open new representative offices.