Ukraine is often thought of as a country that has a good education system and, more importantly, good access to education. It looks true on the surface, but there is trouble brewing underneath. And to solve the problems that are coming, a joint effort is needed from the state, business and society.
If you take a snapshot of the country's education system, you will see that globally it ranked 7th by enrollment to higher education 2011, while its quality of math and science education ranked 36th out of 142 countries, according to the World Economic Forum study.
The United Nations Development Program ranks Ukraine's education system on the par with large European Union countries like the United Kingdom or Poland. But unfortunately, those impressive achievements are explained by the resources the nation inherited from the Soviet era.
But if you dig deeper, or if you start comparing Ukraine with other countries, the picture gets a lot less optimistic. Primary education enrollment in the past few years has been stable at 90 percent, with takes Ukraine to the 105th place in the 2011 Global Competitiveness Report by the World Economic Forum. The country is performing poorly in areas where the use of knowledge matters - for example, in the quality of management schools and on-the-job staff training.
Business has poor access to research and training services (Ukraine ranks 88th in the world), and there is little collaboration between universities and industries in research and development (70th place).
Basically, that means that the knowledge obtained in universities or technical schools is not applicable in the workplace.
The Foundation for Effective Governance conducts a detailed annual research on these issues in partnership with the WEF. By surveying over 2,000 top managers across the nation we get business to assess the nation's main education and competitiveness issues.
There are some inconsistencies in what we have found. On one hand, 39 percent of top managers argue that the nation's education system does not meet the needs of the business. Every fifth manager says that poor qualification of the labor force is a problem for doing business.
On the other hand, only 2 percent of top managers name the same factors as the most problematic for running business. Corruption and over-regulation trump education. This means that today, the Ukrainian business worries little about strategic development and well-educated and innovative workforce to drive it. It's focused on surviving.
Education-related risks and challenges vary from region to region. For example, the spread in primary education quality across 27 regions of Ukraine is equivalent to the spread in ranking across 40 countries in the WEF ranking. The same goes for internet access at schools.
The situation is even grimmer with university enrollment. While the capital has 100 percent enrollment, only 30 to 40 percent of school graduates have access to higher education in some agricultural regions - a figure that is comparable to many developing Asian or Latin American countries.
Moreover, management education in Ukraine is the worst in the region, and ranks 140th out of 142 nations assessed by WEF. For the nation's business, this means that it will become increasingly less competitive in the long run, while the gap in regional variations will be widening.
The problem needs addressing, but the question is who is to pay for it? Our study suggests that although business acknowledges the problem and suffers from it, it is very unlikely to become the driver of changes in the quality of the education system.
Ukrainian business is too short-sighted, possibly with few exceptions that only prove the rule. The state budget financing is poor and is unlikely to improve any time soon, particularly in the light of the looming external debts payments.
Perhaps, regular Ukrainians should be the ones to pay. But they would justifiably ask why, since they pay taxes. Moreover, there is usually little correlation between how much people pay for education and the quality of education they obtain.
On top of that, people are already paying quite a lot. Apart from various corruption payments (which have no relation to payment for knowledge), Ukrainians spend up to Hr 20 billion in official education fees, according to our estimates, based on opinion polls by Research & Branding Group.
This is less than the budget expenditure, but is on the same scale. However, only a fifth of that is used to improve higher education or for self-education. Most of the money is spent on secondary schools and pre-school education. Less than 4 percent covers improvements in qualifications.
It is clear that neither the business, nor the state, nor the society will be able to bring around the major positive shift needed to reset the whole education system on their own.
Only a joint effort can bring the change that will make Ukraine competitive in the globalized world. Education is the only force that is capable of driving the nation's breakthrough to eventually join the club of the most dynamically growing economies.