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Ukraine First Deputy Minister of Education back in Lund for a day

Ukraine’s First Deputy Minister of Education, Inna Sovsun, meets international students.
Ukraine’s First Deputy Minister of Education, Inna Sovsun, meets international students. Photo: GUNNAR MENANDER

“Being new in the government of Ukraine is like learning to ride a bike that is broken, while someone is throwing stones at you, and you are trying to fix the bike at the same time”, said Inna Sovsun, Ukraine’s First Deputy Minister of Education and a former Lund University student.

She was only 29 when she was asked to join the new Ukrainian government as First Deputy Minister of Education. Since then she has turned 30 and says there was not much time to prepare for the new job:

“It was a Wednesday at the end of February – and it was only a week after we had had the horrible shootings and people were killed. My own two-year-old child had also been admitted to hospital that week and the whole situation was very overwhelming and emotional when I was unexpectedly asked to be Serhiy Kvit’s First Deputy Minister of Education. By Friday the same week I was part of the ministry.”

Five-year life plan
However, Inna Sovsun didn’t come completely unprepared. A year earlier she had actually been talking to her husband about a five-year life plan and told him that she wanted to be a minster in the government at some point. She even wrote down things she wanted to accomplish in a document. At the time, she was teaching part time at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy where Serhiy Kvit was president. She was also a director of a think tank called the Centre for Society Research where she was in charge of education policy and analysis.

Evacuation of 15 universities
Even if Inna Sovsun is now in charge of implementing the new higher education act that was passed in the summer, her priorities and agenda have been set by the ongoing war in Ukraine.

“My biggest challenge has been to take care of the evacuation of about 15 universities in the military zone. We have evacuated students and staff, but the buildings are there, the equipment is there, and so we need to try to help them to get established in new places, I don’t think all of the 15 universities will manage to do that, but we are trying.”

Refers to Lund University
Inna Sovsun spent a year studying a Master’s programme in European Affairs at Lund University 2006–2007. Her education and time in Lund have proven to be very important to her job when working on reforming Ukraine’s education system.

“I think that the experience of being abroad at a foreign university, seeing how things are done here, how the programmes are arranged etc. has opened up my perspective on how a university should function. I may even refer a bit too much in my arguments to my experience of my studies at Lund University. People don’t always trust statistics, but when you give them your personal experiences – ‘I have been there’, ‘that is how it’s being done’ – then you end up with a stronger argument.”

It’s the people that matter
She was not really a social butterfly who participated in a lot of activities as a student, but she recalls that one of the more important experiences that stood out to her was when one of her lecturers, Maximilian Conrad (now working at the University of Iceland), emailed and asked her to join a discussion group on the topic of the discourse of European integration.

“It was an unusual form of interaction between lecturers and students and I liked the way the discussions were organised very much. It is something that I have integrated into my own teaching. And what really counts is that I still have friends from here – I am actually taking the opportunity to meet one of my Swedish friends for dinner tonight. It is so nice to have someone to return to when you visit; not just places, but people.”