How Ukrainian universities make profit from the war

Tens of thousands fake students are avoiding mobilization. The existing system of higher education makes it possible for them
12 July 2023

Ukrainian institutes of higher education are registering unusually high surge in fee-paying students. Compared to the previous year, the number of new fee-paying student decreased almost by 40%, and by 82% when comparing only men. Some universities admitted over ten times more new male students.

Considering the significant shortage of population (according to UN data, over 5 million people were forced to leave Ukraine), there should be less fee-paying students too. In some way, that’s the case – there are less male and female students under 20, a traditional age for people entering universities. However, the number of students aged 30-50 increased multi-fold. We are talking about tens of thousands of men who suddenly decided to obtain a higher education.

The mystery is easily solved. According to the law, a student’s status guarantees deferment from the military draft during the martial law period. At the same time, the average cost of tuition was a bit over 20,000 hryvnias, and enrolment requirements in 2022 were largely simplified, especially for fee-paying students. For some specialities a simple interview or a motivational letter would suffice.

At least 85,000 of military aged men took this opportunity, according to the analysis conducted by NashiGroshi.Lviv editorial team. Taking into account the average annual tuition fee, Ukrainian universities’ additional income can be estimated at 1.7 billion hryvnias.

Below you will find detailed comparative statistics for all Ukrainian higher educational institutions based on the data from the Ministry of Education.

«It’s a better option compared to paying thousands of dollars and escaping»

Andrii Pekar, 37, і name and surname have been changed in his day graduated from the military department in Ivan Franko National University in Lviv. He openly admits that he studied there only to avoid doing military service under conscription.

«In March [2022] I received my first military summons, as it turned out that my speciality is on high demand. I ignored the summons and later received a warning about criminal liability. I was even afraid to go outside, for I thought military recruitment officers were waiting for me everywhere. When I learnt about the possibility to enrol into the Master’s degree program and receive a deferment – I instantly made a decision», Andrii Pekar informed NGL. He is getting his second degree at Lviv Polytechnic University and is even thinking about entering a PhD programme, if need be.

Serhii Chopyk і name and surname have been changed from Volyn, 33, works in an IT-company in Ukraine. He decided to enter a university once again to have a legal possibility for a draft exemption, he told NGL. As the enrolment procedure for the Master’s degree program was simplified because of the war, he didn’t have to pass a multi-test, and just submitted his papers and motivational letter to the department. «I enrolled into the Master’s degree program at Lviv Polytechnic University, because, frankly, I have no desire to do military service. I have a job and a possibility to donate fair amounts of money to support the army. I believe I will be more useful if I continue working, as I’m paying handsome taxes and donating to the Ukrainian Armed Forces. I had no problems with enrolment, as there was shortage of fee-paying students back then», says Serhii Chopyk.

He openly admits he doesn’t have much interest in the learning process itself, but attends classes from time to time to avoid being expelled.

«We are on the mixed learning system: some classes take place online and some offline. I usually skip the offline part and sometimes attend the online. Besides, I’m not giving it my all, ‘cause all I need to do is pass my exams with a minimal C, that’s it. I believe it’s a better option than paying thousands of dollars in bribes, crossing the border hiding in the tree lines and fleeing somewhere», says Serhii Chopyk, 33.

Apparently, a bunch of men his age are following the same strategy. Comparing to two previous years, Ukrainian universities enrolled 15 times more students aged 30-39. The increase is even bigger in the 40+ category.

Lviv Polytechnic University alone enrolled over three thousand students like Andrii Pekar and Serhii Chopyk: according to the Ministry of Education, the number of male fee-paying freshmen here increased by 187%.

However, there are universities where the numbers increase is even more impressive. For instance, Ivano-Frankivsk National Technical University of Oil and Gas (+406%), Lutsk National Technical University (+442%), National Forest Engineering University of Ukraine (+606%), Lviv National Nature Management University (+616%), Ukrainian Academy of Printing (+754%). Chernivtsi Institute of Economy of Commerce became the record-breaker among big universities (+1134%). The number of first yeas fee-paying students increased twelvefold (!).

For obvious reasons, the majority of these «students» enrol in Western regions. Still, the statistics shows dramatic increase in the number of fee-paying students in every region of Ukraine, except for Kherson oblast which was under occupation during the last year university admission process.

