Kosovo students talk back

To find out what Kosovo’s students think about higher education, Kosovo 2.0 held a survey last month, with questions on the quality of administrative services, teaching styles, academic resources, and employability after graduation. The results range from glowing to damning, and offer us an inside look at what students really think about their educational experiences. Check it out below.

The survey was online from September 13, 2013 to October 23, 2013, and it gathered 130 responses. We accepted feedback from 63 respondents attending public universities, and 42 from private universities and colleges. Incomplete forms and non-applicable respondents (i.e. students of non-Kosovar institutions) were not included.

Academic Resources

Public Sector (the University of Prishtina, and other public campuses across Kosovo)

Respondents from the public sector complained about a lack of access to literature relevant to their respective fields. Studying exclusively from photocopies of material selected and distributed by professors isn’t uncommon. These photocopies aren’t paid for by the university — instead, they are paid for by students at the many cheap copy shops that abound in Kosovo.

“Students continue to study using useless photocopies, and if we want to learn more or to dig deeper into a subject, we have to go online.”

The libraries of Kosovo’s public universities are not regularly updated with new and relevant material, and respondents complained about their lack of access to special libraries and study spaces. Facilities such as computer labs and laboratories are also outdated, and are occasionally not accessible to students. Sometimes, even the basic infrastructure of campus buildings is shoddy; respondents complained about lectures held in freezing lecture halls without proper lighting.

“The art center is in the Faculty of Fine Arts… whenever I’ve gone there to study or work with my laptop, it’s been closed to students, or unavailable because of some meeting. The same thing goes for the Design Laboratory, which is only open during lectures.”

“There’s a lack of lighting in most lecture halls. As future engineers, we learn about electricity; it’s ironic that we attend our lectures in the dark.”

“Basic conditions aren’t provided. During the winter, it’s extremely cold in amphitheaters and lecture halls, since the buildings aren’t insulated.”

Respondents also complained about having to buy a professor’s book in order to pass a course.

Private Sector: For-profit colleges and universities

In terms of access to literature, private universities tend to be a bit better. The majority of respondents classified the academic resources available at their institutions as “good” or “sufficient.”

Scholarship Opportunities

Public Universities

The majority of our public sector respondents had several shared complaints: scholarships granted by the University of Prishtina are in most cases symbolic, and are distributed very slowly. Merit-based scholarships are quite difficult to obtain (the cut-off is an 8.0 GPA). Grading by academic staff, however, is often perceived as not being merit-based. There is a perception that scholarships granted by public universities are granted on the basis of personal connections between scholarship winners and the administration.

“[To be a successful student] you need to know lots of powerful people, you need to beg professors for grades and, of course, you need the courage to use charm as a way to improve your grades… if you don’t do these things, you have a very small chance of winning a scholarship!”

“Getting a scholarship at the University of Prishtina isn’t impossible, but it’s only given based on your grades, which I don’t think is the right way to do it. I also think that, many times, scholarships aren’t awarded fairly.”

Private Sector

Private sector respondents stated that they were often not aware that there even were scholarships that they could apply for. In private universities with high tuition costs, respondents stated that the scholarships available were not enough to cover the total cost of education. Some respondents also stated that there needed to be more communication on the part of their institution’s administration about scholarship and bursary opportunities for current students.

“For the past three years, there haven’t been any scholarship opportunities to apply for.”

“There are lots of students that excel in the concentrations offered by X University, but they can’t be a part of it because they don’t have sufficient funds, and the bursaries offered [aren’t sufficient to make] studying at X easier…”

Administrative services

Public Sector

One of our respondents stated that it isn’t uncommon for administrative staff to save and update students’ personal and academic information on Excel documents, with only USB sticks as backup. According to respondents at the University of Prishtina, an electronic system of archiving and updating student information has begun to be implemented, but both the administration and academic staff are unsure as to how to use it. Students also complain of long waits for administrative services, and university staff that are both unfriendly and overworked.

“We always have to go to the registrar’s office, and they’re always lazy. It’s really too bad that there isn’t a way to access this information online.”

“An ordinary administrative employee is a God among Gods. If you’re not on good terms with him or her, you can forget about getting any administrative process done on time.”

Private Sector

Administrative services were not a particular problem for our private sector respondents, although respondents from smaller colleges did categorize administrative services as “poor.” Some respondents, however, praised their administrative staff for their friendliness and professionalism.

“They [admin staff] provide an example of well-organized work, and they create a welcoming atmosphere.”

Teaching

Public Sector

Most respondents cited a lack of practical experience in their disciplines as a serious problem across the sciences and humanities. Although most respondents agreed that the teaching style of their professors is generally clear and easy to follow, they also noted that it is primarily theory-based, and not innovative or based in modern pedagogical practice. Often, students have to teach themselves practice-based skills and seek out relevant, contemporary academic material (i.e. new articles, journals, books, etc.) on their own.

