Education in Ukraine

A aerial photo of the city of Lviv in Ukraine. [1]

The City of Lviv, Ukraine

Ukraine is a post-Soviet Eastern European country of 42 million people bordering Belarus, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Moldova, and Russia. Ukraine remains deeply torn by the ongoing conflict between its government and pro-Russian separatists in its eastern regions. Ever since the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the declaration of Ukraine’s independence in August 1991, Ukraine has struggled amid high levels of corruption and political instability to maintain social cohesion and establish better public institutions. Conflicts over the future direction of the country spilled over into the Ukrainian revolutions of 2004 (the Orange Revolution) and 2013–2014 (the Revolution of Dignity, also known as the Euromaidan Revolution). Popular dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs was also on display in the recent 2019 presidential elections. Ukrainian voters elected an independent political novice as their president, the comedian Volodymyr Zelensky, by a landslide—a margin that was widely interpreted as a rebuke of the country’s political establishment [2].

The Ukrainian education system has a long tradition, but its reputation has suffered lately from increased quality problems, many of which are the result of former Soviet rule and the rapid social transformation that took place after the collapse of Communism. As international educator Svetlana Filiatreau described it [3], “Ukraine’s economic crisis of the 1990’s led to a decline in the financing of education, including research and development…. [It] has had a tremendous negative impact on the educational system of Ukraine leading to the mass immigration of educated people … and the marketization of higher education. These factors, combined with the increasing levels of corruption in Ukrainian society, Soviet-style higher education, and lack of transparency mechanisms in Ukrainian higher education at all levels, have led to skyrocketing corruption in higher education, [and] declining quality ….”.

An infographic displaying quick facts about education in Ukraine [4]

In response to such problems, Ukrainian authorities have in recent years adopted a series of ambitious reforms [5] to increase transparency, accountability, and integrity, including a new law on higher education in July 2014 that seeks to increase the autonomy of universities [6]. However, the reforms have proven mostly unpopular and have failed to convince many Ukrainians that education policies are heading in the right direction. Merely 20 percent of Ukrainians surveyed in 2019 [7] supported the reforms. Other opinion polls also revealed great dissatisfaction with the quality of education among the Ukrainian populace.1 [8] This dissatisfaction and the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine have contributed to growing outbound student flows in recent years.

Challenges and Problems in Education

Several serious problems hinder Ukraine’s education sector. They include academic corruption, population loss, the lack of university autonomy, dated facilities, and armed conflict.

Academic Corruption

Even though rampant government corruption was one of the main causes of the Euromaidan Revolution, the level of and tolerance for corruption in Ukraine remains high, according to the anti-corruption watchdog organization Transparency International, which considers corruption a systemic problem in Ukraine, ranking the country 120th out of 180 countries on its 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index [9]. Of the Ukrainians surveyed by Transparency International shortly after the Euromaidan Revolution, about one-third viewed bribery as an acceptable way of resolving problems with government agencies [10]. Likewise, 44 percent of respondents in a 2017 survey [11] by the I. Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation and the Ukrainian Sociology Service believed that corruption had increased since 2014, while only 4 percent believed it had decreased. Forty-four percent of respondents thought corruption was the biggest problem in the country, while an additional 35 percent considered it one of the most serious problems. A sizable share of respondents—39 percent—were doubtful that it was possible to overcome corruption in Ukraine at all. In 2015 the Guardian newspaper called Ukraine “the most corrupt nation in Europe [12].”

As in several other post-Communist countries, Ukraine’s education system is among the sectors most affected by corruption [13]. Its manifestations range from bribery in admissions to examinations fraud, the misallocation of funds, extortion, ghost teachers, and dissertation plagiarism [14]. While corruption is believed to be most rampant and quickly spreading in tertiary education, particularly in the competitive medical universities, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development recently detailed similarly endemic problems in the Ukrainian school system [15], from preschool to upper-secondary levels. The effects are a loss of educational quality, the “leakage” of critical resources, and low public trust in the system. Externally, corruption and quality problems affect the international reputation of Ukrainian education. Alarmed by frequent reports of corruption in Ukrainian medical schools, Saudi Arabia, for example, no longer automatically recognizes Ukrainian medical degrees [16].

