Supporting universities in Ukraine towards becoming hubs for innovation

Bo Kelestyn, Dmytro Chumachenko, and Anna Petrova set out how UK-Ukraine collaboration can strengthen Ukraine's innovation capability

Bo Kelestyn is Associate Professor at the Warwick Business School and co-leader of the Leadership for Educational Transformation programme for education leaders from Ukraine

Dmytro Chumachenko is an Associate Professor at the National Aerospace University Kharkiv Aviation Institute

Anna Petrova is founder and chief executive of Startup Ukraine

While almost all headlines are about the awful hardships of war, it will have gone almost unnoticed that in December 2023 Ukraine has announced, albeit from a bomb shelter, its Innovation Vision for 2030, symbolically titled WINWIN.

We view the link between education and innovation as a well understood one and largely well-functioning in the UK HE sector. We believe that UK-Ukraine collaborations can strengthen innovation in Ukraine by working together, to help ensure a prosperous future for the country.

Through external assessment, underpinned by the REF, TEF and KEF, UK universities engage in, continuously advance, and measure their innovation related activities and social value regionally and nationally. In Ukraine, several ministries are responsible for the transfer and exchange of technologies and knowledge, coordinated by the Ministry of Education and Science (MOES).

The “Lack of Legal Framework and Economic Incentives for University-Business Collaboration” (Problem 3 identified by the MOES in its assessment of the sector in 2023-24) has been identified as one of the key challenges for HE. In addition to this, the sector is also facing the “Unpreparedness of Higher Education Institutions to Conduct Business-Relevant Applied Research and Create Innovative Intellectual Products for the Economy” (Problem 8).

Ukraine is currently the 63rd knowledge economy in the world according to the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). Between 2020 and 2022, the average amount of income to the separately set up fund for scientific projects and collaborations was UAH 8,000 for state funded and managed HE institutions. For 13 per cent of employees, this income exceeds UAH 20,000, for 15 per cent of employees, it ranges from UAH 10,000 to 20,000, and for 57 per cent, it ranges from UAH 500 to 10,000.

According to research outlined in WINWIN, scientific capacity lower than 0.9 per cent of GDP has more of a cognitive capacity, and less than 0.3 per cent is merely sociocultural. Ukraine was at 0.7 per cent in 2013 (before the annexation of Crimea and invasion of Donbas), 0.29 per cent in 2021 and 0.33 per cent in 2022. For comparison, according to 2021 data, Germany is 3.13 per cent and US 3.46 per cent. There is no data for 2023 onwards, but we suspect this indicator has once again dropped significantly.

To transform the role of HE in boosting innovation in Ukraine, MOES sees the formation of “innovative centers with a university core” as a key priority. For this, Ukrainian HE needs:

  • Expertise and support with developing and nurturing innovation centres. This also includes skills and capabilities for developing business plans and investment projects.
  • National and international partnerships to generate impactful investments to create innovation centers, and build an ecosystem from which student and staff startups can be launched and nurtured
  • Financial support for scholarships and grants that can support the launch and scaling of innovative student and staff startups

Barriers and support for enhancing Ukraine’s participation in the international research community have been identified by Dmytro Chumachenko in another article in this series. There is also a great need for non-financial support in accessing expertise for establishing innovation capabilities, centres and clusters. The UK HE can offer support in the areas of knowledge exchange, enterprise education, and transparency.

Innovation and knowledge exchange ecosystems

Ukraine has some experience establishing innovation stimulating environments, such as the Igor Sikorski National Polytechnika Science Park within a University, a state enterprise and project aimed at developing entrepreneurial ecosystem Diia.Business, and the network of

Centres for Collective Use of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, but there is less knowhow in developing effective clusters of innovation and collaboration between education, research and innovation. Ukraine can learn from the UK success stories of innovation, industrial and science parks, defining the concept and the functions, terms of reference and what successful collaboration, embedding and monitoring looks like.

Such initiatives do rely on financial investment, but primarily these are about building networks. Learning from the UK experience of fostering and maintaining interdisciplinary collaborations, especially where there are success stories or lessons to be learnt from regional collaboration for transferring technologies and utilising resources would be especially helpful.

Techno centres such as the one at Coventry University, shared maker spaces, centres of excellence would all present valuable lessons from effective resource pooling and competition. Not to mention sharing success stories and learnings from the KEF (REF and TEF), as well as studying the experience and role of the Higher Education Innovation Funding (HEIF). This may present opportunities to develop collaborative knowledge exchange programmes that allow to develop scientific leadership as well develop new management practices and mindsets for managing and growing such clusters.

One of the key issues is the absence of a platform for collaboration and communication within and between institutions. Bodies such as Enterprise Educators UK, the ETC toolkit, and its associated Fellowship programme can also offer significant lessons to the HE sector in Ukraine, not only in terms of developing curriculum and teaching excellence in the area of enterprise education, but also recognising and celebrating individual achievements and leadership, fostering world-class entrepreneurial development, whilst bolstering the international reach and influence of the UK enterprise education excellence.

Enterprise education

Enterprise education is a key part of the strategy and is envisioned to play a part in a learner’s experience starting at school. Universities will play an especially important role in allowing learners to expand their potential and apply learning from previous stages. The most well regarded programmes offered by the Kyiv School of Economics, the Lviv Business School, part of the Ukrainian Catholic University, and the programme and platform for youth, Business School KNU at the Kyiv National University. Entrepreneurship already plays a significant role in Ukraine’s economy, enabled by favourable legislation and digital transformation of government services and support. It is expected to grow in significance as Ukraine rebuilds now and post-victory. Considering a growing need for innovative solutions to humanitarian and sustainability challenges, social enterprise and human centred innovation will grow in significance and demand too.

Organisations such as Start up Ukraine and the Ukrainian Startup Fund are leading Ukraine’s enterprise education and we have seen some early successes of the Twinning through the PNU and East Anglia hackathon. More support is needed to help develop interdisciplinary educational frameworks, holistic curricula that include tools and mindsets, standards, educational excellence when it comes to enterprise education. It is crucial that this is done in partnership with learners, and the needs of the economy.

Trust is the biggest barrier faced by Ukraine’s HE sector in this space. UCL’s The Next Generation of Entrepreneurs for Ukraine and Oxford’s Mission Possible as well as the government level digital partnership UK-Ukraine TechBridge will significantly bolster the enterprise culture and outcomes for learners. More is needed to open access on the ground, and to develop self-sustaining enterprise educational leadership in Ukraine’s HE.

Impact evaluation and transparency

With existing concerns in Ukraine’s HE sector around integrity and transparency, ethical considerations will play a significant role in the recovery as well as decolonisation of the education and the innovation ecosystem. Effective impact evaluation and governance will be crucial. This is to ensure transparent and effective growth of HE based innovation, as well as to ensure that commercially driven research activity is evaluated for its ethicality and conflict of interest.

This is also significant in the context of research-led teaching. As the innovation and research capacity of an HE institution increases, so would its utilisation of research and innovation in the curriculum. As it starts to “shape the content and development of educational programs and contribute to the rise of Ukrainian higher education institutions in global rankings,” it will also be boosting trust for the innovation activities of HE providers and confidence in the proficiency of graduates in the latest innovative thinking.

By linking HE, research and innovation and learning from the latest UK thought leadership in the creation of such knowledge and innovation ecosystems, Ukraine can create new types of universities that have a lot to offer to its economy and people, as well as the world.

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