Belarus is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe. The core piece of legislation governing the education system is the Education Code adopted in 2011. Under Article 2 thereof, state educational policy is based on the following principles: education is a priority; universal human values and rights are a priority; humanistic nature of education; each person is guaranteed a constitutional right to education; ensuring equal access to education; general basic education is mandatory; integration into the international educational area while preserving and developing national traditions in education; environmental focus in education; support and development of education in line with the goals of the country’s socio-economic development; government-societal nature of education management; secular nature of education. Key vectors in the state educational policy include:
• Implementation of the rights, freedoms, and lawful interests of people in the sphere of education, including the right to receive education both at the expense of state and/or local budget(s) and on a paid (commercial) basis.
• Provision of special conditions to enable access to education for persons with special needs resulting from their physical or mental health status; correctional pedagogic assistance for such persons.
• Ensuring the required conditions meet the demands of individuals to education, as well as those of the society and the country to mould personalities and train skilled experts.
• Transition to mandatory general secondary (high-school) education.
• Ensuring the succession and continuity for education levels and cycles therein.
• Equal status for Belarusian and Russian languages.
|Expenditure on higher education||1,9 %|
|EuroUniversities in top 100||0|
|EuroUniversities in top 250||1|
|EuroUniversities in top 500||3|
|EuroUniversities in top 1000||20|
|Foreigner students||3,4 %|
|Enrollment rate in higher education||82,6 %|
First Cycle Programmes
1st cycle training of experts is performed by all types of institutions. Nominal duration (for full-time studies) is 4 – 4.5 years.
Branches of Study
Training is carried out in all educational profiles listed in Section 3 (overview), depending on the specific HEI’s accreditation for the programme(s) in question. Currently, education is provided in the framework of approximately 380 1st cycle programmes.
The admission requirement to a 1st cycle or integrated curricula is the general secondary education (or equivalent) that enables access to higher education, as well as passing the centralised tests. Besides Belarusians, citizens of the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are also entitled to receive education at the expense of the state budget (provided they take and pass centralised tests). Currently, citizens of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Lugansk regions can be enrolled to receive higher education at the state expense, should open vacancies be available. The 1st higher education cycle is also open to graduates with vocational training certificates (with general secondary education) and with specialised secondary education diplomas. The maximum number of students an institution can enroll depends on its licence requirements as well as its technical facilities and academic teaching staff number and composition. Every year, the number of students to receive state budget-funded education at state-owned higher education institutions is determined by the Ministry of Education and other ministries for each educational institution in line with this institution’s request. Admission is based on the results of centralised testing held throughout June of the admission year. Test results are processed by the National Institute for Knowledge Assessment. During the admission, the centralised test results in three subjects (these are determined by the educational programme in question) and the average scores recorded in the general secondary education certificate are taken into account. Certain profiles (arts, literature, sports) require additional entrance exams arranged by the relevant educational institutions. Admission is conducted in July.
Each programme’s educational standards prescribe the requirements to the content of graduates’ professional activity, their competencies, study form and duration, final assessment. The development of such standards is handled by academic (educational) and methodological associations jointly with the labour market representatives. The Ministry of Education approves these standards in consultation with stakeholders. Currently, 65% of the 1st cycle curricula content is determined by the state, 35% is decided on by the educational institution itself. It is planned to extend the autonomy of higher education institutions, i.e. the proportion of the 1st cycle curricula content that educational institutions can decide on for themselves will rise to 40-50%.
Progression of Students
Students are eligible to take “result-rating” exams and “pass-fail” tests in an academic discipline in case of successful completion and defence of all the current semester’s projects. The 1st educational cycle permits a maximum of 2 re-examinations for failed result-rating/pass-fail exams. Additionally, the second attempt is made before a commission of at least three persons. The resitting of failed result-rating/pass-fail tests, term papers/projects is organised within 30 days of the following semester. The students who fully met the curricular requirements, successfully defended term projects (papers), passed all the tests exams in academic disciplines, are promoted to the next semester or academic year.
