Quality of Belarus’ higher education stimulates students’ exodus to study abroad
Last week, the Education Ministry announced an additional call for applications to higher education establishments and reduced the admission grade to a minimum on specialities, which are “in sharp demand by the economy and social sphere”.
With its actions, the Ministry attempted to solve the problem of students’ shortage funded from the state budget. The problem is that the number of places at universities exceeds the number of high school graduates. For instance, 45 public and 9 private universities annually produce about 80,000 specialists with higher education (in 2014 - almost 77,000). Two-thirds of students pay tuition fees which are often higher than in other countries in the region. The way the authorities attempt to solve the ‘lack of students’ problem (by lowering admission standards) will only exacerbate it in the future, because the quality and prestige of Belarusian higher education will continue reducing. As a result, many young Belarusians prefer studying in foreign universities (most often - in Poland, Lithuania, and Russia), where tuition fees are compatible with those in Belarus. If Belarusian Education authorities do not change their policies in education, recent trends (reduced quality of the education, growing tuition fees and graduates outflow to study abroad) will persist in the future.
Over the past year, military-political relations between Minsk and Kyiv have become complicated. Due to their high inertia and peculiarities, this downward trend would be extremely difficult to overcome.
The root cause of the crisis is the absence of a common political agenda in the Belarusian-Ukrainian relations. Minsk is looking for a market for Belarusian exports in Ukraine and offers its services as a negotiation platform for the settlement of the Russo-Ukrainian war, thereby hoping to avoid political issues in the dialogue with Kiev. Meanwhile, Ukraine is hoping for political support from Minsk in the confrontation with Moscow. In addition, Ukraine’s integration with NATO presupposes her common position with the Alliance in relation to Belarus. The NATO leadership regards the Belarusian Armed Forces as an integral part of the Russian military machine in the western strategic front (the Baltic states and Poland). In addition, the ongoing military reform in Ukraine envisages a reduction in the number of generals and the domestic political struggle makes some Ukrainian top military leaders targets in politically motivated attacks.
Hence, the criticism of Belarus coming from Ukrainian military leadership is dictated primarily by internal and external political considerations, as well as by the need to protect the interests of generals, and only then by facts.
For instance, initially, the Ukrainian military leadership made statements about 100,000 Russian servicemen allegedly taking part in the Russo-Belarusian military drill West-2017. Then the exercises were labelled quazi-open and military observers from Ukraine refused to provide their assessment, which caused a negative reaction in Minsk. Further, without citing specific facts, it was stated that Russia was building up its military presence in Belarus.
Apparently, the Belarusian and Ukrainian Defence Ministries have entangled in a confrontational spiral (on the level of rhetoric). Moreover, only a small part of the overly hidden process has been disclosed. That said, third states are very likely to take advantage of the situation (or have already done so). This is not only about Russia.
The Belarusian Defence Ministry officials are restrained in assessing their Ukrainian counterparts. However, such a restraint is not enough. Current military-political relations between Belarus and Ukraine are unlikely to stabilise without the intervention of both presidents.