Sustainable university: A model of development in post-war Ukraine

Sustainable university: A model of development in post-war Ukraine

Sustainable development is one of the most topical concepts of our time. Established corporations, small businesses, NGOs, universities, and governments of leading countries strive to adhere to the principles of this concept. Being sustainable creates additional competitive advantages, and positively impacts the organisation’s reputation and recognition (perception) in society.

Sustainable development is often associated only with environmental measures and initiatives (environmental protection: clean water and sanitation; climate action; life below water; life on land). However, this is an incomplete vision that limits the nature of sustainability. Although the environmental component is extremely important in ensuring sustainable development, it is wrong to reduce the idea of sustainability exclusively to ecological aspects. The comprehensive sustainable development includes also economic (decent work and economic growth; industry, innovation and infrastructure; reduced inequality; responsible consumption and production) and social (zero hunger and poverty; good health and well-being; quality education; gender equality; peace, justice and strong institutions) aspects.

Since 2022 Ukraine has been facing terrible challenges of war. Higher education institutions have been subjected to enemy attacks by Russian troops and heavy shelling, as a result of which they are wholly or partially destroyed. Educational and research infrastructure, dormitory buildings and administrative structures were damaged. But the main and most painful thing for Ukrainian universities is the loss of intellectual capital due to the death or migration abroad of Ukrainian colleagues because of military operations in Ukraine. In the post-war period, much attention should be paid to the restoration of educational institutions in the country.

We support the idea that the post-war recovery of Ukrainian higher education should be made in the framework of sustainable development. Thus, we decided to study the situation in world-leading universities and build our own sustainable development model for Ukrainian universities in the post-war period.

Sustainable development of Higher Education Institutions worldwide

Fig. 1. Conceptual scheme of the Model of the University Sustainable Development

Source: developed by the authors

This study employs the analytical method of cognition.  To achieve the most objective results of the research, we studied the HEIs included in the international rating – Times Higher Education Impact Rankings (THE Impact Rankings). The study covered HEIs from all over the world, which were ranked top 50.  This enabled us to eliminate subjectivity in the assessment of the progress of world universities in terms of sustainable development.

The analysis of cases of leading higher education institutions allowed us to identify key aspects and components of ensuring sustainable development. The results of the conceptualization of our model of sustainable development of HEIs are shown in Fig. 1.

The ‘core’ of the model is the institution of higher education itself, represented by the synergy of the interaction of:

– students through their unconventional, creative thinking;

– researchers through their innovative developments and inventions;

– teachers through their initiative and innovative approaches to working with young people;

– management and administrative personnel through their ability to motivate, encourage and support.

Successful implementation of sustainable development models for HEIs requires coordinated interaction among all participants in the educational process, both by themselves and with stakeholders (public, local and central authorities, business, developing relevant regulatory support, and strengthening of the institutional capacity of universities. The key factor for the success of this model is the availability of stable support for sustainable initiatives both from the management of the HEI and from partners. Such support can be material and technical, financial, organizational, consulting, expert, methodological, informational, and so on.

The main blocks of the model of sustainable development of higher education institutions are:

I – Sustainable teaching – introducing the principles of sustainability in all educational programmes, mandatory inclusion of its aspects in final qualification papers of students of various majors, as well as in the teaching methods in the framework of different academic disciplines at universities;

II – Sustainable research – orientation of fundamental and applied research, research projects of universities to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), identification of ways and tools to overcome obstacles to the transition of higher education institutions to functioning based on sustainability;

III – Sustainable campus – implementation of a set of measures to improve the energy efficiency of university buildings, rational use of water resources, greening the territory, introducing environmentally friendly transport within the campus,  cultivating a culture of waste management, etc.;

IV Sustainable partnership – the widest possible involvement of various groups of stakeholders in the implementing initiatives to achieve the SDGs (not only as beneficiaries of the results and effects obtained, but also as members of project teams for developing relevant projects, planning a system of measures for their implementation, monitoring the effectiveness of achieving the goals set).