Demographic Decline and a Shrinking Education System 

Alongside other Eastern European nations, Ukraine has one of the fastest shrinking populations in the world. Measuring the size of Ukraine’s population is complicated because of the 2014 Russian annexation of the Crimea and the loss of control over the eastern Donbas region’s oblasts of Donetsk and Luhansk, but even before these developments the number of people in the country declined by 6.7 million between 1993 and 2013 [17]. Low birth rates, high mortality rates, large-scale outmigration, and other causes contributed to the decline. The UN projects that Ukraine’s population will decrease by another unprecedented 18 percent until 2050, from 44.2 million in 2017 to merely 36.4 million [18].

The effect on the education system has been huge. According to UNESCO statistics [19], the number of tertiary students in the country dropped from about 2.85 million in 2008 to 1.67 million in 2017—a decrease of more than 41 percent that has led to the closure of hundreds of higher education institutions (HEIs). The total number, including universities and other types of HEIs, declined from more than 1,000 in 1996 to 661 in the 2017/18 academic year, per government data [20]. Given the current demographic trends, more closures are likely. In the school system, population decline and outmigration from villages and small cities recently caused the government to create community “hub schools [21]” to pool resources and combine pupils from different schools.

Dated Curricula, Lack of University Autonomy, and Other Problems

Ukraine is among the most educated societies in the world with a tertiary gross enrollment ratio (GER) of 83 percent (2014, UNESCO). Yet, many view the country’s academic institutions as inflexible and out of touch with labor market demands and societal needs. In this view, Ukrainian society has an unhealthy obsession with theoretical university education at the expense of more employment-geared education and training. Youth unemployment is high (19.6 percent [22] among 15- to 24-year-olds in 2018) and far above unemployment rates of the general working-age population [23].

Other problems stem from the legacy of the highly centralized, rigid system of the former Soviet Union. For example, Ukrainian universities generally lack autonomy and initiative. While there have been heightened attempts to increase flexibility, widen autonomy, internationalize education, and make curricula more employment-relevant in recent years, the implementation of the 2014 higher education law, which is designed to increase university autonomy, has thus far been sluggish. Prominent critics like Sergiy Kvit, Ukraine’s former education minister and current director of its National Agency for Quality Assurance in Higher Education, have lamented that the reforms have failed to produce adequate changes [6], most notably in terms of financial autonomy of public universities. State universities remain dependent on the government in a variety of crucial areas, including salaries for university staff, funding of research, and infrastructure development [6].

External observers have noted that parts of the infrastructure at Ukrainian schools is inadequate and that teacher morale is low. Satu Kahkonen, the World Bank Country Director for Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine, noted in a recent article [24] that “While visiting schools in Ukraine, especially village schools, it is hard to believe that the state spends 6 percent of GDP on education—one of the highest rates of public spending on education in the world. Ukrainian schools often lack adequate facilities, modern equipment or quality textbooks.” One of the problems, according to Kahkonen, is that the number of students has declined much faster than the number of schools and teachers. As a result, Ukraine has very low student-to-teacher ratios but a system that is very expensive to maintain and ultimately unsustainable.

Overall, the international competitiveness of Ukraine’s education system appears to have declined in recent years. While the country ranked 25th in the 2012 ranking of national higher education systems by the Universitas 21 network of research universities, it dropped to position 38 in the same ranking in 2019 [25].

The Impact of War

The annexation of Crimea and the war in Ukraine’s eastern territories have had a devastating impact on economic and political life in Ukraine, as well as its education system. According to UNICEF, 10,000 people had been killed and 1.5 million displaced by 2017. About 700 educational facilities had been damaged or shuttered, and some 220,000 children [26] were in urgent need of safe schools. There were 143 HEIs located in the annexed or occupied territories (36 in Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, and 107 in rebel-controlled parts of the Donbas region in the east). These territories were also home to 140 research institutions, representing more than 12 percent of all Ukrainian research institutions and accounting for 31 percent of all tertiary enrollments. As of 2015, only 16 universities and 10 research institutions had successfully moved out of the conflict zones. Ukraine has thus lost a significant part of its educational and scientific resources and has yet to fully resolve the problem of migrants, including students, teachers, and administrative staff, from the annexed and occupied territories.

