Kosovo: Far From Pristine

far from pristinePRISTINA, Kosovo | Petrit Hysaj is angry, angry because he says that the past week has been a complete waste of his time. A third-year political science student at Pristina University (UP), Hysaj says that on four days out of five his professors changed their course times without notification.

“That happens all the time,” Hysaj complains. Unfortunately, it’s not only Hysaj’s faculty that faces such problems. Hysaj says there is a well-spring of deep frustration among the university’s more than 20,000 students, many of whom turn up to lectures by professors who never show up. And these are just some of the raft of complaints.

In fact, when students are asked to describe the current situation at UP, the word that crops up consistently is crisis. A year ago, a group of more than 100 students set up a movement known as Tjeterqysh (Differently) in a bid to bring change to the university. But one year later, that same group of students are now proclaiming that the university is “clinically dead.”

Not everyone is pointing the finger of blame only at the faculty, however. Glauk Konjufca, a former activist with Tjeterqysh, says that student apathy has played a role as well.

“The protest for innovation at the university remained symbolic. I blame the students, too, for this situation,” Konjufca admits. “Many students are interested in the problem, but until now they haven’t expressed any kind of willingness to change it.”

Established in 1970, UP is the most important institution of higher education in Kosovo and was founded only after the toil of an entire intellectual generation. Coping as it has with an often hostile central authority, the 1999 war, and poverty, the university has already faced significant crises during its history, but the closure of the institution by the Serbian regime in 1990 was by far most damaging. To survive, the university was forced underground, teaching courses in private homes during 10 years of virtual apartheid. Now that survival mechanism has become UP’s biggest problem.

The intimacy of the system has led to insularism, corruption, and a sharp fall-off in academic quality. The Education Ministry – under the leadership of Kosovo’s largest political party, the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) – has charged that UP’s administration has made a habit of basing decisions on politics, not professional considerations. All the officials in the university Rector’s Office are high-ranking members of the opposition Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK).

Nepotism in the Ranks

Fitim Gllareva, an assistant at the prime minister’s office, received his Master’s degree at a German university. More than a year ago, he applied for an assistant faculty position within the Department of Political Science. At first he says he didn’t understand why he had not heard from the university after he submitted his application. When he inquired, he found that his application had disappeared and that his “name didn’t exist” in the applicant pool. Gllareva blames a lack of political connections.

“If you have the political support, it is not difficult to get a job at the university, even if you don’t deserve it,” Gllareva said.

Another applicant who preferred to remain anonymous said that he had been indirectly asked to pay 6,000 euro for a spot on the faculty as an assistant – and had been told that obtaining such a position would be impossible without the money.

Students, too, complain about the university’s hiring practices, saying that the quality of its professors is too low. According to former activist Konjufca – who is also a fourth-year political science student – many of the professors received their degrees 20 years ago and did not continue to work or research in their fields thereafter.

Such statements are echoed by Xhavit Rexhaj, the director of higher education within the Education Ministry. The university’s administration, he says, has ignored qualified candidates in order to maintain existing cliques. “The rector is the key to everything” Rexhaj says, and charges that the administration has “closed off access to all faculties and their departments, making the situation very dangerous.”

The Education Ministry has also complained that the university has put obstacles in the way of those seeking diploma equivalencies and credentials for studies undertaken outside of Kosovo. According to a ministry list obtained by TOL, at least 66 people who finished their studies outside Kosovo have waited more than a year and a half for papers that should have taken three months. An equivalency certificate is vital if a graduate is to get contractual work.

The fighting between the Education Ministry and the Rector’s Office has gone all the way to the Supreme Court. Rector Arsim Bajrami’s administration is considered illegal by the ministry, because the university failed to follow some of the university’s own electoral regulations during his appointment process. The court ultimately decided the conflict did not merit a court case, and Bajrami has declared himself the winner of this legal battle. But the conflict rages on.

On 25 March, Georg Woeber – an international expert on higher education who prepared some statutes for UP in 2004 and has worked as a mediator between the two bodies – wrote in an open letter that the election process was “not compatible with the applicable legislation on Kosovo” and that Bajrami could therefore not legally be considered to be the university’s rector.

Concerns Within and Out

It is not only within Kosovo that concerns exist about the state of Kosovo’s premiere university. For the university to receive an endorsement that it meets requirements set down in the Bologna Agreement on European Higher Education Area, an agreement designed to promote the integration of higher education in Europe, it needs to have successfully implemented educational reforms.

According to ministry official Rexhaj, “This reform has been delayed but not stopped,” but that statement seems to be contradicted by his next comment. “On the whole, the implementation of the reforms is being done in a fictitious way. Everything that is happening at the university is only make-believe,” Rexhaj says.

Ordinary students feel stuck in the middle.

Hysaj, the political science student, says he has many examples of how the university doesn’t work on a day-to-day basis. “There have been some cases that students have had to take two exams on the same day, because the professors hadn’t coordinated the timetable,” he explains.

Shkelzen Gashi, another UP student, relates that another problem at the university is that “there is no mechanism for monitoring relations between professors and students. Students don’t have anywhere to turn to with a complaint,” Gashi says.

Kosovo’s newspapers have written about students feeling threatened by their teachers, but fear means that no one has ever come forward on the record. Sexual harassment is among the charges that students have leveled anonymously.

Because of the intense media scrutiny, the Rector’s Office has taken some steps to try to address the hail of criticism directed against the university. It has signed cooperation agreements with several other universities in the region and has promised to pay professors 1,000 euro ($1,280) a month, a move opposed by the Education Ministry.

But skeptics fear that the actions are merely intended to disguise the deep crisis within the university.

Enver Hoxhaj, a professor at UP, is one of the skeptical.

“Pristina University has no clear vision for the future,” he says. “This makes everything very difficult.”

The rector’s spokesperson, Zenun Halili, refused to comment about the university’s problems.

“Your questions are provocative,” Halili said over the telephone. “Our response is simply ‘No comment.’”


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