AIM: start

FRI, 12 OCT 2001 02:00:30 GMT

Education: Between Politics and Reforms

AIM Pristina, September 20, 2001

The start of educational reforms in Kosovo can be summed up as: four new Departments within the existing Faculties of Pristina University, more intensive studies at the first year as a pilot project and unchanged professors' salaries.

Attempts at introducing reforms in Kosovo educational system date far back, same as the international presence here, not counting some earlier attempts which failed due to the lack of basic preconditions, since both the University, as well as other educational levels in Kosovo boycotted Milosevic's educational system and functioned as a parallel system designed to maintain the continuity of teaching - no more no less. The ousting of Milosevic's regime created the necessary space for reforms. However, the international administration and its frontman in charge of this field, Michael Daksner, met with almost insurmountable obstacles trying to transform infrastructure which was unwilling to change because of which Mr. Daksner became known as "an arrogant and all-powerful man".

The first conflict between the Albanians and international representatives occurred in the Department of Education whose Co-Chairmen are a Kosovar and one representative of the international community. On of co-Chairmen, Agim Vinca, Ph.D., professor of literature, submitted his resignation because of his disagreement with his international colleague and, as he claimed, his refusal to be just "a decoration used to prove the participation of local staff in the process of reconstruction of educational system". Soon after that, an "obedient" man was found to replace Dr Vinca.

No one has yet mentioned the pilot project of reforms implemented last year at the Faculty of Law which, however, did not change much. But now, entrance exams organised at four new Departments, which have been recently introduced within the existing Faculties, have sobered down euphoric authors of reforms. Namely, numerous candidates who applied for enrolment at these four Departments - which are in Kosovo currently "in", namely: psychology, political sciences, ethnology and sociology - have achieved very poor test results. For example, out of maximum 40 points which was the result of some candidates at Psychology Department, candidates at the Department of Political Sciences scored only a half - 22. This fact was reason enough for the authors of reforms to think again where they had made a mistake.

Thus, for example, instead of launching reforms at lower educational levels so that future students could prepare themselves for and successfully face the reformed system at higher levels, up to University level, or implementing these reforms simultaneously, they were introduced at University level only. Obsolete high school system is the reason why weak and poorly prepared candidates have problems with adjusting to the reformed system at faculties, as well as intensive courses planned for their first year of studies. For example, reform of some Departments at the Faculty of Philology included the elimination of certain courses from teaching plans and curricula.

On the other hand, due to insufficient budgetary funds and poor administration of education finances it was impossible to create necessary preconditions for the initiation of educational reforms. Monthly salaries of professors are almost humiliating and insufficient to cover even one fourth of their basic needs. Underpaid professors are not motivated to work on reforms because they are now required to spend the whole week in their Cabinets or at their Departments working with students.

Incidentally, according to those in charge of education Department only 30 percent of the last year's educational budget was used, whereas very little has been invested in war-damaged school facilities, most of which were repaired or renovated with the assistance of international humanitarian organisations working in Kosovo. Full-time professor doesn't get more than half salary of the interpreter of International Administrator of Pristina University, Michael Daksner, while it would be ridiculous to compare Mr. Daksner's salary with that of the Head of Pristina University.

On the other hand, reform designers and those in charge of its implementation are faced with political problems, which prevent them from more seriously and directly joining these reforms.

Just like everything else in Kosovo has national colours, problems of the University are also such. Some time ago, in his conversation with Serbian representatives Administrator of Pristina University and Co-Chairman of the Department for Education and Science, Michael Daksner promised the soon opening of University in Serbian language, which would work independently of Pristina University or would at least be organised in separate facilities. Although it is widely believed that the project on the establishment of such University was prepared in secret, information on it reached the public much before OSCE Head Daan Everts learned about it. It envisaged the establishment of a parallel educational system for Kosovo Serbs in consultation with Belgrade Government and Serbian Ministry of Education. Such University would work in the northern part of Mitrovica, which is populated by majority Serbian population, or more precisely in the building of the former Mining-Metallurgical Faculty. The instruction would be organised according to Serbian teaching programmes and curricula and would have nothing to do with Pristina University.

The Albanian members of the leading team confirmed that such plans existed. Vice-President Arsim Bajrami, Ph.D., said that no one consulted the Albanian representatives about these plans. Nevertheless, asked about the establishment of parallel University, Special UN Envoy for Kosovo Hans Haekkerup stated that no parallel structures would be allowed in Kosovo. However, he explained that Kosovo Serbs thought that the security conditions were such that University instruction in the Serbian could not be organised in the capital of Kosovo and that therefore the problem of their education had to be resolved.

Political circles in Kosovo were of the opinion that the Serbian representatives chose perfect timing to demand their own University in Kosovo. It is widely believed that in this pre-election period, when the international community considers participation of Serbs in elections crucial for making the elections legitimate, the international community is prepared to make all sorts of concessions, carefully picking word so as not to qualify any of these structures as parallel. Last week's "confession" of Thorsten Skiaker, Commander of Kosovo Peace Forces that "concessions are being made to Serbs" is frequently mentioned here. He justified that by claiming that it was "better to score a strategic victory, such as the elections, instead of several tactical victories". On the other hand, the Albanians disagree that the establishment of University in Serbian would represent a short-time tactical victory or defeat, but rather the opposite. However, at a recent press conference Susan Manuel, spokesperson for the UNMIK, accused the Albanian side saying that "not a single Serbian word can be heard at the University of Pristina".

However, it is a fact that not a single professor of Serbian nationality has appeared at Pristina University since the end of 199 war. The circumstances have changed, tensions are high and professors have not even come to pick up their things they left in their Cabinets.

This time the Albanian circles are not so indifferent. They think that their Serbian colleagues will make the best possible move towards the re-establishment of mutual trust if they return "where they belong - to the University". In other words, irrespective of the gap between Serbs and Albanians which is deeper than ever and despite lack of any contacts, there are people who want to live in peace. According to them, the University would be the best place for that, precisely because of its academic level. In that case it would be easier to carry out the reforms, while none of the sides would waste its energy on breaking apart the existing University and forming new parallel one. Nevertheless, it seems that it is already too late for that. The international community has promised Kosovo Serbs DM 1 million for their University. Although there are many undefined and unresolved matters, it is almost certain that it will be located in the northern part of Mitrovica and the location of student hostels is being determined now.