Ukrainian State University of Railway Transport in Kharkiv enrolled almost ten times more fee-paying first year students. Vice rector Vladyslav Panchenko believes it is due to the effective work of the administration and has nothing to do with the deferment.

«We conducted strong professional orientation work, first of all, to overcome the fear of studying in Kharkiv. We were explaining that, first of all, we have perfectly tested distance learning system, and, secondly, we have a strong partner, our Ukrainian railway company», explains Panchenko in his interview to NGL. «I don’t think avoiding mobilization was a key factor, we were exploring this situation».

Nadiia Kovalchuk, vice rector of Lutsk National Technical University where the number of male applicants increased almost by 450%, also assures the reason is not their desire to receive deferment from the military draft. «This increase in number of new students is due to transformational changes in our university as well as improvement in educational process quality», Nadiia Kovalchuk told NGL. «We launched new educational programs which are in demand on the job market. In 2022 we observed growing popularity of technical specialities, construction, architecture and computer technology. There’s a similar tendency in other universities».

However, some heads of Ukrainian universities admit they are not deluding themselves regarding sudden popularity of their institutions. «What is the explanation [for increase in number of fee-paying students]? The war! It’s the same in all universities», says Volodymyr Zahorskyi, rector of National Forest Engineering University in Lviv.

Instead, for some universities the number of fee-paying students remained the same or even decreased. Mostly, it is true for specialized institutes of higher education, like medical or musical, which are not that easy to enter.

«It’s definitely good for the university»

The Ministry of Education and Science don’t see any problem. «I think the situation is simpler than that. If the military command reaches the conclusion that it needs [students], legislation will change and students will be drafted. And if, let’s say, they are not indispensable at the moment, people will manage to get an additional degree and will be better prepared to various life situations, including the mobilisation», stated Oleh Sharov, General Director of the Directorate of Professional Higher Education, Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine, talking to NGL.

How is it possible to differentiate between real students and draft dodgers? The right to higher education can’t depend on the age. Even in peace time several thousand Ukrainians «above the student age» enrolled into universities every year.

Yegor Stadnyi, ex-deputy minister of education and vice rector of Kyiv School of Economics (KSE) believes that it’s possible to make an attempt to solve this problem by increasing tuition fees and raining the requirements to students. «Tuition fees in almost all Ukrainian universities are far from what true top-quality education of master’s level can be worth. The prices are even lower than what the state pays to the university for teaching government-subsidized students. This is what makes these master’s degree programs so attractive during the war. There are low requirements to students and understated price, which makes it a perfect proposal for this demand that we have now», says vice rector of KSE where the annual tuition fee varies between 55,000 and 270,0000 hryvnias.

Still, even a surge in tuition fees isn’t likely to scare the draft dodgers away; on the contrary, it will create problems for conscientious students.

A possible solution, in addition to the obviously needed raise in requirements to students as Stadnyi proposes, could be a limitation of number of fee-paying students. Judging from the 2022/2023 admission campaign, Ukrainian universities are ready to accept anyone who is paying.

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«It’s definitely good for the university. Financial situation improved for the faculty as well. A year ago, many of them had half-pay only, and now it’s two-thirds”, says Volodymyr Zahorskyi from the National Forest Engineering University where the number of fee-paying first year students increased sevenfold. We can accept even more; we have no problems with classrooms and support of academic activities».

In reality, some limitations regarding a number of fee-paying students do exist. Every higher educational establishment has a certain «ceiling»-licensed numbers for training of specialists approved in 2006-2008. However, according to the Ministry of Education and Science, in the past years higher educational institutions were covering only 20% of these limits. Our analysis shows that even the universities most popular with draft dodgers used not more than 70-80 per cent of their limits – so there’s still room to grow.

Theoretically, licensed numbers can be reduced, but only if a higher educational institution voluntarily applies for such reduction. Still, the experts we interviewed couldn’t remember a single case like that.

«Even significant increase in number of students will be fully covered by reserve places that educational institutions have. They will definitely be able to cover this load, for they have faculty and specialists», assures Oleh Sharov from the Ministry of Education. «When we talk about rooms, unfortunately, the majority of educational processes, especially in Eastern regions, are happening remotely, so it isn’t that important either».

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This article was prepared as a part of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) project with the financial support from the European Union. The publication contents is a sole responsibility of the editorial team and does not reflect the views of the European Union or the Institute for War and Peace Reporting.