In Belarus, professions and primary positions are determined for each study programme, which allows students and employers to be fully aware of their employment opportunities and perspectives. This correlation of study programmes, qualifications and positions is elaborated on in the “Profiles and Qualifications” State Classifier. The Education Code (Article 83) states that all full-time students whose studies at state-owned higher education institutions were paid for from the state budget are obliged to accept the first job placement related to the acquired professional qualification, and higher education institutions are delegated with the responsibility to find such job placements. The legislation also stipulates cases and categories of graduates entitled to search for employment by themselves. At the same time, graduates from higher education institutions have the right to reject such mandatory job placement, in which case they must reimburse the budget funds invested into their training. A higher education institution provides job placement at a certain (either state-owned or private) entity. Requests for job placements from employers and organisations that cooperate with a higher education institution in question are a priority. Job placement conditions at private companies are the same as those at public ones. Typically, the ratio between graduates provided with employment in the public and private sector is 3:1. Mutual employment obligations between a graduate and his/her employer last 1-2 years. Higher education institutions’ graduates who paid their tuition fees search for a job themselves; alternatively, they can file an application with their institution for a job placement. In 2014, first job placements were provided to 96.5% of full-time graduates from public higher education institutions whose tuition was funded from the state budget; 3.5% found employment themselves.
Throughout the semester, students’ knowledge and competencies are subject to continuous (on-going) evaluation. Principal forms thereof include written tests or tests in specific sections of disciplines, colloquia, and other evaluation methods employed during practical classes. Student receive grades for such principal forms of monitoring that compose the weighted average score for a discipline to be taken into account at the time of the exam/test. These are the forms of periodic evaluation for 1st cycle students: term project (paper); “pass-fail” test; result-rating examination in the discipline. Such evaluation is held at the end of the semester/year. Evaluation results are graded on a 10-point scale or with “pass”/”fail” marks. The lowest passing grade is 4, highest possible being 10; a “pass” mark is also a positive one.
Final evaluation is carried out to determine whether the graduates’ studying results conform to the requirements of educational standards. 1st cycle students’ final assessment forms are the State Exam and defence of the diploma project. Evaluating bodies are the State Examination Boards established every year at all higher education institutions that have passed state accreditation for each branch of study, regardless of the institutions’ subordination and ownership,. Potential members of State Examination Boards (SEBs) may include heads of higher education institutions, their deputies, deans of relevant faculties or their deputies, heads of departments, professors and associate professors, top experts from the relevant economic sectors, employer representatives. SEB Chairpersons are appointed by order of the Ministry of Education or a different state body to which the higher education institution in question reports. SEB Chairpersons at private higher education institutions are also appointed by the Ministry of Education. Employees of a different higher education institution can act as SEB Chairpersons. This position can also be filled by general managers and experts from state administration bodies and companies, by scientists, academic staff from higher education institutions, whose background and/or academic degrees correspond to the profile subject to the final evaluation. The results obtained at the State Exam determine whether the appropriate professional qualification certificate will be awarded to the graduate. Successful graduates receive state diplomas indicating their profile, profession and a diploma supplement outlining the mastered disciplines, grades and workload, diploma project’s (paper’s) topic.
Second Cycle Programmes
Second cycle expert training is available at all higher education institution types, with an average duration of 1-2 years for full-time studies.
Branches of Study
The 2nd higher education cycle is available for all educational profiles listed in Section 3 (overview), depending on the accreditation status for a specific programme at a given higher education institution. Currently, there are approximately 330 2nd cycle programmes. The 2nd higher education cycle involves comprehensive training of experts leading to the award of a
Master’s degree (e.g. “Master of Engineering”, “Master of Radiobiology”). Master’s programmes are categorised into (a) programmes with scientific and research components (“academic-oriented master’s programme”); and (b) programmes with comprehensive training for innovative activities (“practiceoriented master’s programme”). Around 60% of programmes are academic-oriented ones, mainly aimed at preparing students for future PhD studies.