The introduction of the current model of sustainable development of higher education institutions proposed in the project will allow HEIs in Ukraine to strengthen their contribution to achieving the SDGs; increase the level of competitiveness; integrate into the world research and academic community; and attract more international students. In fact, sustainable development can be defined to a certain extent as a competitive advantage of the HEI, a way to improve its recognition in society, strengthen its brand and image, and deepen social responsibility.

Sustainable university development for post-war reconstruction

The proposed model of sustainable university development can be used as the basis for post-war reconstruction. This will lead not to a simple restoration of HEIs to their pre-war level, but beyond that a transformation of their educational, research, economic and international activities in accordance with the best international practices and European values. The authors see prospects for further research in the testing of the authors’ conceptual model of sustainable university development proposed in the project.

Acknowledgement. The research is carried out within the framework of the project “Sustainable University: a model of development in the post-war period”, implemented with the support of the European Educational Research Association (EERA) and the Ukrainian Educational Research Association (UERA).

Key Messages

  1. Higher education institutions are more than a place for obtaining knowledge and competencies; they are the centres for accumulating the country’s intellectual capital, they are the research and training hubs, and they are the agents of sustainable changes in society. 
  2. The world’s leading universities are demonstrating how to progressively transform their activities in line with sustainable principles. They are investing heavily in the implementation of the latest technologies for energy saving, water conservation, campus landscaping and waste recycling.
  3. The main directions of sustainable development in higher education institutions are sustainable development of the campus, sustainable educational programmes and courses, sustainable research, and management.
  4. The authors’ conceptual model of sustainable university development consists of the following blocks:  sustainable teaching,  sustainable research,  sustainable campus, and sustainable partnership.
Dr Iryna Didenko

Dr Iryna Didenko

Associate Professor of the Department of Foreign Languages of the Faculty of Economics of Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, Ukraine

British Council teacher and teacher trainer in the following projects: English for Universities, English for Civil Servants, English in a New Context: Grades 5 – 9, Teaching English in Difficult Times, SWITLO: Skills and Well-being in Teacher Learning Opportunities.

Research fields: higher education, quality assurance in HEIs, sustainable development in HEIs, assessment and motivation in HEIs.

Dr Nataliia Kholiavko

Dr Nataliia Kholiavko

Professor of the Department of Finance, Banking and Insurance of Chernihiv Polytechnic National University, Ukraine

In 2012, Nataliia Kholiavko defended her PhD thesis on the topic “Management of Scientific and Educational International Projects in the Systems of State Innovation Policy”. In 2019, Nataliia defended her doctoral dissertation on the topic “Strategy for Ensuring the Adaptability of the Higher Education System to the Information Economy Conditions”.

Since 2017, Nataliia Kholiavko is the scientific leader and/or executor of educational projects: “Integrated Model of Competitive Higher Education In Ukraine under The Quadruple Helix Concept”; “Improving the Organization of Training for Personnel with Higher Education for the Development of High-Tech Industries in Ukraine”; “Sustainable University: a Model of Development in the Post-War Period”; “Promoting Professional Education and Active Participation of Students through the Establishment of a Comprehensive System of Mentoring and Tutoring in Higher Education Institutions”, “Distance Education for Future: best EU practices in Response to the Requests of Modern Higher Education Seekers and Labor Market”.

Other blog posts on similar topics:

References and Further Reading

Kholiavko, N., & Didenko, I. (2023). World Experience of University Sustainable Development. Economics & Education, 8(1), 89-104.

Kholiavko, N., & Didenko, I. (2023). Conceptual Model of Tthe University Sustainable Development. Studies in Comparative Education, (1), 40–54.

Ukrainian Higher Education and the International Education Community in the Context of Russian Assault on Ukraine 

Ukrainian Higher Education and the International Education Community in the Context of Russian Assault on Ukraine 

On the 24th of February 2022, the world witnessed the most unexpected and unbelievable turn of events – a full-scale war in a country located in geographical Europe. Russian government and military, in cooperation with their partners in Belarus, launched a military assault on Ukraine’s infrastructure, civilians’ lives, freedoms, and sovereignty. Higher education (HE), along with other areas of life, has taken a backstage while people have been sheltering and/or fleeing to seek safety. Nevertheless, the backstage for Ukrainian wounded HE in these circumstances does not mean a full submergence by the war.

