International Higher Education & Professional Government in Ukraine

Hi there! As academic life has been in full swing, I am behind with the blog. And as summer break begins, I’m back with this story – one that isn’t getting much coverage in the western news – about the link between international higher education and political development in Ukraine.

As you know, starting in November last year, the Euromaidan movement fought for government reform. The movement stood for transparency in government, increased EU-Ukraine cooperation, improved human rights, and better higher education, among other things. Some people believe that many of the most vocal leaders were young people educated at universities in the west. Euromaidan presentation Dec 2013I was lucky to meet some of these young leaders late last year at a conference (low-quality photo included as evidence), and I was impressed with their loyalty to Ukraine and their passion for change.

By most accounts, the Euromaidan movement succeeded. President Yanukovych was removed from power in February. Many events have happened since – including the Russian intrusion into Crimea – but there’s not much attention given to all the hard work needed to rebuild a government and prepare for May elections.

I suggest that this is a crucial time in the country’s plan for a more progressive future, and that those students educated abroad can significantly contribute. We know that government, civil society, university, and community leaders influence democracy building, economic development, and social change. Young leaders educated overseas can bring their knowledge, skills, and experience to the aid of the nation’s development. And there’s research on this very topic: in one example, Antonio Spilimbergo has found that foreign-educated leaders promote democracy in their home country, but only if the foreign education is acquired in democratic countries.

Young leaders in Ukraine are savvy. I recently learned about their efforts to organize a website that pairs graduates of western universities with the new government, offering assistance and names of experts, often pro bono. Through the website, the group has been able to link individuals to the Ukrainian government’s Ministry of Economic Development, Education, and Infrastructure; identify a CFO for Naftogaz, the state entity that buys and sells energy resources (and was formerly notorious corrupt); and provide advisers to Members of Parliament.

Screen Shot 2014-05-18 at 8.18.42 AM

Screenshot from Professional Government’s website page. Subtitle reads “Ukrainian graduates of foreign universities initiative.”

The group is called Professional Government. Its vision is to develop and support a small but efficient government that is transparent, accountable, able to pay fair salaries and offer proper incentives (and thereby reduce bribery), and will reform its code and regulations to be more open to entrepreneurship and business opportunities. In a recent conversation with one of the group leaders, Alina Sviderska (who studied in Ukraine and in the UK), she noted that Professional Government’s long term goal is “to fill high government positions with experienced western educated individuals. We plan to make this project self-sustainable with a possibility to build a platform for reforms aimed at improving the investment climate.” In other words, tying international education directly to political and economic change in Ukraine.

If you want more information about Professional Government, ways to cooperate, or how to make a donation, check out the website or contact Alina via Facebook or LinkedIn. There’s also additional information about the project in English from The Harvard Crimson.

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