The first university to set up operations in exile was the Donetsk National University, but only a tiny fraction of its 18,000 students are continuing their education on the new campus in central Ukraine [27]. Ukraine’s Ministry of Education does not recognize diplomas issued by universities that remain in the disputed areas, but students often have the option of attending the exiled universities in online distance education mode. In fact, another exiled university, the prestigious Luhansk Taras Shevchenko National University, has become the leading online learning institution in Ukraine [27].

Outbound Student Mobility 

The war also had an apparent impact on student mobility patterns in Ukraine. While outbound student mobility has grown strongly in the country in general in recent years, it has accelerated even further since the conflict began in 2014. After doubling from 25,432 to 49,966 between 2007 and 2014, the number of degree-seeking Ukrainian students abroad has since spiked by another 54 percent to 77,219 in 2017, as per UNESCO [19]. According to estimates [28] by the Ukrainian think tank CEDOS [29], the number of outbound students further peaked to 83,000 in the 2017/18 academic year. The outbound mobility ratio, that is, the percentage of students enrolled abroad amongst all Ukrainian students, tripled since 2012 and stood at 4.6 percent in 2017 (UNESCO).

The swelling student outflows primarily go to neighboring countries. The number of Ukrainian degree students in Poland more than quadrupled between 2012 and 2016, from 6,110 to 29,253 students, making Poland the top destination for mobile students from Ukraine. Enrollments in Russia have also surged drastically and more than doubled within just a few years, from 10,702 in 2012 to 22,440 in 2016.

The Czech Republic, Italy, and the United States are the next most popular destination countries for degree-seeking students, according to UNESCO, although the total number of Ukrainian students in these countries is comparatively small—less than 7,000 students combined. Data gathered by CEDOS [29] paint a slightly different picture in that Germany and Canada were the third- and fourth-largest destination countries with 9,638 and 3,245 students, respectively, in the 2016/17 academic year.2 [8]

It is remarkable the extent to which Ukrainian students have shaped and come to dominate the international student population in key destination countries. More than half of all the international students [30] in Poland, for instance, now come from Ukraine. In Bulgaria, Ukrainian students make up more than 30 percent of the international student body, language barriers notwithstanding.

Poland is an attractive destination for Ukrainian students not only because of its geographic proximity. The country affords Ukrainians an opportunity to pursue high-quality education, often at lower costs of study and living [31] than in Ukraine—an important criterion since the majority of Ukrainian international students are self-funded. Poland also faces a shortage of skilled workers and seeks to retain Ukrainian students in the country after they graduate. Furthermore, Poland suffers from a similar demographic decline as Ukraine, which means that many Polish universities are assertively recruiting in Ukraine to compensate for the loss of domestic students. Study programs in Poland are increasingly offered in English [32], especially at the graduate level. Finally, the chance to earn a European qualification in an EU member state is a considerable lure [33] for Ukrainian students, since it widens potential employment opportunities within the larger EU. It is highly common for Ukrainian international students to not return home after graduation—a trend that worsens Ukraine’s brain drain.

Trends in the U.S. and Canada 

The number of Ukrainian students in the U.S. has grown in recent years but remains small when compared with other sending countries. According to the Institute of International Education’s Open Doors data [34], 1,928 Ukrainian students studied in the U.S. in 2017/18 compared with 1,490 in 2012/13 (an increase of 29 percent). A plurality of Ukrainian students (49 percent) are enrolled in undergraduate programs, while 33 percent study in graduate programs, 12 percent undertake Optional Practical Training, and 6 percent attend non-degree programs. In Canada, the number of Ukrainian students has been rising sharply amid the country’s surging popularity as an international study destination in recent years. The total number of Ukrainian students in the country, as reported by the Canadian government [35], spiked by 420 percent over the past decade, from 525 in 2008 to 2,730 in 2018.

