Are Kosovo’s private colleges filling the education gap?

When Liridona Hajdini decided to further her education, she chose one of the many private institutions now operating in Kosovo. The experience, she says, is not what she anticipated.

“Testing, lectures and quality were really not as good as I was expecting,” she toldSETimes.

Even worse, she says her choice has proved an obstacle to gaining admission to the University of Pristina, with administrators there saying she lacks the necessary credentials.

“I applied … but was always refused,” she recounts. “They told me ‘you have graduated from a private university and this makes it impossible’.”

Twenty-three private institutions in Kosovo now offer bachelors’ or masters’ degrees in various areas of study, according to the Kosovo Accreditation Agency. Experts, however, continue to raise doubts about the quality of these degrees and the institutions granting them.

“I have observed that many private institutions accept students without the Matura Degree, and students get accepted throughout the year, [ignoring] deadlines,” education expert Blerand Krasniqi told SETimes.

The government lacks a strategy to address the needs of the labour market through higher education, he adds.

“Kosovo has not addressed the issue how the study areas in private and public institution reflect the needs of the labour market. When it comes to the private institutions I see some general areas which do not reflect really the needs, and this creates a lack of qualified people in the most needed sectors like agriculture or energy,” Krasniqi said.

Avni Mazreku is founder and head of the ISPE College, a private institution that offers a degree in European and Security Studies. He worries that some facilities use the name “university” whether they deserve that distinction or not.

“None of the [private] higher institutions in Kosovo have the university title, and use of the term university is a marketing trend. This is not a good thing … these institutions should work for quality … not for number of students,” Mazreku told SETimes.

He says that his college has done everything to achieve a high academic level and to create fields of study according to the needs of the domestic job market.

“ISPE College is a product of the University of Bremen in Germany. Our programmes are designed and established according to labour market requirements, in order to provide access and quality for the work that Kosovo has along its road towards European integration,” Mazreku said.

According to Krasniqi, the lack of co-operation between public and private institutions has created roadblocks for a large number of students, creating what he terms a human rights violation.

“Until this year, many generations were unable to get a master’s or PhD degree in a public institution just because they studied at a private institution, even those licensed by the government,” he said.

Kosovo has only two public universities, though the government has promise that more will open in the years ahead.

Sociologist Arberie Gashi says rightly or wrongly, society’s attitude towards the private universities is understandable.

“Kosovo is a post-communist society, where everything dealing with education was public not private, and this plays a role in creating an opinion on a social phenomenon. Many people see private universities as a business, and not as institutions that create qualified people,” Gashi toldSETimes.