The number of damaged or destroyed educational establishments, including higher education institutions (HEIs), has been growing. Ukrainian academics and students are among those feeling the country seeking safety. Some students still hope there will be a chance to come back to their studies in Ukraine. Other members of the HE student community in Ukraine are staying, putting on a soldier’s uniform, and fighting for Ukraine. Some still manage to continue with their studies in various formats in the regions less affected by the war after the initial impact, as the Ukrainian government supports HEIs in ensuing uninterrupted payment of academics’ salaries.

The Ukrainian government and other HE stakeholders in Ukraine have been developing ways to support Ukrainian HE. For instance, on the 12th of March 2022, the Ukrainian Rectors’ Union supported the initiative of the Ukrainian Ministry of Education and Science: to cancel the requirement for final year upper-secondary school students to pass the final exams (State Final Attestation) as well as the External Education Assessment previously used to determine university entrance; to simplify the rules for applying for master’s degrees in 2022 and cancelling the final exam ‘Krok’ at medical universities; to give the right to HEIs to set the amount of tuition fees; to request that the government of Ukraine increases the number of students by 30% whose fees would be waived for 2022 start, particularly for prospective students from the most affected regions of Ukraine; to appeal to all universities to donate one day’s pro-rata salary of academics to supporting Ukrainian soldiers, etc.

Such measures are being actively discussed and further solutions are being negotiated at multiple meetings with various Ukrainian stakeholders and international guests. An example is the online Open Consultation on the 16th of May 2022 with presenters such as the rector from a Ukrainian university, the leader of the non-governmental organisation ‘Emotional Intelligence Institute’, the director of the Ukrainian Start-up Fund, and an Association Professor from Lithuania.

Ukrainian HEIs have received a lot of support from the international community that has been watching the impact of the war on Ukraine, including its HE sector. For example, following the bombing of Karazin University in Kharkiv in Ukraine on the 2nd of March 2022, universities from other countries (e.g., Austria, Italy, Spain, Cyprus, Slovakia, Latvia, Poland, Romania, Senegal, and Turkey) sent their letters of support to Karazin University, condemning Russia’s aggression.

In another example, the Estonian University of Tartu has generously offered mental health support to Ukrainian academics as well as support with applications for studies and academic jobs for Ukrainians. Similarly, Polish National Agency for Academic Exchanges (NAWA) has launched a program of support for Ukrainian undergraduate and postgraduate students to continue their studies in Poland free of charge between March and September 2022. Comparable conditions have been guaranteed to 51 Ukrainian researchers who are going to continue their work in Poland, supported by the Polish National Research Centre. These are a handful of examples to illustrate the measures that have been so generously developed by other countries to support the Ukrainian higher education community.

Such developments have been an expected chain reaction to other important milestones in the changing geopolitics of the international HE space. Early examples include:  the announcement of the European Commission on the 3rd of March 2022 about ceasing its cooperation with Russian entities in the area of education and research; on the 7th of March, Quacquarelli Symonds announced the plan to exclude Russian and Belarus HEIs from international university rankings; subsequently, the European Association for Quality Assurance in HE (ENQA) Board issued a statement on the 8th of March 2022 in response to the war about suspending the rights of their member and affiliate agencies in Russia. Organisations of different executive power in Ukraine and HEIs have also been actively pursuing justice in the face of the brute force of the invaders, holding consultations with multiple international organisations regarding breaking the ties with the aggressors in the area of HE. A couple of examples include appealing to the international-level coordinators of the European Education Research Association and the European Higher Education Area.