The 2nd higher education cycle admission competition is open to successful 1st cycle graduates with relevant documentary proof (diploma). The 1st higher education cycle’s profile also matters. For example, a student who has completed 1st cycle education in humanities may not enter a Master’s programme in engineering. Training fees come either from the national budget or from students’ pocket. State funding is available to citizens of the Republic of Belarus, the Russian Federation, Republic of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Republic of Tajikistan, provided this is their first-ever enrolment for the cycle. Normally, foreign students pay their tuition fees unless otherwise stipulated in an international agreement. Every year, the number of 2nd higher education cycle students to receive state budget-funded education at state-owned higher education institutions is determined by the Ministry of Education and other ministries for each educational institution in line with that institution’s request. This amounts up to 14% of 1st cycle graduates in a given year. The maximum number of students a public or a private HEI can enroll depends on its educational licence provisions regarding the maximum threshold. Admission is determined by the results of entrance exams organised by educational institutions. The highest-scoring candidates are enrolled.
State educational standards also exist for 2nd cycle programmes, establishing general requirements for the content of experts’ professional activity, graduates’ competencies, study form and duration. The development of such standards is handled by academic (educational) and methodological associations jointly with the labour market representatives; the Ministry of Education approves these standards in consultation with stakeholders. Second cycle educational standards ensure much wider autonomy to educational institutions, as only 30-35% of the curricular content is determined by the state, with the remaining 65-70% to be decided on by the institution itself. The language of teaching is mostly Russian, less often Belarusian. An ever-increasing number of programmes in English is emerging.
Progression of Students
Master’s students must honour the specified deadlines for the individual study plan completion, passing exams and tests, preparation and defence of their master’s thesis. Persons failing to meet the above deadlines without legitimate reason(s) are expelled from the programme with no right to reinstatement.
On-going monitoring of master’s students’ academic performance involves colloquia (interviews) and evaluation tests; testing as interim evaluation, and exams as the final evaluation. For 2nd cycle programmes lasting over one year, an annual evaluation is held, and successful master’s students are promoted to the next academic year by rector’s order. Evaluation results are graded on a 10-point scale or with “pass”/”fail” marks. The lowest passing grade is 4 (four); a “pass” mark is also a positive one.
At each semester end, a department session is held to evaluate master’s students against the completion of the approved study and customised working plan. Successful students are listed in the rector’s order enabling them to take state exam for the chosen profile and to defend their master’s thesis. These two procedures are run by the members of the State Examination Board approved by the Ministry of Education. Master’s theses are defended publicly before the State Examination Board. During the defence, the academic supervisor and at least one independent academic or scientific staff member present their reviews on the thesis. The latter is a qualification work elaborating on the outcomes and scientific results that the author puts forward for public defence to demonstrate his/her personal contribution and ability to conduct independent research. Successful defenders of their thesis papers are awarded the master’s degree by the State Examination Board’s decision, and receive state master’s diploma and a diploma supplement outlining the exams and tests passed, grades obtained, and the topic of their master’s thesis. Students holding a master’s degree are qualified for professional and R&D activities defined in their specific curriculum, for tutoring at higher education institutions, as well as for further postgraduate studies.
