Accession to Bologna process does not guarantee reforms in Belarusian higher education

April 22, 2016 19:13

The Belarusian authorities use education to nurture loyalty among younger generation. Despite continuously growing problems with secondary and higher education, the education system and the state’s youth policy have until now allowed control of protest activity among young people. In the next few years, the state is unlikely to conduct thorough reforms within the education system.

The Education Ministry press centre reported last week that Belarus joined the Bologna Process after the decision had been approved by European Education Ministers.

Belarus has joined the integrated European Higher Education Area (EHEA) much later than its neighbors. In 2009-2010, during a thaw in Belarusian-European relations Belarus was very active in pushing to join the Bologna process. Yet in 2012, the Bologna Follow-Up Group postponed the date of Belarus’ accession. According to the statement made by the Group, Belarus’ policies in the field of higher education failed to respect the Bologna process values, such as academic freedom, institutional autonomy and student participation in higher education governance. Consequently, until now Belarus was the only European country excluded from the Bologna process.

Some experts and civil society representatives skeptically assessed the decision to accept Belarus’ accession bid to the EHEA. Experts of the Public Bologna Committee emphasised that Belarus had done little to fulfill the requirements for joining the Bologna process.

Unlike Belarus, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, which had similar problems in their education system, were granted the up-front access to the Bologna process in 2005 and 2010 respectively. Significantly, there is no exclusion mechanism from the EHEA, which may jeopardise the implementation of reforms in the higher education in Belarus.

The unconditional accession of Belarus to the EHEA has reinforced the Belarusian authorities’ beliefs that Belarus’ problems in education are insignificant. Belarusian Education Minister Mikhail Zhuravkov stated: “Granting access to the European Higher Education Area reflects recognition of the Belarusian education system by the international community, and proves the fact that our national model is competitive and can be integrated into the international educational area”. It is likely that the Belarusian authorities aimed to join the EHEA in order to increase paid educational services for non-residents.

Indeed, Belarus is rated highly by formal indicators of education, although the gap between the qualifications of employees and market requirements is increasing every year. Both independent experts and high-level Belarusian officials acknowledge this problem.

By introducing state ideology studies in secondary schools and universities in the mid-2000s, the authorities have considerably decreased protest activity and support for the political opposition among young people. For instance, Malady Front (Young Front), formerly a very popular opposition youth organisation has completely lost its influence among young people.

In reaction, independent academic community and civil society representatives put forward an initiative to create a non-governmental National University as an alternative to European Humanities University (EHU) and the existing state education system.

Deep structural reforms in Belarus’ higher education are unlikely to be introduced in the coming years. The authorities’ main goal is to preserve loyalty and control in education.

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The Belarusian authorities have launched a discussion on the moratorium or abolition of the death penalty under the pressure of Belarusian human rights activists and international community. Apparently, the authorities are interested in monitoring public sentiments and response to the possible abolition of the capital punishment. The introduction of a moratorium on the death penalty would depend on the dynamics in Belarusian-European relations, efforts of the civil society organisations and Western capitals.

In Grodno last week, the possibility of abolishing the death penalty in Belarus or introducing a moratorium was discussed.

The Belarusian authorities are likely to continue to support the death penalty in Belarus. During his rule, President Lukashenka pardoned only one person, and courts sentenced to death more than 400 people since the early 1990s. Over the past year, Belarusian courts sentenced to death several persons and one person was executed.

There are no recent independent polls about people’s attitude about the death penalty in Belarus. Apparently, this issue is not a priority for the population. In many ways, public opinion about the abolition of the death penalty would depend on the tone of the state-owned media reports.

That said, the Belarusian Orthodox Church and the Roman-Catholic Church stand for the abolition of the capital punishment, however their efforts in this regard only limit to public statements about their stance. Simultaneously, the authorities could have influenced public opinion about the death penalty through a focused media campaign in the state media. As they did, for example, with the nuclear power plant construction in Astravets. Initially unpopular project of the NPP construction was broadly promoted in the state media, and eventually, according to independent pollsters, was accepted by most population.