Inbound Student Mobility

Despite the fact that Ukraine is a relatively small country without world-renowned universities featured in the top positions of international university rankings, it is an international study destination of considerable importance. According to the Ukrainian State Center for International Education, there were 75,605 students from 154 countries studying in Ukraine in 2018 [36]. That’s an increase of 41 percent over 2011 when there were just 53,664 international students enrolled at Ukrainian HEIs. This increase reflects the growing popularity of Ukraine as a study destination for students from Asia and Africa, particularly among medical students. While the share of student enrollments from most other post-Soviet countries has recently leveled off, the number of students from countries like India or Morocco has surged over the past years, so that India is currently by far the largest sending country with nearly 15,000 students.

A chart showing the top countries sending international students to Ukraine in 2018 [37]

Eight out of ten of the most popular universities among international students are medical institutions [36], reflecting the fact that the inflow of Asian and African students is to a large extent driven by students pursuing medical studies. Medical education in India, for instance, is very expensive and admission into medical schools is highly competitive [38], so that Indian students are increasingly branching out to less expensive countries like China or Ukraine. Interest in a comparatively high-quality yet low-cost medical education has also made Ukraine a popular destination in English-speaking African countries like Nigeria and Ghana, where Ukraine is currently the third most popular study destination worldwide. Visa requirements and costs of living in Ukraine are often lower for African students than in most Western destinations, although there have been reports of racial violence [39]. Other problems stemming from the mounting influx of international students are an increase in corruption at Ukrainian medical schools and growing incidents of extortion of international students [16].

In Brief: The Education System of Ukraine

Ukraine’s education system, like that of the other post-Soviet countries, has been shaped by more than 70 years of Soviet rule. However, Ukraine has enacted numerous reforms since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, including the introduction of private education. In 2005, Ukraine signed on to the European Bologna reforms. Whereas the standard university degree under the old Soviet system was a long single-cycle degree, the Bologna two-cycle structure has now been implemented across the board, except in professional disciplines like medicine and veterinary medicine. The European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System, grading scale, and other aspects of the Bologna reforms have been adopted as well.

Administration of the Education System, Language of Instruction, and Academic Calendar

Ukraine has a centralized education system overseen by the Ministry of Education and Science (MOES) in Kyiv. The State Inspectorate of Educational Institutions of Ukraine, under the auspices of the MOES, is responsible for matters like quality assurance, curriculum development, teaching methodology, examinations in the school system [40], and vocational education; whereas the National Agency for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (NAQAHE) is the designated regulatory authority in tertiary education. Originally established by law in 2014, the NAQAHE is a new organization that did not start to fully operate until 2019 [41]. Meant to revamp quality assurance in higher education, it consists of representatives from the MOES, European organizations, student associations, and academic institutions. It is responsible for the accreditation of universities and academic programs, the approval of dissertation committees, and other matters related to academic quality.

Given the inter-ethnic conflicts in Ukraine and the fact that sizable parts of the Ukrainian population speak Russian or other minority languages like Romanian or Hungarian as their native tongue, language policies in education are a highly controversial, politically charged issue in Ukraine. Recent legislation from 2017 [42] strengthened the status of Ukrainian as the country’s main language by reducing the role of minority languages in secondary education [43], making Ukrainian the mandatory official language in government, and imposing minimum quotas for the use of the Ukrainian language in TV, film, and print publications. While the law guarantees the right of all Ukrainian citizens to choose their language of instruction in preschool and elementary education—as long as they also study enough Ukrainian to successfully integrate into Ukrainian society—it mandates that education from the fifth grade onward be taught exclusively in Ukrainian, except for designated “special lessons.”

The law was heavily criticized by Russia, other countries, and human rights groups, but passed in the Ukrainian parliament with 278 to 38 votes [44]. In higher education, Ukrainian is the most common language of instruction. However, Russian was the academic language during the Soviet era, and Russian-taught programs also exist. English-medium higher education is becoming increasingly popular, particularly in programs geared toward international students, but it is still nascent compared with how common it is in other European countries.

Ukraine’s academic calendar usually runs from September to June.

Elementary Education

Since 2018, Ukrainian school education has been extended from 11 to 12 years. It now includes four years of elementary education, five years of middle school education, and three years of upper secondary (specialized) education. The changes will be implemented in the three levels in 2018, 2022, and 2027, respectively [45], beginning with the elementary stage. Education is provided free of charge at public schools, and is compulsory through grade 12 under the new system. However, pupils who started studying under the old system can still leave school after 11 years [46].