Third Cycle (PhD) Programmes
Organisation of Doctoral Studies
At present, doctorate studies in Belarus belong to a separate level of postgraduate education and include two cycles: 1st cycle (aspirantura), culminating with the award of a PhD degree (literally “Candidate of Science”) in case of successful thesis (dissertation) defence; and 2nd cycle (higher doctorate), the successful completion (doctorate paper/thesis defence) of which grants the Doctor of Science (DSc) degree. The Aspirantura programme comprises lectures, seminars and independent research work as the core component. The Postgraduate studies’ duration is three years (full-time). Ultimately, a scientific thesis (dissertation) is to be defended to receive a Candidate of Science (PhD) degree. Candidates are required to write an extensive summary of their thesis called “autoreferat” (author’s synopsis). Publication of papers in scientific journals and participation in conferences are a must to proceed to the defence. Doctor of Science is the highest achievable academic degree. Admission is extremely selective and highly restricted. An institution’s Academic Council determines whether or not to award the degree, based on the level of scientific advancement shown in the doctoral thesis that must resolve a fundamental scientific problem. The programme is purely research-oriented and its duration is up to 3 years. Doctorate studies can be covered by the state budget, candidate’s own or his organisation’s resources. The number of state-funded places is determined annually for each institution. In 2014, 119 institutions and organisations were authorised to run 1st cycle postgraduate programmes, and the number of students that year totalled 4,900. 55 institutions and organisations were cleared to train 282 second cycle higher doctorate researchers.
The prerequisite for a Candidate of Science programme admission is a Master’s diploma or equivalent. Prior to the enrolment, the candidates are required to pass the so-called ‘candidate exams’: philosophy, a foreign language, IT. The applicants must also be inclined to do scientific research demonstrated by their publications, participation in research and innovative projects, conferences, or by other documentary proof. Higher doctorate training requires a Candidate of Science (PhD) degree; candidates must have authored scientific papers and other materials outlining scientific research results (monographs, intellectual property-related materials, conference presentations/talks, reports of implementation of state scientific research programmes, etc.) that lay the foundation of a doctoral project and enable its completion within 3 years. The candidate must present a scientific report on the research topic before the institution’s Academic Council to be granted admission. The number of higher doctorate researchers trained at the national budget’s expense is based on preliminary requests from organisations.
Status of Doctoral Students/Candidates
Full-time postgraduates and higher doctorate researchers are regarded as learners, but not students. They receive a monthly government scholarship during the study period. The full-time and part-time study periods are included into professional experience record that matters for career advancement in the academic area. First cycle postgraduates are entitled to academic activity at higher education institutions as teaching assistants.
An academic supervisor is appointed to facilitate a 1st cycle postgrad’s training and PhD thesis preparation. A scientific advisor is assigned to 2nd cycle doctoral researchers (“higher doctorate”). In exceptional cases, learners of both cycles have the right to study and prepare the thesis on their own, i.e. without a supervisor/advisor. An academic supervisor must normally have a DSc degree, whereas this degree is the minimal requirement for a scientific advisor. In cases when the research topic is supposed to be worked on at multiple institutions, as well as if the research relates to two branches of one scientific field, the appointment of two academic supervisors for a postgrad is allowed. The latter principle also applies to the foreign postgraduates’ training. A maximum of 5 postgraduate students can be managed by a single academic supervisor at the same time.
Often, postgraduate training is conducted at the request of an organisation in need of high-skilled academic experts. For state-owned (public) institutions, such training is normally funded from the national budget. Candidate of Science (PhD) or Doctor of Science degree is a significant advantage and expands employment opportunities to academic posts and positions in educational management. PhD or DSc degree holders employed by public education institutions receive legally envisaged salary bonuses as determined by the institution’s administration. Some positions are only available to Candidates of Science or Doctors of Science. Currently, there are more than 12,000 Candidates of Science and ca. 2,500 Doctors of Science in Belarus.
Each postgraduate student has an individual work plan for writing the dissertation research, scientific and educational activities. Postgraduate students make reports on the implementation of the individual plan once every half year and at the end of study. Regular reports are evaluated at department sessions, taking into account the opinion of the academic supervisor. The phases for thesis evaluation are as follows: a preliminary examination at the department; thesis evaluation and thesis defense at the institutions’ Academic Council; examination at the Higher Attestation Commission. The Candidate of Science (PhD) degree is awarded by the Academic Council of educational institution with regard to public thesis defence, and the decision to award the degree is approved by the Higher Attestation Commission. Higher doctorate researchers also have an approved research plan and are required to conduct research as planned, to publish articles in scientific journals, make reports at conferences, and summarise the study materials in the form of a dissertation manuscript. The Doctor of Science degree is awarded by the Academic Council of educational institution after a successful public thesis defence. The decision to award the degree is approved by the Higher Attestation Commission.
The decision of the Academic Council of education institution to award the Candidate of Science (PhD) degree and Doctor of Science degree is approved by the Higher Attestation Commission. All the documents provided by the degree-seekers as well as the dissertation work are examined by the appointed expert, and the decision is made whether to approve or disapprove the degree award.
Mobility and internationalisation in Higher Education
Currently, under 1% of Belarusian students are academically mobile. Meanwhile, a significant number of Belarusians receive higher education abroad (for instance, over 30,000 Belarusian citizens study in Russia). Academic mobility is realised within two mainstreams: studies to obtain the final qualification (degree mobility) and studies during a certain timeframe (short-term mobility). A limited number of students receive state-funded education to obtain high quality education; they are sent abroad under the relevant intergovernmental agreements for educational cooperation. Training is conducted by profiles unavailable in the national higher education system. The overall quota for students and teaching staff exchange under such international agreements in 2014 amounted to 207 people (Poland, 40; Ukraine, 30; Turkmenistan, 30; China, 20; Lithuania, 20; Vietnam, 20; Latvia, 10; Kyrgyzstan, 10; Slovakia, 10; Tajikistan, 8; Kazakhstan, 6; Mongolia, 3). Short-term mobility is based on inter-institutional agreements, students’ private initiative, as well as in the framework of exchange programmes. Presently, there are about 2,000 active inter-university agreements for mutual student exchange. More than 1,500 students participate in academic mobility study programmes (up to a year), practice, internships, etc. each year. Preferred countries for studies are (most preferred first): Germany, Russia, UK, Poland, Ukraine, France, Sweden, China, Italy, the Netherlands. These are the academic mobility tools:
• European Union Programmes (Erasmus+ tools), DAAD, IAESTE;
• Intergovernmental agreements on student exchange (quota-based training);
• Inter-institutional agreements on educational cooperation;
• National instruments for students’ education financing outside Belarus. In 2014, 135 Belarusian students were sent to study at foreign institutions, including: Russia, 17 students; China, 59; Lithuania, 13; Oman, 9; Germany, 7; Korea, 8; and so on. Of these 135, 41% were sent abroad to study foreign languages. Throughout 2014, higher education institutions organised about 2,500 training missions for their staff, postgraduates, 1st and 2nd cycle students to participate in international scientific activities, seminars, study visits, inclusive training, and internships. Short-term mobility results are recognised by higher education institutions themselves; recognition of degrees – by the Belarus ENIC operating as a department under the National Institute for Higher Education.
Academic Staff Mobility
Teaching staff mobility is organised only within the framework of inter-institutional agreements and using the tools provided by European programmes. Academics are sent to partnering higher education institutions to lecture, participate in seminars and master classes and engage into scientific activity within the framework of the joint research fields. The total share of academic staff involved in mobility is under 1%. In 2010-2015, 670 Erasmus Mundus programme scholarships were allocated to ensure the mobility of 224 first cycle students, 173 second cycle (master’s) students, 127 postgraduates, 54 scientists, and 92 staff members from higher education institutions. As for the incoming academic staff’s mobility, there are financial arrangements proposed by the Belarusian Government (Governmental Resolution #362 dd. May 10, 2013) that include financial support for their travel, accommodation, and salaries.
