Higher Education Reform in the Balkans

By Morgan, Anthony W. | Academe, September/October 2004 | Go to article overview

Higher Education Reform in the Balkans


Morgan, Anthony W., Academe


The Bologna Process lays out a blueprint for European-wide reform of colleges and universities. Can it surmount existing traditions and structures in Macedonia?

Struggling economies, outdated academic cultural traditions, and obsolete organizational structures are among the problems facing higher education reformers in the Balkans today. Change comes hard there despite difficult financial circumstances that elsewhere might provide the impetus for reform. Yet governmental and university leaders are finding common ground in the Bologna Process-a major initiative to reform higher education throughout the greater European area.

This article focuses on this common ground and the resulting reforms in one Balkan nation, Macedonia, and it places the changes in the broader context of the Balkans, Eastern Europe, and Russia. I make my observations based on my involvement in projects in Macedonia for the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the World Dank. I also draw on my extensive work in Eastern Europe and with the Salzburg Seminar, an organization established in 1947 to promote global dialogue on issues of international concern.

Macedonia, one of six former republics of the former Yugoslavia, has only two public universities. One of them, Sts. Cyril and Methodius University, in the capitol city of Skopje, is dominant in size and prestige. It has twenty-four of the country's thirty faculties (units comparable to U.S. departments or, in some cases, colleges or schools). The remaining faculties are at St. Kliment Ohridski University, whose principal campus is in IJitola.

The universities' combined enrollment in 2002 was 44,710. That number represents a 64 percent increase since 1994. Like most other Balkan countries, Macedonia has a "unitary system," meaning that non-university-level programs and faculties, such as the faculty of tourism and catering at Bitola, are an integral part of these universities; they are not housed in separate nonunivcrsity institutions. Private universities were authorized only in 2000 by changes to the Higher Education Law, but they are now growing rapidly, with enrollments estimated at about 10,000. These private institutions have become the primary access point for underrepresented ethnic Albanian students. One of the two largest private institutions, Tetovo University, is in the process of becoming an accredited public university; the other, South Eastern European University, continues to expand rapidly with a multiethnic student population.

Life is not easy for anyone in Macedonia. The official unemployment rate was 32 percent in 2002, and the poverty rate hovers around 25 percent. For ethnic Albanians, who constitute about a quarter of the population, the unemployment rate is about 50 percent. Monthly wages for all Macedonian workers in 2002 averaged $630 in U.S. dollars. In the broader region, Albania's workers earned the least ($332 a month), while Croatia's earned the most ($1,357 a month). Wages for academics in Macedonia are below the Macedonian average wage.

Macedonia, like many other countries in economic transition, is under pressure from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to bring its government expenditures down to a percentage of its gross domestic product that is more in line with that of Western nations. Universities find themselves squeezed between these fiscal constraints and burgeoning enrollments that demand larger faculties and facilities. In response, institutions throughout the region and in Russia created a dual tuition system that admits some students tuition free under state quotas. Those who do not qualify for highly competitive tuition-rrec admissions pay relatively high fees. The system is, however, breaking down in Macedonia, and all students are beginning to pay at least some tuition.

The Bologna Process

In 1999, education ministers from twenty-nine countries signed the Bologna Declaration, which aims to create a European Higher Education Area by 2010. …

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