Where are Kosovo’s graduates headed?

Kosovo 2.0 spent most of October reading reports on education and trying to visit, phone, and email Kosovo’s universities and faculties in an attempt to understand the challenges facing higher education in Kosovo. So far, our education series has included the results of an anonymous online survey targeted at students, individual profiles of universities and colleges in the municipality of Prishtina, and summaries of the specific difficulties facing the public and private education sectors. Despite all of our reading and all of our (attempted) interviews with university administrators, the real feedback came from students themselves.

Kosovo 2.0 sat down with UP students Valton and Tringa, private sector student Fiona, and two additional students from the private sector who preferred not to be identified because they were worried about their respective schools reading their quotes. We wanted to go over the results of our findings on Kosovo’s colleges and universities with the people who know them best: their students. The public and private sector’s problems are different, but a single problem seems to lie at the root of Kosovo’s higher education woes: the perception that diplomas, and not education or acquired skills, are the goal for people attending college or university.

“Students read, they don’t study,” says Valton, a Political Science student who is about to graduate. The professors, though, are not much better. Despite the work of a small group of professors and teaching assistants who are working to introduce a new kind of academic culture, Tringa and Valton’s complaints included professors who don’t come to class regularly, teaching assistants who lecture in the place of professors, unfair grading systems, professors who force students to buy their books, professors who teach lectures based on Wikipedia entries, and — worst of all — professors who ask students to translate material into Albanian, only to have the translated material appear, in plagiarized form, in said professor’s article or book.

The private sector has the advantage of bigger budgets, which means better overall infrastructure and better oversight of university operations. However, as with every private business, quality and expectations vary. “I don’t think that the cost of tuition corresponds with the quality of education,” said one of our anonymous interviewees. The quality of teaching is better overall, although learning happens primarily through theory, and not practice. The students we spoke to hoped that the higher quality of teaching, the emphasis placed on the English language, and the possibility to pursue higher degrees would adequately prepare them for the labor market. Kosovo 2.0 has noticed that the private sector varies greatly in terms of quality; some institutions offer education comparable to, and often better than, their public sector counterparts, but many other institutions can only be classified as diploma mills. There is a real danger of high school graduates falling prey to false advertising, without any chance of recompense.

Who should be fighting for the interests of students? According to Valton, UP’s student government is a joke. “Only 31 percent of the student body voted in the last elections. They are not the voice of students — on the contrary, they’re known as money hogs.” The politicization of student groups at the University of Prishtina has been reported on multiple times since the end of the war; many of UP’s student groups receive official and unofficial support from Kosovo’s national political parties. In the private sector, there aren’t student governments per se, but rather student associations with unclear responsibilities.

When asked about their prospects after graduation, our group had mixed feelings. According to Tringa, UP hasn’t helped her prepare for an employment landscape so harsh that even an internship is hard to come by without personal connections. “[When I applied for an internship], I was asked ‘do you know anyone? I’ll give you the form, but it will stay here. No one will look at it unless someone intervenes on your behalf.’” Valton has similar sentiments. “We learn everything and nothing. I don’t even know what I’m qualified for.” Fiona, who is studying at a private college, is a bit more hopeful: “Am I ready for the labor market?” I hope so, I really do.”

Kosovo’s famously young population is underemployed and underprepared for the labor market, and their education means the difference between a skilled, productive workforce and a remittance economy. The world of higher education in Kosovo absorbs thousands of young people every year. Their hunger to learn and to succeed is often, and with only a few exceptions, met with inadequate resources and sub-par teaching methods. With substandard regulation and quality control, it is up to Kosovo’s students to figure out a way to survive the chaos of Kosovo’s public universities — or to come up with the money required for a (sometimes dubious) private education. In the big picture, it’s the country as a whole that pays for generations of unemployed, diploma-carrying young people.

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

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