Elementary education starts at the age of six and is four years in length. The cycle is further subdivided into two phases: A basic phase 1 (grades one and two) that focuses on adaptation to school through play, while phase 2 (grades three and four) focuses on developing responsibility and independence. Children are admitted to school based on their place of residence. Each school serves a specific geographic area and guarantees seats for all school-age children residing in the area. There are no separate entrance examinations.

The curriculum includes reading, writing, mathematics, physical education, nature, art, and music. Not all courses at this level are graded [47], but grade four concludes with a state examination that measures performance in Ukrainian (or another native language), reading, and mathematics [48].

Basic Secondary Education (Middle School)

Basic secondary education lasts five years (grades five to nine) and is open to all pupils who successfully completed elementary education. The general core curriculum includes subjects like Ukrainian language and literature, foreign language, history, mathematics, biology, chemistry, physics, physical education, music, and art. Assessment and promotion are primarily based on examinations. At the end of ninth grade, students sit for final state exams. Those who pass are awarded a “certificate of completion of basic secondary education” (svidotstvo pro bazovu zagal’nu serednyu osvitu). The grading scale used at all levels of schooling is the 12-point scale [49] shown below.

A table showing the Ukrainian school grading system and WES's conversion [50]

Upper-Secondary Education (Specialized Secondary Education)

All graduates of basic secondary education are eligible to enroll in upper-secondary school. Under the new regulations that will be in place by 2027, upper-secondary education will be three years in length (grades 9 to 12) instead of two years (grades 9 to 11). This will align the Ukrainian system with the 12-year systems found in most of the world.

Both the old and new systems introduce curricular specializations at the upper-secondary level. However, the new system will be designed to allow students greater flexibility in choosing their electives. Students will be able to choose between academic and professional tracks studied at either academic or professional lyceums [47]. Within these tracks, students study a general academic core curriculum in addition to specializing in academic or vocational fields. While studies in the academic track are designed to prepare students for further university education, the professional streams prepare students for employment as well as admission to higher education. It should be noted, however, that not all schools offer specialization tracks. and that many students presently attend general secondary programs.

As of 2019, all graduates who pass the final state examinations receive a “certificate of completed general secondary education” (svidotstvo pro zdobuttia povnoi zagalnoi serednoi osvity), a credential formerly also called the “certificate of completed secondary education” (atestat pro zagal’nu serednyu osvitu). The certificate lists a large number of subjects that span the entire curriculum, as well as three state examination subjects [49] (Ukrainian language and literature, mathematics or history of Ukraine, and one subject of choice). In addition, students are required to sit for standardized tests that are externally assessed by the Ukrainian Center for Educational Quality Assessment [51]. These standardized tests are used for university admissions (see below).

More than 99 percent of upper-secondary school students are enrolled in public schools, per UNESCO. Private education does not play a significant role in the Ukrainian school system. In 2013 the completion rate exceeded 95 percent, and more than 80 percent of graduates enrolled in higher education programs. There were 591,448 upper-secondary students in Ukraine in 2017 (sharply down from 909,924 in 2012, according to UNESCO [19]).

Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET)

TVET programs are offered at both the secondary and post-secondary level in Ukraine. Their basic structure was inherited from the Soviet Union. The sector has declined rapidly in recent years because of population loss, low regard for TVET, rural-urban migration, and the dilapidated infrastructure and equipment of many technical and vocational colleges. The number of TVET students decreased from about 389,000 in 2013 to 285,000 in 2016/17, resulting in the closure of many TVET colleges, the number of which dropped from 983 in 2013 to 792 in 2016/17 [52].

There are three levels of TVET qualifications in Ukraine. Level 1 qualifications are earned after short-term training programs of up to one-year’s duration that are designed to quickly impart specific practical skills. These programs don’t have formal academic admission requirements; they are open to anyone within the appropriate age range. The programs conclude with a vocational competence examination and the awarding of the title, Qualified Worker (dyplom kvalifikovanogo robitnyka). TVET programs at all levels are regulated and approved by the MOES, but curricula are usually designed by training providers in collaboration with industry [53]. Training may be provided by schools and colleges associated with central or local government institutions, private businesses, or industry associations. Programs may be offered in a variety of forms, including part-time, distance education, or apprenticeship-type on-the-job training.