An appeal was made by the Ukrainian Education Research Association – the biggest and most influential national-level research organisation in Ukraine. It issued an open letter with a request for action to its sister organisations in the European Education Research Association (EERA) on the 4th of March 2022, following  EERA’s timely statement about condemning the war. In response, on the 13th of April 2022, EERA unanimously and unequivocally denounced the invasion of Ukraine, and announced a few generous ways of supporting educational research in Ukraine, such as cancelling the need for Ukraine to pay EERA membership fees, granting free entry to all Ukrainian researchers to the conferences organised by EERA, committing to continue working to develop funding opportunities for Ukrainian researchers, and more.

In another example, the Minister of Education and Science of Ukraine addressed the international Bologna Follow-up Group which coordinates the work of the European Higher Education Area on the 1st of March 2022 with a request for them to lobby for justice and break ties with Russia. A similar letter followed from the Ukrainian Education Research Association on the 28th of March 2022. European countries were divided in whether to break the ties with Russia in the area of research and education, including HE. This was because academic cooperation was still seen by some as a potential tool to save the lost diplomacy with Russia and override the disinformation campaign within the Russian borders. However, these optimistic voices were set aback by the statement made by Russia’s Rectors’ Union in early March, which openly supported Russia’s propaganda which masks the war under the disguise of ‘a special military operation’. In this statement, Russia’s Rectors’ Union maintains: ‘This is Russia’s decision to finally end the eight-year confrontation between Ukraine and Donbas, achieve the demilitarisation and denazification of Ukraine, and thereby protect itself from growing military threats’. This disgrace on behalf of Russian rectors is disheartening.

This could not have gone unnoticed by the international Bologna Follow-up Group which met on the 11-12th of April 2022 and issued a statement about suspending the memberships of Russia and Belarus in the European Higher Education Area. This membership suspension did not mean, however, burning all the bridges with Russia and Belarus since Bologna Follow-up Group has asked in the statement everyone affiliated with the EHEA to offer support and protection to those actively condemning the war at their own risk.

This description of the examples above of the apparent shift in the international geopolitics of HE and the national-level adjustments to the war in the Ukrainian HE sector suggests the onset of long-term changes and subsequent consequences for the structure of the Ukrainian HE, the HE of the countries that are hosting representatives of the Ukrainian HE community and helping them in other ways, and consequences for international cooperation in HE more broadly. These changes are emerging as an area which calls for academics to advocate for democracy and be at the forefront of the (re)production of knowledge and truth about HE in the dynamic context of the war.

Research into this area is needed for evidence-based policy-making to support the Herculean task of the Ukrainian HE community to handle the situation and preserve its identity. It is also essential for developing further the so-called ‘protective factors’ currently in place, illustrated above, such as the generous support of other countries and external organisations, policy adjustments both in Ukraine and abroad, and technological opportunities connecting people and enabling communication and joint decisions. Pathways should also be explored for mitigating possible risks resulting from the developments, such as a potential brain drain in Ukraine, the marginalisation of those from Ukraine who do not receive support or those abroad who cannot benefit from the opportunities that have now been channelled to tackle the consequences of the war, and the difficulty of promoting democracy through HE in the world which the war has changed.

Key Messages

There has been an apparent shift in the international geopolitics of HE and the national-level adjustments to the war in the Ukrainian HE sector.

These developments suggest the onset of long-term changes and subsequent consequences for the structure of the Ukrainian HE, the HE of the countries that are hosting representatives of the Ukrainian HE community and helping them in other ways, and consequences for international cooperation in HE more broadly.

These changes are emerging as an area which calls for academics to advocate for democracy and be at the forefront of the (re)production of knowledge and truth about HE in the dynamic context of the war.

Dr Iryna Kushnir

Dr Iryna Kushnir

Dr Iryna Kushnir is currently a Senior Lecturer in Education Studies at Nottingham Trent University. She previously worked at the University of Sheffield and the University of Edinburgh.

Dr Kushnir’s interdisciplinary research interests combine the following main areas: higher education, education policy, European integration, post-Soviet transition and migration. Her interdisciplinary approach has led to empirical and theoretical contributions, which reveal how education policy on the one hand and Europeanisation processes and post-Soviet transition on the other hand are interrelated and mutually shape one another.

Twitter: @IrynaKushnir7

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