Volodymyr Smolanka: "UzhNU is a European university with the spirit of democracy"

Volodymyr Smolanka: "UzhNU is a European university with the spirit of democracy"

The rector of Uzhhorod National University Professor Volodymyr Smolanka is the only doctor in Ukraine, who is the manager of a classical university, the President of the Ukrainian Association of Neurosurgeons and the only Ukrainian expert who has coaching experience with European Medical Associations. We had a conversation with Mr. Smolanka about the current situation in the largest educational institution of Transcarpathia, its plans for the near future and Rector’s activity in the field of medicine.

On reforms

- Mr. Smolanka! Could you tell us about the current state of affairs at UzhNU. What is the situation with the reforming of the university?

- Uzhhorod National University is the largest institution of Transcarpathia, which deals with the formation of human capital, intellectual and technological potential. At present, the university enrolls more than 14,000 students.

 The second semester of the current academic year began three weeks ago. We were one of very few Ukrainian universities which did it in time. Most universities started training only from February 27,, 2017, because their poor financial situation did not allow them to pay full cost of utilities in the winter season and ensure payment of salaries. Even some leading Ukrainian universities sent their employees on unpaid leave at the beginning of the year and deprived their employees of fringe benefits for scientific degrees and titles at least for the spring semester of the academic year 2016-2017. It is important that we were able to avoid such negative aspects. Of course, raising the minimum salary imposed additional burden on our budget and we were forced to reduce expenses on reconstruction, overhaul and purchase of new items. Nevertheless, positive changed begun in recent years will continue.

The decision of the Academic Council on reorganization of UzhNU was put into action on the first of February, 2017. The Faculty of International Politics, Management and Business, the Faculty of History and the Faculty of International Relations were reorganized. The Faculty of History and International Relations and the Faculty of International Economic Relations were created on their basis. The Faculty of Healthcare was also restructured. The Department of Physical Education was joined to it and now we have the Faculty of Healthcare and Physical Education. Ukrainian-Hungarian Educational and Scientific Institute was formed on the basis of the Faculty of Humanities and Natural Sciences with the Hungarian Language of Teaching and Hungarology Center.

 As a result of the reorganization, there are 20 faculties and two educational and scientific institutes at UzhNU at present. If we analyse the structure of the largest foreign and Ukrainian universities, we can see that they have fewer faculties than we do. It’s a common trend to create large faculties with a large number of students, highly qualified teaching staff and modern logistics. All this is done for adequate concentration of resources in order to achieve better results in academic and research activities. For example, Masaryk University in Brno enrolls about 36 thousand students and has only 9 faculties. The University of Vienna has 15 faculties with 94,000 students.

- Does it mean that the reorganization and consolidation of faculties of UzhNU will occur in the future?

- Probably, yes, and the decisions on reorganization of the faculties will be taken only in case it will bring benefits to the university in the future. It will also depend on the number of students.

- What‘s the situation at the reorganized faculties?

 - In general, reorganization processes are perceived positively. At present, meetings of the staff are held; the process of formation of Academic Councils is going on. The reorganization is done according to the plan and there is no doubt that the faculties will benefit from it.

On admission campaign

 - UzhNU is already living with a new admission campaign in mind. What innovations will future applicants face?

 The Admission Committee of UzhNU has already developed rules of admission to Uzhhorod National University in 2017 in accordance with the rules of admission to higher educational institutions of Ukraine 2017, approved by the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine. UzhNU was one of the first to publish them on its official website. There are some novelties, since there have been a lot of reforms in the field of education, particularly, higher educationin recent years.

 One can find more details on this year’s admission rules on the official website of the university

All applications must be submitted online. Starting from June, 29 applicants may register their electronic offices and download appendices to certificates about secondary education. From July 12, 2017 they can start submitting their applications and documents. This year, entrants will be able to submit 9 applications for 4 different specialities. Competition score for admission to the first year of study on the basis of complete secondary education is calculated as in previous years.

 This year’s novelty is that the final entrant’s score will be obtained by multiplying to the regional index (1.02) and, in some cases, field of knowledge index (1.03) and rural one (1.02).