Level 2 TVET programs require at least the Certificate of Completion of Basic Secondary Education for admission. Program length varies from one and a half to three years based on the prior education of students and the type of program. Programs entered after grade nine are typically three years in length, including a general education component, but holders of the Certificate of Completed General Secondary Education can study in shorter, accelerated programs without the general education component. Like level 1 graduates, level 2 graduates are granted the title of Qualified Worker. However, the level 2 qualification not only entitles holders to employment in their field of specialization, it provides access to tertiary education as well.

Level 3 programs are post-secondary, higher level TVET courses of study usually offered by colleges and vocational schools (koledzh, uchylyshche) or universities, and lead to the awarding of a Diploma of Junior Specialist (dyplom molodshoho spetsialista), or more recently, the “Junior Bachelor” (molodshyi bakalavr). The Certificate of Completed General Secondary Education is generally required for admission. Fields like nursing, allied health, agriculture, teaching, or engineering technology, to name some examples, are offered. The programs typically last two, sometimes three or four years. Some can be entered on the basis of the Certificate of Completion of Basic Secondary Education. These programs include a general secondary education component and last three and a half years at minimum. Depending on the institution and course of study, Junior Specialist graduates may be exempted from one to two years of study in bachelor’s degree programs.

Current reform initiatives to revive the TVET sector and supply the Ukrainian economy with critically needed skilled workers include the introduction of a work-based dual training system similar to Germany’s or Switzerland’s. Model programs that consist of 30 percent theoretical instruction and 70 percent [54] practical training have recently been introduced and are expected to become increasingly common in the years ahead.

The Situation in Crimea

Five years after the annexation of Crimea, Ukrainian schools have been purged from the region, according to Ukrainian human rights groups [55]. Education there is now de facto overseen by the Russian Ministry of Education and Science through the Russian-controlled Crimean education ministry. The language of instruction in schools is Russian; Crimean high school graduates can sit for the Russian Unified State Examination and seek admission to Russian HEIs in the same way as Russian students. The Russian occupying authorities also closed existing HEIs and created a new university under Russian control, the Crimean Federal University. Taurida National University, an institution with a student body of 76,000 before the annexation, reopened in exile in Kyiv. As of 2018 it had 5,000 students [56], many of whom had fled the occupied areas. 

The Ukrainian government does not recognize Russian high school credentials awarded to students in Crimea, nor academic credentials awarded by HEIs that operate in the occupied Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Students in these regions need to sit for the Certificate of Complete General Secondary Education exams in government-approved schools on Ukrainian-controlled territory if they want to attend Ukrainian universities [57]. The WES Gateway Program [58] in Canada assists displaced persons educated in Ukraine (and other countries affected by crisis) with the validation and assessment of their academic credentials. 

Academic Institutions, Accreditation, and Quality Assurance

All academic institutions in Ukraine must have a license by the government in order to operate. In addition, institutions must be accredited by the State Accreditation Commission of the MOES to award state-recognized degrees and diplomas. There are presently four different levels of accreditation (as outlined below). It should be noted, however, that the entire quality assurance and accreditation system is currently undergoing major reforms. In the near future, accreditation will be granted by the new NAQAHE. The four different levels of accreditation will no longer be used. Instead, HEIs will be classified into four different categories [59], depending on the programs they offer and their level of specialization: universities, institutes, specialized academies, and colleges (which offer only undergraduate programs).

Under the current system, new HEIs must first submit their study programs for assessment by the State Accreditation Commission. Accreditation decisions are based on the evaluation of institutional self-assessments and criteria like adequate curricula, infrastructure, finances, staffing, research activities, and program structures [60]. Program accreditation is granted for 10 years. HEIs can apply for institutional accreditation once 75 percent [60] of their programs are accredited. Institutional accreditation is then granted for periods of five years. A register of Ukrainian HEIs [61] and their levels of accreditation can be found on the website of the Ukrainian ENIC.

