The National Aviation University was supposed to develop UAVs, but instead it built housing and went into debt. The new acting rector Kseniia Semenova has to change the situation. Theses from our long interview

Oleksandr Myasishchev
Yuliana Skibitska
The National Aviation University was supposed to develop UAVs, but instead it built housing and went into debt. The new acting rector Kseniia Semenova has to change the situation. Theses from our long interview

Ksenia Semenova.

The National Aviation University is one of the main technical universities of Ukraine. Engineers are trained there, polycopters, rescue and reconnaissance drones and their components are to be created. However, in the last ten years, NAU has mostly appeared in the media because of corruption and construction scandals. Multi-storey residential buildings are being built on the territory of the university, in which NAU receives a small share of apartments. Maksym Lutskyi, the last rector of NAU, is accused of this — he has been the head of the university since 2021, and from 2008 to 2015 he was the vice-rector. According to the Minister of Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov, since the beginning of the full-scale war, NAU has not developed a single drone for the state, instead, it has become even more indebted. In October 2023, the Cabinet of Ministers began the reorganization of NAU. As part of the reform, in March of this year, the Ministry of Education and Science appointed Kseniia Semenova as the acting rector of NAU. Although Lutskyi has not yet been formally dismissed from the post of rector: in October 2023, he was mobilized to the air defense forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Semenova is a deputy of the Kyiv City Council from "Servant of the People" pro-presidential party and a co-founder of the Solomyanski Kotyky charitable foundation. She has been studying and teaching at NAU for a long time, and since November 2023 she has been vice-rector there. Babel correspondent Oleksandr Myasyshchev recorded a long video interview with Semenova (in Ukrainian). It is about the problems, debts and real estate construction of the strategic university, its new developments and cooperation with Brave1 drones initiative. And also about where to get money for science and whether rector Maksym Lutskyi can return. These are edited abstracts of the conversation.

NAU over the past 10 years

For the past 10 years, NAU has not received any income from scientific and technical activities. Previously, laboratories certified equipment, made measurements and expertise for money. Now there is no such thing. Lutskyi definitely knew what he was doing on his post. Now the university is in debt, there are no funds to cover utilities and salaries. The university barely went through the last heating season.

During the full-scale war, NAUʼs funding from the state budget halved, but expenses are still 500 million hryvnias. We take money for salaries and utilities from what we earn from paying students, but there is not enough funds for equipment. There are not enough soldering stations, signal generators, oscilloscopes, etc. What is available was mostly bought by the teachers themselves or donated by businesses.

We have lost a lot during COVID-19. NAU was supposed to come back to offline studying earlier, but it dragged on until September 2023. Some third- and fourth-year students have never seen a soldering iron, even though they are studying electronics engineering.

Real estate construction on the territory of NAU

The history of construction investment agreements was started by the rector of NAU Vitaliy Babak. It was in the 1990s, when the university was bankrupt and its staff wasnʼt being paid. But then everyone went en masse to learn to be lawyers and managers. In order for the university to make money, several humanities faculties were opened at NAU. They decided to offer teachers apartments in the capital at very low prices. Thus, specialists from all over the country moved to Kyiv to work at NAU. But Maksym Lutskyi turned this into his personal business.

Development projects on the territory of NAU, shown in red. In light blue study premises, laboratories and student dormitories are shown.

NAU rector elections

Now the rector will be determined by the NAU supervisory board. Previously, this was done by a secret vote of university employees. The Cabinet of Ministers decided to conduct an experiment, because the history of choosing the rector by the collective has exhausted itself. It led to the stagnation of many universities.

The competition for the position of NAU rector will be announced in May. The Cabinet should issue a resolution on its experiment in the coming months. Then the competition can be held in the fall. Probably, the government team has good lawyers, and they will do everything so that the decision of the competition is not canceled through the court. However, lawsuits can drag on for years. If the new system works well, the law "On Higher Education" will have to be changed.

Return of Maksym Lutskyi

Now NAU as a legal entity is in the process of liquidation. It will be replaced by the Kyiv Aviation Institute, to which all cases will be transferred. During the transition period, NAU is managed by the reorganization commission, headed by me. That is, even if Lutskyi demobilizes, he will not be able to manage the university.

Maksym Lutskyi.


NAU reform

We are gradually returning basic equipment to the university — we are partnering with specialized companies, jointly opening laboratories. Two will start working already in May. Another will create demining systems — they will help process satellite images and automatically detect holes left by mines. Automated agricultural machinery that can neutralize projectiles buried in the ground will also be developed there. These projects at NAU are handled by mixed teams — usually consisting of several students, their supervisor, and possibly an external specialist.

We are also preparing a laboratory for the FabLab project, where it will be possible to make a prototype of anything — a smart home system, a drone, etc. A milling machine, a laser, 3D printers, soldering stations, measuring equipment should be placed there, and the space should be organized. This equipment will be provided by businesses and sponsors.

NAU developments

We do not develop conventional drones. But we do a lot of useful things for defense: automatic target tracking systems, navigation, aerodynamics, avionics (various control systems that are aboard a plane), means of communication, cybersecurity and demining technologies.

Collaboration with Brave1 state drone initiative

We interact with them a lot, mostly with companies that come to them and need technology advice. Next, we will create our companies: bring university developments to the stage where they can apply for state funding from Brave1. We want to "give birth" to at least 20 teams a year composed from students and teachers.

Translated from Ukrainian by Anton Semyzhenko.

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