Faced with the largest refugee movement in Europe since 1945, Western universities have responded admirably to the plight of students displaced by Russia’s war on Ukraine.
Thousands of scholarships, fellowships and study opportunities have been offered by institutions from Warsaw to Washington and Manchester to Madrid, with university campuses likely to welcome many more Ukrainian students starting this term.
The question of whether many of these students will ever return to Ukraine is, for some, another of the tragedies befalling the country. But while the scale of the student exodus is unprecedented, the problem is not new for Ukraine: in 2021, more than 82,000 Ukrainian students were studying at foreign universities, one in 15 Ukrainian graduates leaving to study at the stranger. .
The vast majority chose Eastern European countries, led by Poland, hosting nearly half of Ukrainian students abroad. But why did so many people go to study in Poland or elsewhere? Are its universities, or those of the Czech Republic or Slovakia for that matter, powerful research universities offering much higher education? Of course not.
Instead, the answer is the Polish labor market, which creates additional value for higher education institutions in the country. How? The main reason is the high employment rate of its graduates (78%) – which is not far from the average employability rate across Europe, which reached almost 85% in 2021.
The highest rate is recorded in the Netherlands, where, like Malta, Germany, Estonia, Lithuania, Hungary, Slovenia, Sweden, Finland, Austria, Ireland and Latvia , 90% of university graduates found a job shortly after leaving university. At the back are three EU states – Greece, Italy and Spain – where employability was below 80%. So, what is the employability rate of graduates in Ukraine?
A few weeks before the arrival of Russian tanks in Ukraine, Ukraine gave its answer: 59%.
It followed an ambitious national project by the Ministry of Education to monitor the employability of graduates, which for 30 years after Ukraine’s independence was not calculated by universities or its body. regulation of higher education. Talk of graduate employability seemed, until February, more like pure philosophy than concrete strategy given the mystery surrounding what the job average really was.
The move to monitor the employability of graduates nationwide came amid growing perceptions of a skills mismatch between higher education and the labor market.
Of course, the question of choosing a university is complex, especially when an economy has been damaged by war. Students will seek decent, quality post-graduate work prospects and make their own decisions – but universities must also meet the needs of employers and local industries.
Despite fears of an economic collapse, the Ukrainian labor market is slowly starting to recover – with around 7% more new job vacancies in July than in April. Will the employability of graduates therefore also recover in the months to come, or at the end of the war? The image remains blurry.
Internationally, however, the trend for students to become more career-focused is clear. According to the “Top Study Abroad Market Trends of 2021” conducted by educations.com (10,000 prospective students in 181 countries) in October 2021, there has been a significant transformation in student motivation in the global education market. Higher Education. If three years ago, the main motives for students to study abroad were personal development and the acquisition of new cultural experiences, then in 2021, the main motive has become the achievement of career goals.
Some Ukrainian universities can report graduate employability rates above 59%, and perhaps for some programs even above the 78% observed in Poland. Now is the time for Ukrainian universities to communicate with their applicants using the analytics they value. Ignoring this wisdom is a big mistake.
Ukrainian universities must publish this information for high school graduates, however uncomfortable the numbers may be. Keeping young talent in Ukraine will be essential for the restoration of the country after the war. According to the Global Talent Competitiveness Index 2021, neighboring Poland is 21st, while Ukraine is ranked 40th.
Ukraine’s brain drain is not inevitable, but solving its longstanding problem of graduate employability will be a crucial part of the country’s post-war success.
Alexander Kostyuk is co-editor of the journal, Business ownership and control, and is based in Sumy, northeastern Ukraine. He was previously a professor at the Ukrainian Banking Academy of the National Bank of Ukraine and held visiting professorships at the Hanken School of Economics, ISTEC in Paris and the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany.