The Draft Legal Education Reform Concept Paper was in the focus of the Parliamentary hearing titled “Reforming Higher Legal Education in Ukraine: Problems and Prospects” which was organized by the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Education, Science, and Innovations with support from the USAID New Justice Program on November 11, 2020.
Representatives from all key stakeholders including the Ministry of Education and Science, relevant Parliament Committees, Working Group on Legal Education Reform of the Legal Reform Commission under the President of Ukraine, National Agency for Higher Education Quality Assurance, the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Interior, leading law schools, international donors as well as experts, student leaders, and leaders of lawyer’s associations attended the event in order to discuss a shared vision of the comprehensive reform of legal education in Ukraine and an implementation plan.
First Deputy Head of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine Ruslan Stefanchuk strongly believes that legal education in Ukraine is a key area of the higher education under current socio‑economic situation.
“To improve the quality of legal education in Ukraine and make it globally competitive, we need to find those important “recipes” which could be implemented in future activities,” stressed Mr. Stefanchuk.
In turn, Head of the Parliamentary Legal Policy Committee Andriy Kostin pointed out, “Legal education quality is not only about education, it is about legal culture, quality of operations of the judicial system, Public Prosecutor’s Office, the Bar, and entire legal support of both state and its citizens”.
Mr. Kostin expressed a hope that the synergy of joint efforts of the Parliament, representatives of the academic and legal communities, executive power, and Office of the President will enable rational decisions to the benefit of people and Ukrainian legal system so that the knowledge and skills of graduates of Ukrainian universities would meet expectations of the legal job market, government authorities, local governments, and business community.
The Draft Concept Paper was developed with joint efforts of the Working Group on Legal Education Reform of the Legal Reform Commission under the President of Ukraine, specialists of the Ministry of Education, and Parliamentary Committee on Education, Science, and Innovations with assistance from the international partners, including the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and OSCE Project Coordinator in Ukraine.
This document is intended to enhance and modernize the content of legal education and bring it in compliance with public expectations with allowance for existing needs and best international practices. This involves the implementation of education quality standards; having students gain profound theoretical knowledge and develop practical skills needed for practice of law and learn professional ethics standards; and ensuring understanding of legal professionals’ social mission of upholding rule of law in any field of the legal practice through respect of human rights and liberties.
Head of the Parliamentary Sub-Committee on Higher Education Yuliia Hryshyna moderated the discussion. Head of the Working Group on Legal Education Reform of the Legal Reform Commission under the President of Ukraine Nataliya Kuznietsova familiarized participants with major provisions of the draft Legal Education Reform Concept Paper. Acting Minister of Education and Science of Ukraine Serhiy Shkarlet informed the audience of the state and prospects for the development of higher legal education in Ukraine and the Ministry’s efforts to improve its quality. Head of the Ministry of Education Subcommittee on Legal Education Standards Andriy Boiko substantiated a considerable difference in preparing future legal professionals at classic universities and educational institutions with specific conditions for teaching and learning.
According to the participants, the existing legal education system faces such acute problems as imperfection of the admission system; lack of efficient mechanisms for ensuring proper quality of education; hindrances hampering private law schools to compete for public funding; law schools’ lack of capacity to modernize the content of legal education and organize the effective teaching/learning processes on their own; law school’s unpreparedness to implement modern teaching and evaluation technologies; insufficient practical focus of curricula; and tolerance towards violations of academic integrity in the academic community.
The Draft Concept Paper envisages to solve the said problems by means of a number of innovations, such as: introducing a cross-cutting, five-year master’s program for preparing legal professionals; eliminating the bachelor of law educational level and preparation of lawyers by correspondence; setting up legal education quality assurance centers at law schools; introducing the unified state qualifications exam as a precondition for graduation with a master’s degree in law; engaging supervisory and advisory councils consisting of legal professionals in the process of preparing future lawyers; creating an efficient system for accrediting curricula; and developing professional standards of the legal profession. Besides, it is proposed to determine the volume of state order for preparing legal professional according to actual needs of the state and labor market and place such order irrespective of the ownership and sphere of administration of higher education institutions on a broad competitive basis.
Finally, the participants proposed to refine the draft Concept Paper with due regard to expressed comments and proposals and send to the Legal Reform Commission for agreeing on and subsequent approval by the President of Ukraine.