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Sandro Rosell
FC Barcelona President

EuroBelarus: No one still wants to reform the system of higher education in Belarus; moreover, the authorities even embarrassed themselves at a meeting of the monitoring group on the subject.

Forward to the past

On May 15 it is a year since our country was accepted into the Bologna process on condition that the Roadmap is to be implemented. A specially created monitoring group was created to help Belarus in it. A Public Bologna Committee and the Belarusian national platform prepare reports on how the provisions of the Roadmap are fulfilled. The first such report was presented six months ago and covered the period from June to December 2015; the second report, which was published recently, covers the period from January to May 2016.

- The situation deteriorated in comparison with the first half of the year. We indicate the conservative revanche, which is largely related to the certain reaction of the top leadership, - told Uladzimir Dunaeu, professor of philosophy, the member of the public Bologna committee to the EuroBelarus Information Service.

He drew attention to the ambiguous and rather negative remarks from President Aliaksandr Lukashenka regarding the Bologna process during the Address to the Belarusian people and the National Assembly. Upon the meeting with the head of state on April 1 with the participation of Education Minister and Deputy Prime Minister it became known that the draft amendments to the Education Code were sent back for revision.

According to Uladzimir Dunaeu, we might only indicate positive changes in the state program "Education and Youth Policy" for 2016 - 2020 years. At the same time, the expert assumes, referring to the authors of the program, in the future it can be adjusted for economic, political, and other reasons.

Apart from the lack of political support, there is one more significant "brake" in implementation of educational reforms.

- Attempts to reform the law in correspondence with the Roadmap are often blocked by being contradictory to the norms of adjacent legislation, for example, labor legislation. Thus, the first provision of the Roadmap is the creation of the National Qualifications Framework (NQF), i.e. in fact, the change of relations between education and the labor market. This mechanism allows the employer to participate in controlling and managing the quality of personnel training. However, there are no relevant changes in the Labour Code, and without that it’s impossible to secure the NQF in educational legislation.

A similar problem arises when we consider issues of academic mobility of teachers and students: the legislation on combating human trafficking creates obstacles there. Therefore, it is necessary to work at the governmental level, not the level of the Ministry of Education.

Reputation is at stake

Positive changes are observed not only at the legislative level, but also at the practical one. Among other problems the Public Bologna Committee notes non-transparency, violations of the academic standards, repressions, and discrimination of independent student organizations.

- There are some minor changes that the ministry tries to present as a progress within the frames of the Roadmap. For example, academic autonomy of universities is a bit expanding, but 50% of universities’ freedom in the content of university curriculum is not yet autonomy, - the expert noted.

There is not even a sign of the implementation of the Council of Europe recommendations about academic values ​​described in the Roadmap, Uladzimir Dunaeu is convinced.

Another problem is the arbitrariness at the level of universities, which leads to the fact that neither the bureaucracy nor the academic community are willing to carry out reforms. There are frequent attempts to discredit the Bologna process in the eyes of students and teaching staff with the use of extra paperwork and additional restrictions, which is impossible in the Bologna process.

- In fact, it would be a big mistake to say that everyone is willing to change, - the expert noted rightly, - but the main obstacle is related to the fact that Belarus has its own national system of values, including academic values that have nothing to do with European values. These distinctive and ugly landmarks consist in the political loyalty of teachers and students and system’s controllability. And this is the direct opposite of universities’ autonomy and academic freedoms.

In order to implement educational reforms we need strong political motivation. After all, implementation of these reforms will in a certain sense be indicative of Belarus’ strong intention in its relations with Europe. In fact, the Roadmap is the only reform program that we agreed upon with Europe.

- If the Belarusian reform system doesn’t work, it shows that Belarus is impossible to agree with, which is a serious threat to the reputation, - summed up the expert.

Do experts approve?

Recently the monitoring group of the Bologna Process visited Minsk for the first time. The group consists of representatives of various European countries, mainly from the education ministries, including the Belarusian one. Apart from them, the representatives of the European Students’ Union, the Council of Europe, and European Commission also attended the meeting.

- The work of European experts had some parity: they also met with representatives of civil society. We have presented our report as well as raised a number of serious issues, such as, what sanctions are possible if Belarus doesn’t fulfill the Roadmap? Is the expulsion of Belarus from the Bologna Process possible? The answer, of course, was quite unclear, since it is a prerogative of the Summit of Ministers of Education of the European Higher Education Area countries (EHEA) to make such political decisions. They accepted Belarus on condition of implementing reforms; they will evaluate the results of work by the Roadmap. This is a completely new experience, so no one has yet developed any mechanisms, - Uladzimir Dunaeu said.

- There even was a scandal: an article by BelTA was presented to the monitoring group. The article says that that European experts hail the postgraduate work assignment system in Belarus, which came as a shock for the experts.

However, Uladzimir Dunaeu added, European colleagues have no illusions with regard to Belarus. The evaluation of the Belarusian situation can be heard at the Summit of Ministers of Education, which will take place in 2018.

- In general, what is happening with the Roadmap now could be called sabotage. And until the political stance of the country's leadership changes, no legislative measures of the Education Ministry can change anything, - the professor believes.