Accession to Bologna process does not guarantee reforms in Belarusian higher education
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.
According to Decree No. 221 of June 23rd, 2017, deadlines for the completion of foreign trade operations have been extended from 90 to 180 days for exports and from 60 to 90 days for imports. Delayed payments entailed a fine up to 2% of the transaction cost for each day of the delay, but could not exceed the total cost of the transaction. Most companies, when working with new counterparties, require a deferred payment for a period of three to six months. Due to the new regulation, violations are likely to reduce in number, so as the fines. Trade enterprises are likely to expand the assortment list due to the supply of new products in small lots, and the assortment list of exported Belarusian goods could expand, too. The new terms for completing foreign trade transactions would enable medium and small companies on the foreign trade market, exporters and importers are likely to grow in number and the geography of export-import operations could expand.