Other Dimensions of Internationalisation in Higher Education
European, Global and Intercultural Dimension in Curriculum Development Belarusian higher education institutions are involved in international projects, particularly, Tempus, Erasmus Mundus, Jean Monnet. Belarus participated in the Tempus project since 1994, with a total of 64 projects in 1994-2013 with Belarusian universities as participants. Currently 21 programme-based projects are underway. In 2010-2013, there has been an upward trend in projects with Belarusian participation selected on the annual competition basis: 2010 – 2 projects, 2011 – 3, 2012 – 8, 2013 – 13. In 2015, 4 projects with the participation of Belarus were selected for funding within the new Erasmus+ programme aimed at capacity building in higher education (and 6 projects in 2016). The number of Belarusian universities participating in Tempus projects is also growing: 18 universities in 2011, 23 in 2012, 29 since 2013. The most active ones among them include Belarusian State University, Belarusian National Technical University, Belarusian State Economic University, Grodno-based Yanka Kupala State University. The implementation of the Tempus programme projects facilitated the reforming and optimisation of university management, modernisation of curricula and programmes, strengthening the international cooperation. New approaches to management, administration, planning, and quality assurance in higher education have been developed. The use of ECTS-compatible credit system can now be used within new educational standards and programmes. As a result of 2011-2013 competitions within the Erasmus Mundus Action 2 programme, 20 projects involving 16 Belarusian universities are being implemented. Before 2015, Belarus had experience of implementing projects on European integration (Jean Monnet projects): Belarusian State University (4 projects) and Brest State University (1 project). In order to further promote integration of Belarus into the European Higher Education Area, the Minister of Education issued an order “On measures for introducing tools of European Higher Education Area into the national education system” of 07.30.2015 №628, aimed at implementing the provisions of the Roadmap for the Republic of Belarus to achieve the principles, objectives and values of the Bologna Process. Teaching foreign languages (English, French, German, Spanish or Chinese) at higher education institutions is a mandatory component at each higher education cycle. An important direction in internationalisation is the development and implementation of joint educational programmes. 32 educational programmes are being implemented at 17 Belarusian higher education institutions.
Partnerships and Networks.
Belarusian higher education institutions are involved in the activities of many international educational organisations. Higher education institutions located in the near-border regions are actively cooperating with foreign partners. They are members of appropriate international regional associations (The “Baltic University” Programme, Baltic Sea Region University Network (BSRUN), Inter-University Centre for Research and Cooperation in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe (CIRCEOS). Higher education institutions of Belarus are presented in the Eurasian University Association (EUA), the University Network of the Central European Initiative (CEI UniNet), the International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience (IAESTE), the European Association of Universities (EAU), etc. In September 2015, “MITSO” International University joined the Magna Charta of the European Universities.
Bilateral Agreements and Worldwide Cooperation
The legal basis for international cooperation includes 93 international intergovernmental agreements in the field of higher education, science, and youth policy. The analysis of international cooperation regional distribution shows that the relations established within the former Soviet Union have mainly been preserved; over 68% of partnership ties are with ex-USSR republics (except for the Baltic states). The leaders are Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, Caucasus and Central Asian countries. Eastern Europe and the Baltic states rank second in terms of partner relations’ number. The leading role in this area belongs to Polish universities. Western Europe accounts for ~10 cooperation agreements, but this cooperation is more important, because in most cases it is backed by significant funding under European Union projects. Of great importance in this region are the universities of Germany, Italy, and Sweden. Cooperation with Chinese universities ranks fifth in the structure of international relations for higher education. On top of that, about 2,000 active direct inter-institutional agreements are geared towards international cooperation development.
Cooperation and Participation in Worldwide.
Programmes and Organisations Within the national higher education system’s upgrading framework, the Ministry of Education is cooperating with the following organisations:
• European Training Foundation – for the National Qualifications Framework development;
• Council of Europe: an Information Point of the Council of Europe operates at the premises of BSU;
• World Bank: enhanced higher education management system in Belarus in the context of European standards.
Belarusian higher education institutions are also involved in the following international organisations: Technical Universities Association, World Federation of Scientists, Association for Medical Education in Europe (AMEE), European Association of Faculties of Pharmacy, Association of Rectors of Pedagogical Universities in Europe and etc.