Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and their relevance to higher education in Kosovo

SERHATI, Jehona

Jehona Serhati of the University of Kassel, analyzes the mutual interdependence between higher education and the MDG’s in Kosovo. Analyzing the current situation of the MDG’s in that country, the author makes a call to the government for further involving the University of Prishtina as a fundamental pillar for the achievement of MDG’s.

Introduction
Due to the political situation in the Balkans, Kosovo, and other countries in the region, are lagging behind other European countries with factual and developmental data. Nevertheless, the presence of international organizations after the war has aided in the building of a basic and applied research system, through project expertise and financing .The role of higher education institutions is of crucial and everlasting importance to Kosovo, particularly in research conduction. The history and challenging times of the then only public Albanian controlled University in Kosovo -the University of Prishtina and its tough resistance during different political “high tides and low tides” are some of the features that make this institution the ambassador of national goals of this country.

The role of international and supra-national organizations to the implementation of Millennium Development Goals has proved essential. However, the role of higher education (HE) to MDGs’ progress is still obscure as no analyses or studies have been carried out so far. In the context of some meta-analytic research of various reports commissioned by public and international organizations and institutions, this research paper will seek to shed light to the particular role of HE to MDGs and vice-versa. The focus of this article is placed on the role of academia as a catalyst towards accelerating the process of achieving the MDGs. The latest factsheet on MDGs in Kosovo issued by United Nations Kosovo Team serves as a reference point for addressing each goal’s progress and shortfalls.

Although MDGs are interconnected and the malfunction of one of them can affect all others like a chain reaction, the most vulnerable and elusive goals in Kosovo are examined in this paper: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger (Goal 1), Achieve Universal Primary Education (Goal 2), Reduce Child Mortality and Improve Maternal Health. The following sections will further explain why. The goal for promoting gender equality and empowering women is presented as a success story of all actors involved in its attainment: government, civil society and higher education – University of Prishtina.

Some background to higher education in Kosovo
After the war, Kosovo was administered by the United Nations Interim Administration in Kosovo (UNMIK). In February 17th, 2008 Kosovo was declared independent and is now recognized as a sovereign state by 75 UN countries. As of 2008 Kosovo has a new constitution and is de facto under the governance of the Republic of Kosovo. EULEX – the Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo - is responsible for monitoring, mentoring and advising Kosovo police, judiciary and customary authorities.

Two parallel public higher education institutions function in Kosovo: the Albanian controlled University of Prishtina and the Serbian controlled University of northern Mitrovica, which is considered an illegal institution by the Kosovo Ministry of Education (Tahirsylaj, 2008). The unstable political climate which has its roots in the old conflict between the two ethnicities that live in Kosovo (Albanians and Serbs), also hinders cooperation between the two universities. The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology did not have access to the University of Mitrovica and, thus, the strategy of the development of higher education from 2005-2015 does not include any information on this institution (Tahirsylaj, 2008). Therefore, this paper will focus on the role and the relevance of Millennium Development Goals to the University of Prishtina and vice-versa.

And now some history on MDGs in Kosovo
After years of isolation Kosovo welcomed the MDGs as they overlapped with the national re-building and development agenda. However, when representatives from 192 United Nations member states gathered together and signed a declaration to establish a timeframe for achieving eight international goals by 2015, Kosovo representatives were not present due to the country’s undefined status and, thus, did not sign the declaration (UNDP, 2010). Nevertheless, the goals that arose from this meeting were of fundamental importance to Kosovo’s national development.

To help Kosovo’s self-governing institutions utilize these goals for improving human development and ensuring integration into the global efforts, the United Nations Kosovo Team prepared a baseline MDG Report in 2004 specifically for Kosovo entitled “Where will we be in 2015?”. The report aimed at tracking Kosovo’s status in all sectors related to the MDGs. The MDG Factsheet 2010 is now issued by United Nations Kosovo Team (UNKT) and is used as a reference point in this article. The measuring, monitoring and reporting of progress on the MDGs in Kosovo are the main highlights. In 2008 the Assembly of Kosovo endorsed the Millennium Declaration and affirmed institutional commitment to meet the MDGs by 2015 (UNDP, 2010).

Review of progress and shortfalls of Millennium Development Goals in Kosovo
Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
Eradicating extreme poverty and reducing relative poverty are two of the most challenging goals in Kosovo thus far. The newest UNKT (2010) data shows that 45% of the population lives in poverty and 16.7% in extreme poverty.
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Source: SOK (2008 - 2009), UNDP (2007), UNICEF 2009

These are individuals who live with under € 43/month (UNKT, 2010).Consequently, Kosovo is considered to have the poorest society in the Western Balkans (UNKT, 2008). Thus, halving the poverty rate is the most challenging goal for Kosovo, which has languished behind this target 11 years after the conflict and 3 years since its independence. The rural area - where the majority of Kosovars live - face the greatest difficulties in achieving this goal. As indicated in reports by the World Bank and UNDP, absolute poverty dropped in 2002 but dramatically increased in 2004 throughout 2006. Absolute poverty has been successfully halved in urban areas but is still a problem in rural areas where poverty has, in fact, increased.

