National institution of higher learning [національний вищий навчальний заклад; natsionalnyi vyshchyi navchalnyi zaklad]. The highest and most prestigious status for institutions of higher learning in Ukraine with the fourth, highest, level of accreditation, granted by the decision of the president of Ukraine (or, in rare cases, by the resolution of the Supreme Council of Ukraine). The first postsecondary schools to have been granted the ‘national university’ status in 1994 were Kyiv University (today Kyiv National University), Kyiv-Mohyla Academy (today National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy), and Ukrainian State Agrarian University (today National University of Life and Environmental Sciences of Ukraine) by the decision of the then President of Ukraine Leonid Kravchuk. According to the Statute of National Institutions of Higher Learning enacted by the decree of President Leonid Kuchma in 1995, the status could be conferred only on the most renowned schools provided they enjoyed a long-standing good international reputation; employed the faculty members ‘recognized nationally or internationally’; played an active role in the implementation of ‘the ideal of national revival and development of Ukraine’; had good prospects of future development, etc. In spite of the fact that these conditions were vaguely defined, the status of a ‘national institution of higher learning’ carried with itself two concrete privileges: funding through special government quotas and a permission to set higher salary rates.

Initially, the government intended to grant the status of a ‘national institution of higher learning’ to not more than three postsecondary institutions within each branch of knowledge and education. The number of such branches grew from 13 in the late 1990s to 17 in 2013, and so the number of ‘national institutions of higher learning’ could not exceed 51. Yet, in reality as the number of universities, colleges, and academies soared, so did the number of institutions with the ‘national status’ among them (reaching 118 in 2019). Critics of this process explained such a steep increase in numbers by the system of political patronage whereby the ‘national status’ was granted in exchange for an electoral support of the president and his chosen political party in cities and regions where such institutions were located.

The highest number of ‘national statuses’ was granted to the institutions of higher learning by President Leonid Kuchma (79), followed by President Viktor Yushchenko (26), and President Viktor Yanukovych (9). Contrary to the initial intent to limit the number of ‘national institution of higher learning’ to three per each branch of knowledge, already by 2010 the limit set by the law of 1995 was considerably exceeded in certain branches. For instance, there were 22 institutions with the ‘national status’ among classical universities, 15 among technical universities, 10 among technological universities, and 10 among agricultural universities. In 2014, following the implementation of a new law on higher education, an independent collegial organ, the National Agency for Higher Education Quality Assurance, was set up. Their objective of monitoring institutions of higher learning included the task of making recommendations on all issues related to acquiring, confirming, or losing the satus of the ‘national institution of higher learning.’ Accordingly, each institution is now required to submit annual reports to the National Agency and to undergo, once every seven years, a comprehensive review to demonstrate that it continues to meet all of the criteria necessary for maintaining its ‘national status.’ In 2017, the Ministry of Education, in consultation with the National Agency, issued a new set of ‘Criteria for Granting and Confirming the Status of a National Institution of Higher Learning,’ with an implicit goal of bringing more transparency into a rather chaotic field of higher education in post-Soviet Ukraine and to limit the number of ‘national institutions’ to the most viable ones. These criteria include: the compliance with the law on higher education; a positive review (certification) from the National Agency; providing truthful information on university web sites; maintaining a strict ratio of students to faculty members with doctoral degrees; the requirement of international research and/or teaching experience of faculty members; and the expectation that a certain proportion of faculty members have publications in peer-reviewed journals recognized by the international citation databases, such as Scopus and the Web of Science. While many faculty members have raised concerns about an increasing bureaucratization of Ukraine’s higher education in recent years, the reform has proven successful in that it introduced much needed clarity in the process of acquiring the status of the ‘national institution of higher learning’ and detached it from a longtime practice of political patronage.

As of 2019, after a few self-proclaimed ‘national institutions’ had been stripped of their status, there were 118 national universities, colleges, and academies, including those evacuated from the Russian-occupied Crimea and the occupied parts of Donetsk oblast and Luhansk oblast. In 2019, the numbers of ‘national institutions of higher learning’ in each oblast of Ukraine were as follows: Cherkasy oblast: 2; Chernihiv oblast: 2; Chernivtsi oblast: 1; Crimea: 1; Dnipropetrovsk oblast: 3; Donetsk oblast: 5; Ivano-Frankivsk oblast: 2; Kharkiv oblast: 18; Kherson oblast: 1; Khmelnytskyi oblast: 2; Kirovohrad oblast: 1; Kyiv oblast: 35; Luhansk oblast: 3; Lviv oblast: 8; Mykolaiv oblast: 3; Odesa oblast: 10; Poltava oblast: 3; Rivne oblast: 2; Sumy oblast: 2; Ternopil oblast: 4; Transcarpathia oblast: 1; Vinnytsia oblast: 3; Volhynia oblast: 2; Zaporizhia oblast: 3; and Zhytomyr oblast: 1.

Stadnyi, Iehor. ‘Status natsional'noho VNZ: politychnyi vymir’
Pro polozhennia pro natsional'nyi zaklad (ustanovu) Ukrainy
Nikulina, Olena; Kshevets'kyi, Volodymyr; Tereshchuk, Vitalii, Vykonannia kryteriїv nadannia ta pidtverdzhennia statusu natsional'noho zakladu vyshchoї osvity (Kyiv 2019)
Pro zatverdzhennia poriadku ta kryteriїv nadannia zakladu vyshchoї osvity statusu natsional'noho, pidtverdzhennia chy pozbavlennia tsioho statusu [November 22, 2017]п

Serhiy Bilenky

[This article was written in 2020.]

Encyclopedia of Ukraine