Historically, Ukrainian parents considered higher education to be the minimum required to build a career. Laboring professions were not prestigious, and people were forced to go there after failing to get into universities.

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A few decades ago, higher education institutions began offering contractual education, which resulted in a significant increase in the number of graduates. This led to a saturation of the diploma market, primarily driven by the preferences and financial capacity of parents who financed their children's education. Consequently, the market became heavily skewed.

On one hand, it is understandable that parents desire to provide their children with education in prestigious fields such as law, journalism, medicine, management, international economics, or international law.

This shift in parental logic can be attributed to Ukraine's decline in industrial power, resulting in a loss of jobs for many engineers who were previously the majority of university graduates. In response, parents have shifted their focus towards providing their children with seemingly scarce professions that they believe are integral to every office, such as lawyers, economists, and managers.

The word "seemingly" is pivotal here, as some parents go beyond simply examining university admission competition and tuition fees. They also take into account the number of job openings available in the labor market and the potential salary prospects for graduates. Unfortunately, many parents still hold the belief that obtaining a diploma is the ultimate goal, and that employment opportunities will naturally follow.

In reality, the situation is quite different. There are currently around 200 universities that offer law programs, including international law, which cater to the demands of parents. However, not all of these universities are well-known or respected by employers, as are the National University "Odesa Law Academy" or the Yaroslav the Wise National University of Law, the State Fiscal Service University, etc.

In fact, even highly specialized universities such as Kyiv National University of Technology and Design, Kharkiv Petro Vasylenko National University of Agriculture, and Hzhytsky National University of Veterinary Medicine and Biotechnology have started offering law programs to meet the growing demand for lawyers in the labor market.

Additionally, private universities such as the Academician Stepan Demianchuk International University of Economics and Humanities and the Private Higher Education Institution "Finance and Law College" are also actively introducing law programs to attract students.

In these universities, students can enroll in part-time or full-time law programs for a yearly tuition fee of UAH 15,000-20,000 ($406-542). However, the quality of education and its alignment with employer requirements remain questionable. Drawing from my personal experience of recruiting a young lawyer for an insurance company where I previously worked, most candidates were unable to answer basic legal questions about the Constitution when asked by our director of the legal department. It was concerning that these candidates lacked fundamental knowledge of the country's laws, making it difficult for them to handle more specialized and complex legal matters.

Therefore, it is not surprising that lawyers and top managers have been the most competitive job positions for job seekers for several years. For instance, in 2019 before the economic crisis, robota.ua reported that top managers or directors (coefficient 2.8) and lawyers or notaries, attorneys (coefficient 2.23 responses per day) received the highest number of daily job applications.

The competition for management positions could be understood, as some applicants without prior experience would express a willingness to try their hand at leadership roles. However, the situation was much worse for aspiring lawyers. Graduates of various universities would often struggle to secure employment in their field, resulting in wasted time and dashed hopes. Even during non-crisis years, the cost of hiring a young lawyer was significantly lower than that of a marketer, engineer, or programmer.

However, little has changed over the years, as long as parents continue to encourage their children to pursue careers in law or management. It should be evident to everyone that no employer would entrust a significant management role to a 22-year-old professional with no prior work experience.

Therefore, it is not surprising to observe a clear disparity in the labor market between the skills and expertise of university graduates and what employers require.

The Strategy for Reforming Higher Education in Ukraine until 2020, which was published in December 2015, aimed to establish a stronger connection between the labor market and the higher education system. In recent years, the state order for law graduates has decreased, while the number of state-funded places for engineering specialties has experienced a rapid surge.

However, there is little enforcement to ensure that graduates from state scholarship programs actually obtain jobs related to their degree specialization. Had there been a penalty system for universities that issue "empty" state-funded diplomas, the current imbalance might have been prevented.

For instance, in 2022, the employment rate for Ukrainian higher education graduates was 59%, which is below the 60% threshold that is considered an indication of an inefficient education system and a hindrance to economic development. By contrast, Europe's employment rate for graduates in 2022 was 85%.

Кількість бюджетних місць за спеціальностями
Number of budget places by specialty

The transition in state ordering patterns started during 2020-2021, with more placements for technical and engineering fields but fewer spots for humanitarian disciplines:

Динаміка держзамовлення на підготовку бакалаврів у 2020-2021 роках
Dynamics of state orders for the training of bachelors in 2020-2021

However, if you examine lawyers by way of example, you'll find that many have 15-20 fee-paying places for every 1-2 state-funded places. So who do university representatives cater to? Clearly not employers, but parents. As a result, we should not expect major changes. As long as universities continue to offer numerous fee-paying places for "popular" degrees that are useless in the job market, within reason, we will keep seeing a surplus of unemployed lawyers, managers, and other such graduates.

Порівняння кількості заяв та вакансій за галузями
Comparison of the number of applications and vacancies by industry

However, if you examine lawyers by way of example, you'll find that many have 15-20 fee-paying places for every 1-2 state-funded places. So who do university representatives cater to? Clearly not employers, but parents. As a result, we should not expect major changes. As long as universities continue to offer numerous fee-paying places for "popular" degrees that are useless in the job market, within reason, we will keep seeing a surplus of unemployed lawyers, managers, and other such graduates.

Another issue is the quality and relevance of the education itself. Our universities seem stuck in the "era of industrialization" in terms of the course content and teaching methods. Students no longer laugh at the yellowed pages they are lectured from; they are waiting for a more digital and modern approach that better fits the current era.

Unfortunately, even COVID and the war, though they forced teachers to "computerize," did little to significantly improve the quality of teaching or use of more advanced tools.

Many executives of large companies say that in addition to basic, often very academic knowledge, proper networking and life skills can give students an edge, including time management (finishing exams on time) and negotiation (with teachers and peers). But online learning minimizes this informal aspect, exposing a mismatch between the tools used and market needs.

A good solution would be dual education, where practical training occurs "on the job" at a potential employer. But apart from memorandums, there is little systematic work in this direction. Except for persistent employers, few dare partner with universities. As a result, training remains outdated, leaving adaptation of this knowledge into practical skills to employers.

On vocational education

This issue has problems on both sides. On one hand, 57.9% of companies say they cannot cooperate with educational institutions to hire their graduates. On the other hand, young people dislike vocational education – in 2021, only 18% chose it. Without adequate career counseling, applicants still regard vocational schools as institutions of last resort for those rejected by more prestigious colleges.

Ukraine has 708 state and over 1,000 private vocational schools. As things stand, only 10-15 of the most popular ones are chosen, reducing other institutions' quality and numbers in general. The most popular specialties are cooks, bakers, drivers, mechanics, welders, and plumbers.

The new Education Minister Oksen Lisovyi named vocational education reform a priority. Yet the government reduced funding for vocational professions by UAH 50.85 million ($1.4 million) to UAH 200 million ($5.4 million) in 2023. It is unclear how Ukraine will overcome long-term shortages of craftspeople, seamstresses and technical professionals.

One of the options to retain both students of a vocational school and ready-made specialists who have gone abroad is the distance learning platform " Professional Education Online ". But internship issues remain.

Today, Ukraine faces an education imbalance in outdated academic higher education and unpopular vocational education.

A third problem could arise: Ukrainian refugees returning home with new knowledge and awareness of different education formats in Europe.

Educational institutions must transform rapidly or risk losing the few young people returning to finish studies in Europe – at a minimum. With EU's well-established dual system, some may secure jobs and not return. Then employers will face a shortage of trainees, as fewer young people will remain available.