Ukrainian Politicians and Fake Dissertations

A few weeks ago, Ukraine’s mass media aired the allegation that the country’s former Prime Minister and one of the leaders of Euromaidan people’s uprising, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, plagiarized significant portions of his dissertation. The allegation says that around seventy pages of Yatsenyuk’s dissertation contain material plagiarized from different sources, of which thirty nine pages are completely plagiarized and another seven pages translated from English without proper attribution to the original source. The detailed page-by-page analysis is made publically available on-line. Yatsenyuk defended his dissertation in 2004, when he served as the first vice-president of the National Bank of Ukraine. He also served as the Minister of Economy, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and even chaired Ukraine’s Parliament in different periods of his political career. For some reason, the dissertation on banking supervision and regulation was defended not in Kiev, but in Sumy, a small city in one of Ukraine’s provinces.

Allegations of a plagiarized dissertation and undeserved doctoral degree are not new for Ukraine. The country’s political and academic life is rich with this kind of allegation. The most recent one was that of the Minister of Culture’s spouse, Kateryna Kyrylenko. Almost one third of her dissertation is allegedly plagiarized, while language and style are well below that expected of a doctoral dissertation. Kyrylenko serves as the Head of the Department of Philosophy at Kiev National University of Culture and Arts. She dismisses such allegations as baseless, politically motivated and aimed at her husband’s reputation. The loudest case of a dubious doctorate was that of Ukraine’s former dictator, Victor Yanukovych. In his short autobiographic statement, written by hand, Yanukovych mentions his academic rank of “proffessor” with double “f”. This orthographic error caused a wave of cynical remarks regarding the then President Yanukovych’s academic merits and doctoral degrees. As a result of the scandal, “Proffessor” became one of the dictator’s nicknames. Despite the largely negative publicity, none of the scandals thus far have resulted in a proper investigation, let alone disciplinary action.

The widespread faculty misconduct, corruption and degree fraud make Ukraine’s doctoral degrees similar to its national currency—value steadily depreciates. This depreciation trend led to the point when Ukraine’s doctoral degrees lost any value even in its neighboring Eastern and Central Europe region. But the problem is even more complicated: there is no need for politicians or other wealthy individuals to write or plagiarize their dissertations. This task can easily be outsourced to professionals. A study of corruption in doctoral education, conducted in 2016, resulted in the discovery of forty six dissertation-writing firms in Ukraine. A similar study conducted in 2009 documented only eighteen such firms. This implies that despite the on-going economic and political crisis and the war, the number of providers of ghost-written dissertations in the country has almost tripled over the last seven years. It is hard to say how many more fake doctorates this increase has brought to Ukraine. The true scale of doctoral degree fraud remains unknown.

Despite the illicit nature of the business, some estimates are possible. If one is to assume that each firm produces at least a dozen dissertations in different fields and disciplines a year, then the total would be around six hundred, which is one quarter of all dissertations defended in the country. And if it is more than a dozen, than one third of all defended dissertations in Ukraine may be ghost-written. The exact number of politicians, state bureaucrats, civil servants, and academics bearing fake doctoral degrees is unlikely to be revealed by any study. Nevertheless, one thing is clear—that doctoral education in Ukraine is in deep crisis and this crisis is only getting worse. This is no longer a transitory crisis, explained by the lack of state funding and control. This is an indication of failed state education policy and widespread unethical behavior among academics that undermines social cohesion.

The abysmal state of doctoral education in Ukraine reflects the collapse of academic integrity and demonstrates both institutional and societal failure to maintain the reliability of the process of knowledge creation and transfer. This is a “new normal” in doctoral education. Ironically, this does not prevent Ukraine’s political officialdom and academic community from withholding recognition of doctoral degrees from top world class universities. Apparently, Stanford or Harvard is not good enough for Ukraine. This implies that while Ukraine does not recognize foreign educational credentials, the rest of the world should recognize Ukrainian degrees. This attitude by Ukraine’s academia is obviously counterproductive.

While fake doctorates continue to multiply, Ukrainian government shows little concern. Dissertations-on-order services are accompanied by offerings of all other services needed to qualify for a doctorate, including writing and publishing academic articles in state-approved scholarly journals. These firms do not limit their offerings to any particular discipline or a group of disciplines, providing the clients with scholarly works in any discipline, from the most popular fields of economics and law to the most expensive medical sciences. The total cost of a doctorate may be tens of thousands US dollars. This is quite impressive for a country where university faculty members survive on $100 to $200 a month. High prices of fake doctorates may be prohibitive for some interested faculty members, but quite affordable for politicians and businessmen.

The cost-benefit analysis shows that buying a dissertation and a doctoral degree is in many cases a good investment – a doctorate can pay for itself. Anticipated appointments and promotions, higher salaries and benefits, professional respect and social status make state bureaucrats pay for ghost-written dissertations. Faculty members play three distinct roles in this corruption business, including that of customers, ghost-writers, and gatekeepers. Given the low ethical standards in both the academia and state bureaucracy, ethical considerations appear to be simply out of place. Fighting firms-providers of ghost written dissertations with legal means is unlikely to bring any drastic changes, especially if top politicians, legislators and law enforcers use such services. As long as there is demand, there will be supply.

Ararat L. Osipian holds a Ph.D. in Education and Human Development from Peabody College of Education at Vanderbilt University. He is a Pontica Magna Fellow at New Europe Foundation, Bucharest and spent over three years conducting fieldwork on corruption, hybrid war, and the failed state in Ukraine.

Osipian, Ararat. (2017). Ukrainian Politicians and Fake Dissertations. Inside Higher Education, The World View, May 30, 2017.

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