A table showing the levels of accreditation in Ukraine. These levels are currently being phased out. [62]

Under the current classification system, Ukrainian HEIs are categorized as follows:

Universities are multidisciplinary research institutions, public or private. They are further subdivided into “classical universities” and “specialized universities.” Classical universities offer graduate programs “in at least eight areas of study, as well as doctors of philosophy and doctors of science in at least 12 research fields [63].” As their name implies, specialized universities have a slightly narrower academic focus. They offer graduate programs “in at least four areas of study,” as well as PhD programs “in at least eight research fields [63].”

Institutes and academies are specialized HEIs accredited at level III or IV that offer graduate and doctoral programs in specific disciplines. They can be part of universities. Conservatories, likewise, are specialized HEIs with level III or level IV accreditation that offer advanced programs in artistic fields.

Colleges and technical schools are either stand-alone institutions accredited at level II, or part of larger HEIs accredited at level III or IV. They offer mostly applied first-cycle programs (Junior Bachelor/Specialist or Bachelor).

Most academic institutions in Ukraine are public. As of the 2014/15 academic year, there were 520 public and 144 private HEIs, with the latter enrolling only 9.2 percent of all students [64]; 387 HEIs were accredited at levels I and II, whereas 277 held level III or IV accreditation. A majority of students (85 percent) were enrolled at the larger, multi-faculty level III or IV accredited institutions.

Ukrainian universities are not very well represented in international rankings. There are only four Ukrainian universities in the 2019 Times Higher Education World University Rankings [65], all of them ranked at position 1001+1: Ivan Franko National University of Lviv, Lviv Polytechnic National University, Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, and the V.N. Karazin Kharkiv National University. The 2019 QS World University Rankings [66] features six Ukrainian universities—V.N. Karazin Kharkiv National University is the highest ranked in 491st place. The 2018 Academic Ranking of World Universities (also known as the Shanghai Ranking) did not include any Ukrainian universities.

Current Reforms in Higher Education

There have been several important reforms in Ukrainian higher education in recent years, some of them driven by prolonged student protests against proposed fiscal changes, such as the removal of tuition caps at public HEIs and the reduction of government-funded university seats. In September 2017, the Ukrainian parliament passed the latest revision of the law on higher education, which increased student participation in university governance, tied financial aid to cost of living increases, improved financial transparency at HEIs, imposed term limits for university presidents and deans, and promoted greater academic autonomy [59]. The revisions reduced both teacher workload and credit requirements for students; and reinforced academic integrity by introducing stiffer penalties for plagiarism and requiring HEIs to publish scientific papers online. They also restructured public university funding in a way that incentivizes universities to compete for the best students [67].

Another feature of the new legislation was the official adoption of the Bologna reforms in Ukraine. The law finalized the transition to the ECTS credit system and ended the old Soviet-style Diploma of Specialist and Diploma of Junior Specialist programs. As in all Bologna-compliant countries, 60 ECTS credit units are defined as one year of full-time study. Degree certificates are accompanied by the European diploma supplement, and current academic transcripts commonly express student performance in ECTS letter grades, although transcripts often also include a 0-100 numerical scale (and sometimes the old 1 to 5 numerical scale).

A graphic showing the ECTS grading scale used in Ukraine and WES's undergraduate and graduate conversions [68]

The Higher Education Degree Structure 

Ukraine’s 2014 law on higher education sets forth the degree structure outlined below. The last year that students could be admitted into Junior Specialist and Specialist programs was 2016, so this structure will soon be universal throughout Ukraine. One of the main changes is that the old Specialist programs, which were a legacy of the Soviet system and usually lasted five or five and a half years, have been split into two cycles. Instead of long single-tier programs, studies are now organized in an Anglo-Saxon style Bachelor and Master structure.

Junior Bachelor (Molodshyi Bakalavr)

The Junior Bachelor is a first-cycle, short-term program requiring 90 to 120 ECTS credits. While it is meant to replace the Junior Specialist, the Junior Bachelor is different in that the Certificate of Completed General Secondary Education or a completed Junior Specialist Diploma is the mandatory minimum admission requirement according to legislation [63], whereas some Junior Specialist programs could be entered after nine years of school.

