KIEV, Ukraine -- Philanthropist Victor Pinchuk has given 17 Ukrainian students a better chance at a brighter future. In so doing, the billionaire industrialist sent a message to the state, other philanthropists, and the nation’s universities that they should improve.
Pinchuk awarded scholarships of up to $50,000 to the students for post-graduate studies at some of the world’s best universities – all abroad, of course.
“Usually it’s a sad occurrence when people leave Ukraine,” said Pinchuk, who hosted the award ceremony from the SkyArt cafe in his posh modern art gallery on June 22. “But we are not draining brains here, we are wiring them up.
Ukraine doesn’t have many natural resources," said Pinchuk. "But our brains make up for the oil and gas. That’s why I am investing into brains. Our dividends will lead to a successful country.”
Pinchuk said he is taking a page from such governments as the ones in China, Singapore and Kazakhstan, who have for years sent thousands of their students on all-expense paid educations abroad in search of ideas and expertise that would change their nations for the better.
And Pinchuk is expecting the same from this group. In return for the scholarships, he requires the recipients to graduate and return to work in Ukraine for at least five years.
Calling himself “happy and proud” to offer the awards, Pinchuk said he expects that the Ukrainian government will follow his example and spend state money to send more students abroad.
While 17 students can’t change a nation of 46 million residents, Pinchuk expects the program to continue, with broader participation from both public and private donors. He noted that a “few thousand more” such scholars can form “an army” of change.
The donor was in a jovial and joking mood with the recipients, their parents and high-profile guests assembled. He teased the scholarship winners that their signed pledge to return to Ukraine for five years was akin to a marriage ceremony.
Altogether the industrialist shelled out over $400,000 to the winners of his foundation’s inaugural World Wide Studies for Ukraine (http://worldwidestudies.org) program.
Apart from this initiative, Pinchuk funds other educational projects.
Pinchuk is not alone, however, in sending Ukrainian students abroad. American and British governments have been running similar programs for decades. Many of their graduates are now successfully working in Ukraine’s private sector, while others remain abroad.
Although left unsaid by Pinchuk, the World Wide Studies program amounts to an indictment of Ukraine’s universities.
Former Verkhovna Rada speaker Arseniy Yatseniuk made the point for Pinchuk. He said that he had wanted an education abroad. The Pinchuk scholarship winners “can be certain drivers but there should be a different engine,” Yatseniuk said. “They won’t be able to push 46 million people.”
Even a foreign education can wither in the face of Ukraine’s hard realities, he said. “A lot of my friends whose children came back with foreign degrees can’t get jobs here,” Yatseniuk said. “ It’s a difficult process. It will depend on how the country will progress.”
The nation has more than 800 institutions of higher education, but none cracks the rankings of the world’s top 1,000 educational institutions.
An independent panel picked the winners for Pinchuk from among 260 applicants. Some of them are already sporting impressive educational and career achievements at young ages.
Among them are:
Yulia Kondratska, a partner in Moskalenko and Partners law firm, will study banking and finance law in the University of London. She’s 24.
Maksym Yavorsky, a lawyer with CMS Cameron McKenna, is off to Switzerland to garner the arts of the international dispute settlement. He’s 21; and
Nataliya Bugayova, a journalist at the Kyiv Post, is attending a Masters in Public Policy program at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. She’s 21.
The list goes on and includes, with their destinations: Anna Afansiyeva, University of Chicago; Anna Bilous, Jagellonian University in Poland and the University of Kent in the United Kingdom; Lesya Vasylenko, University College in London; Anna Danyliak, Lund University in Sweden; Olga Dolynina, London Metropolitan University; Nataliya Katser-Buchkovska, University College in London; Julia Kosulko, KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden; Galyna Mykhailiuk, University of York; Olga Nahorna, Technical University of Munich; Maria Pavlovska of Uppsala University in Sweden; Natalia Strandadko, University of Leicester in the United Kingdom; Artem Trofymenko of University College in London; Marta Tsvengrosh, University of Geneva; and Marta Schavurska, University of Pittsburgh.
Given the supremacy of corruption and the absence of basic legal rights or economic fairness in Ukraine, it is no surprise that nine are favoring legal careers. Another five winners favor environmental studies. A lopsided 15 of the 17 finalists are women. One winner attributed the gender imbalance to long-running inequality that makes women more determined to achieve in general.
Male or female, the winners are certainly a confident bunch. “Ukraine’s rules are going to change,” lawyer Trofymenko said. “And we’re going to be the ones who change them.”