Discussion and debate varied from professor to professors; some respondents claimed that even where space was given for space or discussion, the level of discourse amongst students and professors was combative, off topic, or didn’t occur at all, creating a conversation that many didn’t want to participate in. Generational differences between professors were also noted, as younger lecturers were perceived as more communicative and willing to engage with students. Academic staff were also criticized for teaching at multiple colleges and universities.

“There’s less discussion with older professors, their favorite method of teaching is the [one where the] professor lectures and the students listen. Meanwhile, the younger professors who have studied in well-known universities have made debate a part of their lecturing style…”

“Usually lectures are explained in a monotonous way and with zero creativity.”

“Professors shouldn’t be allowed to work at other jobs, like they do now.”

Private Sector

Across the private and public sector, the quality of debate and engagement with professors is categorized as “sufficient” or “good.” Private sector respondents did not have specific comments about debate or engagement with their professors, apart from three respondents that we suspect may have been planted by their universities. The three extremely positive responses originate from one university that has documented problems with the quality of their curricula and academic programs, as per Accreditation Agency reports. Overall, professors in the private sector are better paid and scrutinized more closely, both reasons that could serve as incentives to teach better. It should be noted, however, that it’s not uncommon for professors to be employed in both the private and the public sector. Whether they teach differently at the various institution where they are employed in is a question worth asking.

Preparation For The Labor Market

Public Sector

Most respondents were not aware that the University of Prishtina had a Career Office, and felt that overall, they were not prepared for the labor market. Again, respondents felt like they were lacking in practical experience in their respective fields, and that ended up being up to them to make themselves employable. A few respondents also mentioned attending courses outside of the university in order to attain employable skills (i.e. students in Computer Sciences at the University of Prishtina attending additional, private courses related to their field).

“[Do you feel your university has prepared you for the labor market?] If at work I’m allowed to be late, and if I can do everything carelessly, then yes, definitely.”

“Someone who is ambitious and wants to learn has a great opportunity to prepare themselves in theory [for the labor market], but we’re very poor in terms of practice. We lack practical skills.”

“…We graduate as programmers, but we actually know very little about programming — we have to figure it out on our own (i.e. by attending a good course of some kind.).”

Private Sector

The private sector, in most cases, has visible career offices of differing quality. A few of the respondents had used their university’s career offices in order to learn how to prepare for an interview or prepare a CV. Most private universities have agreements with the business and public sector to admit their students as interns. In Kosovo 2.0’s interviews with private sector institutions, these agreements were touted as unique, although almost every single college and university has signed a number of these agreements with the same public institutions and private businesses. Exceptions include programs that are highly specialized, such as computer sciences, hospitality, customs, etc. When asked if they thought their college/university had prepared them for the labor market, most private sector respondents responded with the following categorizations: “yes, up to a certain point” and “a little.” In our interviews with private sector colleges and universities, the majority stated that 70-90 percent of their students found employment within one year of graduation.

Students’ Top Five Wishes For Higher Education In Kosovo

Public Sector

1. A recurring theme is the desire for new academic staff, although the specifics vary. Some respondents want professors who have studied abroad, while others simply want a younger generation of professors to replace the veterans at Kosovo’s public universities.

2. Several respondents stated that they felt the admissions criteria were too low and are sometimes completely ignored, resulting in overcrowded faculties and an unfair admissions process.

3. A reformed system of evaluation, with clear criteria, set curriculums, as well as reasonable time allowed for both attending lectures and preparing for exams.

4. Access to contemporary academic literature, both in electronic and print form.

5. Basic infrastructure, such as central heating, clean bathrooms, drinking water, and internet access across campus.

Private Sector

1. Respondents from private sector universities stated a desire for more accessible and accountable administrative staff, and easier access to grades and academic resources online.

2. More extra-curricular activities, both recreational and academic.

3. The ability to study at the Masters and PhD level. Kosovo’s private education sector is dominated by colleges, who have not met the Accreditation Agency’s criteria to be titled as universities. Until that happens, colleges can only offer Bachelors and a selection of Masters programs.

4. More opportunities for excellent students to excel, whether through exchange programs, scholarships, or grants of various kinds.

5. One respondent stated a desire for his university to produce more academic research. The majority of Kosovo’s universities do not have a high amount of research output, which means that Kosovo’s current academics are adding very little new material to their fields, and young academics have a poor starting point for their careers. Kosovo’s poor research output puts our universities and colleges at a disadvantage in terms of their reputation, as well as in terms of their placement in internationally recognized ranking schemes.

The Discussion Continues

The input above is just a brief window into the world of Kosovo’s students, who number in the hundreds of thousands. On the whole, respondents from public universities were more forthcoming with comments, while private sector respondents preferred to exclusively answer multiple-choice questions without providing further input. The specific experiences of the public and private education sectors will be explored in greater depth this week. Visit us tomorrow for the next installment of our education series; we’ll be providing profiles of 15 of some of the more popular private colleges and universities in Kosovo, as well as 14 University of Prishtina faculties.

Originally appeared on Kosovo 2.0. Available here in English, Albanian, and Serbian.

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