Bachelor (Bakalavr)

Bachelor programs take three or four years (180–240 ECTS) to complete after upper-secondary school, with four years being more common. Holders of the Junior Bachelor or the Diploma of Junior Specialist may be exempt from part of the study requirements, depending on the institution and program. Programs generally require few general education courses; they commonly conclude with a final state examination and, in some cases, a thesis or graduation project.

Master (Magistr) 

Admission into master’s programs requires a Bachelor or Diploma of Specialist at minimum, but individual HEIs may also demand entrance examinations or interviews. Programs are up to two years in length (90 to 120 ECTS) and conclude with the defense of a master’s thesis and state examinations.

Doctor of Philosophy/Art and Doctor of Science

There are two types of doctoral-level qualifications in Ukraine that build upon each other and are placed at levels 9 and 10 [69] of the Ukrainian qualifications framework, respectively. Until recently, these credentials were called Candidate of Sciences (Kandydat Nauk) and Doctor of Sciences (Doktor Nauk). Today, the Candidate of Sciences is called the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) or Doctor of Art. Admission into this program, which lasts three years at minimum, requires a master’s degree or a Diploma of Specialist. It includes a mandatory course work component of 30 to 60 ECTS credits, research, and the defense of a dissertation. The Doctor of Sciences is a pure research qualification that requires additional research and the defense of another dissertation. This prestigious credential is the highest qualification in Ukraine and a requirement for full professorship at Ukrainian universities. Only a limited number of Candidates of Science complete it.

Professional Degrees in Medical Fields

As in other European countries, professional degrees in medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, and veterinary medicine have been excluded from the Bologna reforms in Ukraine and continue to be offered as long, single-tier programs. Medical programs are six years in length (360 ECTS), whereas dentistry, pharmacy, and veterinary medicine are typically five years (300 ECTS) [70]. These qualifications are pegged at the same level as the master’s degree in the Ukrainian qualifications framework.

Medical programs lead to the award of the Doctor of Medicine (also referred to as Specialist until recently). After completion of the six-year general program, graduates must complete a mandatory clinical internship [71] one to three years long in a medical specialty before they can practice. Physicians who have practiced for at least three years after completing the internship can then undertake further clinical residency training in their specialty or train in additional specialties [72]. The clinical residency program lasts two to four years (120 to 240 ECTS). Study programs in dentistry are structured similarly.

Teacher Education 

The degree requirements for teachers in Ukraine depend on the level of education. Preschool and elementary school teachers can teach with a Junior Bachelor from a pedagogical college. Secondary school teachers, on the other hand, must have a Bachelor from a university or university-level institution (institutes, academies). Bachelor programs for teachers are typically four years in length (three years for holders of a diploma of Junior Specialist); curricula include a teaching practicum. As of 2016, there were 40 pedagogical colleges and 66 university-level HEIs offering teacher training programs in Ukraine [73].

WES Documentation Requirements

Editor’s note: Individuals seeking an evaluation report that requires verified documents from Ukrainian institutions may not be able to obtain them through traditional means. Those who are affected may be eligible for the WES Gateway Program in the United States [74] or Canada [58]. The program enables assessment of the educational credentials of individuals who have been displaced as a result of adverse circumstances in their country and have limited proof of their academic achievements. Visit our Important WES Notices [75] page to learn more.

Secondary Education

Higher Education

Sample Documents

Click here [77]for a PDF file of the academic documents referred to below.

1. [78] Zhilyaev I.B., Kovtunets V.V., and Siomkin M.V. Higher Education in Ukraine: Its Current State and Problems, 2015, retrieved from http://education-ua.org/ua/analytics/467-vishcha-osvita-ukrajini-stan-ta-problemi#files [79]

2. [78] When comparing international student numbers, it is important to note that numbers provided by different agencies and governments vary because of differences in data capture methodology, definitions of “international student,” and types of mobility captured (credit, degree, and so on). The data of UNESCO Institute Statistics provide a good point of reference for comparison since they are compiled according to one standard method. It should be pointed out, however, that the data include only students enrolled in tertiary degree programs. They do not include students on shorter study abroad exchanges, or those enrolled at the secondary level or in short-term language training programs, for instance.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of World Education Services (WES).