 I want to draw school leavers’ attention to the fact that we conduct career guidance competitions for the first time this year. If an applicant successfully performs in one of these competitions, they can add up to twenty points to their testing results in one of the subjects, but they should bare in mind that this rule applies only to the specialities listed in Annex 4 to Admission Rules.

- Despite the increased interest in higher education, the competition between universities is growing every year ...

 - Well, the competition between universities is very high, indeed. Now we also have to compete with foreign universities which have become quite popular among Ukrainian school leavers recently. They are, of course, attracted by the possibility of obtaining a diploma of an EU state. This is often the only compelling argument. Sometimes, foreign universities attract applicants by free education. In fact, it is not always true, because  student don’t pay tuition fees, but they have to buy textbooks, methodological manuals, pay for accommodation in hostels and it's a lot of money. It’s almost impossible to get a scholarship there.

 Unfortunately, entrants and their parents don’t always pay attention to the quality of educational services provided by foreign universities. Very often they are not high. In recent years, we have regularly received requests to engage our experts to delivering lectures at various universities in the neighboring countries. It doesn’t only show high professional level of our teachers, but also points to the lack of qualified teaching staff there. Moreover, I want to say that diplomas of UzhNU are recognized in the world. Our graduates can easily work in any institution in the West. There are extremely favourable employment conditions for our graduates in the neighboring countries. This summer I came across two UzhNU graduates in one of the most powerful research centers of Europe in Trieste (Italy), which hosts the largest European center for laser technology. Seven graduates of our university work for the laboratories and research units of the Faculty of Physics of Charles University in Prague. It is the best evidence that UzhNU diplomas and recognized and are the sign of high quality education obtained at UzhNU.

- How is UzhNU going to attract applicants?

- We have highly qualified teaching staff, we constantly open new training courses, new education programs. Currently, the University employs 146 doctors of science, professors and 698 candidates of science. We regularly invite famous people, interesting personalities to deliver lectures; discussions and round tables on various topical issues for young people are constantly held at UzhNU. More than 280 of our students participated in various international academic exchange programs in 2016. Our university supports European values, therefore the spirit of democracy and freedom prevails at UzhNU.

On the financial situation

 - Where do you get money for repairs? They are expensive, aren’t they?

 - It would be impossible to do so much work, if the financial situation of the university weren’t positive. Having carefully studied rectors’ reports of the leading higher educational institutions of Ukraine, I can say that no other Ukrainian university could afford doing such a significant amount of work as we did. Even the largest universities of the country did only current repairs in 2016. Last year, our university spent 14 million 329 thousand UAH on major construction, major renovation and current repairs. It became possible owing to the development strategy of the university and balanced, not adventurous financial policy. In 2016, we filled up our special funds, doubling its revenues over the last three years.

On medical work

 - Being a busy university leader, you continue working as a doctor. You operate on more than 200 patients annually. When you have to choose between going to an operating room or having an important meeting, which might affect further development of the university, what do you choose?

- I don’t have to make such choice, because I carefully plan my time. I work at the clinic from 12 to 3 p.m., I operate almost every day, including Saturdays. I spend morning hours in my university office and come back there in the afternoon and continue to work until the evening. Me and Vice-Rectors often stay in the office till 8 p.m. to solve the issues important for the university.

 - You are an instructor of the European Association of Neurosurgical Societies. Tell us about your participation in its activity.

- Annually, the Association holds three courses within the programme of a four-year course for neurosurgeons of Europe. These courses are very popular. The teaching staff is made up of 30 best neurosurgeons of Europe. Our students assess lectures and workshops. If a trainer gets low scores he or she is replaced by another one. On completing the course, students take the European examination in neurosurgery, which consists of two parts: the first is a written exam, which was passed only by 28% of the audience last year, and an oral exam, which is taken only by those who succeeded in the first stage (it is passed by up to 70%). In the history of independent Ukraine only two neurosurgeons successfully passed the European exam. I’m pleased, that they are both employees of Uzhhorod Center of Neurosurgery and Neurology. This institution is one of the best clinics of the University and both doctors teach part-time at UzhNU.