Rebuilding Ukraine: “Technology For Them Is The Only Option”

Ukraine plans to rebuild its country by harnessing tech startups and further boosting tech skills. During a visit to Luxembourg, president of SET University Iryna Volnytska talked about the strategy with Silicon Luxembourg.

When SET University opened in Ukraine at the start of 2022, it marked a major shift in higher education focus and study funding models. Established by Roosh Ventures partner Sergey Tokarev and Kyiv School of Economics presented, the school was to focus on science, entrepreneurship and technology. Instead of writing a thesis, Master’s students could form their own startup. What is more, they could study now and pay after graduating. Then came February 24. The latest escalation of Russia’s invasion into Ukraine destroyed around half of the country’s industry. Like a good startup, the school pivoted.

“A lot of people want to switch to technology,” says university president Iryna Volnytska. But, no-one had the visibility on where they would be in one year, never mind two. So, the founders and their team put together free, short programmes in cybersecurity and blockchain. For the first series, they received 6,000 applications. 

Keeping the momentum for higher education has been challenging, says Volnytska. “It’s hard to compete for donations in education when school children don’t have homes or a school. And university is more of a long-term project, but without education, we won’t be able to rebuild,” she sighs. According to Volnytska, this response to the free programmes is a reflection of the fact that people in Ukraine “don’t have a choice. Technology for them is the only option.”

Tech operations offer a way to continue working in a time of uncertainty. They don’t require large physical assets or logistics chains or even for workers all to be on a single site. And their power is paying back to Ukraine– in the first five months of 2022, tech accounted for 50% of exports. And in the first six months of the year, tech exports grew 16%. “It’s the only industry that is growing,” the president said, adding: “To rebuild Ukraine, I think that the main sector will be tech.” 

Hot on the success of the first programmes, in 2023 SET will offer a third programme, in either AI or data science. The programmes lead to entry level jobs. Nevertheless they provide a foundation and, who knows, perhaps more startups.

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