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Source: UNDP (2007)

Failure to achieve this goal has impact on the rest of the chain from the top to bottom; eradicating poverty has the potential to accelerate the completion of other MDGs if properly handled. Reasons for the current predicament mainly stem from side effects of the conflict, such as loss of property due to destruction and displacement. Approximately 27% ( or 120,000)of the housing stock in Kosovo was damaged. Trepca mining complex, the largest industrial site in Kosovo, was closed down due to the continuing tensioned political situation between the Kosovo Serbs and Kosovo Albanian. During the 1980s this complex employed “20,000 workers and accounted for 70 percent of all Yugoslavia’s mineral wealth” (Stuart, 2002). Other manufactories were either burned or closed down due to cases of corruption. Further, the poor infrastructure and rural-urban migration has put the sustainable rural development in jeopardy. Such sustainable measures would translate to agricultural development, which can be a very “fertile” source for improving a national economy.

What is the role of higher education in this context? Research carried out by the National Agricultural Research System (NARS) of Kosovo, composed of the Kosovo Institute of Agriculture (KIA) and the Faculty of Agriculture, shows that there is only applied research conducted by KIA and UP (KIA, n.d). One of the major issues cited by KIA in failing to conduct basic research is the lack of resources (i.e. scientists who have left the country; research facilities; staff skills and knowledge of new agricultural research techniques and technology) that were destroyed during the conflict. With over 60 percent of Kosovo’s population engaged in some form of agriculture, this sector would accommodate a wide range of the country’s labour force and production if it functioned properly. Presently, Kosovo has the highest unemployment rate in Europe (at approximately 45.5%). The fact that Kosovo has little to no capacities to foster new jobs for the ever-growing number of people entering the world of work (the average in Kosovo is 25) leaves the country in a precarious state. The KIA’s challenge to progress is only one example that shows the lack of resources in the field of agriculture among many others.

Achieve Universal Primary Education
Achieving universal primary education has been a formidable challenge for Kosovo. After the conflict, schools were destroyed. However, international development aid was of greatest help in re-building school infrastructure. Integrative education for all minorities in Kosovo was one of the priorities of education reforms. With high primary school participation rates (95.9% of Kosovo Albanians and 94% of Kosovo Serbs), Kosovo fares well compared to others, but the biggest concern comes from Roma, Ashkali Egyptian (RAE) community, whose primary education participation rate is 75.7% and children with special needs whose participation is only 12.1% (UNDP, 2002). School participation becomes even more concerning at higher levels of education. The higher the education level, the lower the participation (UNDP, 2002).

Rural areas face the biggest challenge to continue education. In the academic year 1999/2001, the total percentage of primary education was approximately 73%, but this percentage has increased to 95.44% by 2005, though the drop-out rate remains very high – 19% for both genders (UNDP, 2002). This figure is highly affected in the 9th grade, which is part of the primary education according to the reformed education system entered into force after 2002. This “breakthrough” grade between primary and lower secondary education is mostly not offered at the same schools where other levels are provided. Instead, it is offered in other locations and - for those living in villages - this turns out to be a burden as there are no secondary schools in rural areas (UNICEF, 2003). Thus, all the additional expenses that families must provide for educating their children become huge barriers for rural development. Further, the lack of qualified teaching and management adds to the central problems that face the Kosovo primary education system.

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Source: UNKT (2010)

How is the situation in higher levels of education?
The number of enrolments at the University of Prishtina has increased over the years but the biggest challenge is the mismatch between the increased demand by prospective students and the low supply. Interest among first year applicants at the University of Prishtina rapidly increased in the academic year 2007/2008 (SOK, 2009). 19185 students enrolled for the first time during this academic year. The trend of university enrolments has raised other uncertainties in UP: overcrowded amphitheatres (BIRN, 2009). The insufficient conditions to fulfil the lowest criteria for a teaching and learning environment and lack of professors in certain faculties (BIRN, 2009) are also identified as major problems this university faces. The role of higher education institutions in training and producing professional teachers required for primary and secondary education is imperative and it shows once again the interrelation among all levels of education. A university graduate would sooner or later become a potential teacher/professor or trainer of the future generations.

Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women
This goal is considered to be one of the most successful MDGs in Kosovo (UNICEF, 2003). The active involvement and mechanisms undertaken by the government came as a result of pressure from international actors in Kosovo and the local NGOs highly committed to women’s rights. The 30% quota in Parliament makes the representation of women in the Assembly of Kosovo the second highest in the region. However, women are underrepresented in the labour market. Data show that only 12% of women out of 28.4% registered in the labour force have permanent full-time work (UNKT, 2010). Women’s involvement in primary education is almost equal to that of men.

What is the contribution of the UP to this goal? The Gender Equality Office, established in 2007 by the University of Prishtina, seeks to promote women in academia alongside with gender equality and equity in the university. Some of the objectives of this office are: mainstream of gender equality and prevention of gender discrimination within the University, research conduction with the aim to generate knowledge on gender issues, and promotion and awareness increase about gender equality not only within academic settings but also outside, among the overall society. It is not stated in the mission of this office whether its general aim is related to MDGs or not, but it is clearly highly contributing to their attainment. What has been so crucial to this goal is the involvement of many sectors and actors; therefore the UP has a fundamental role in this goal.

Reduce Child Mortality and Improve Maternal Health
There are slight improvements in these goals’ achievements, but the health sector remains one of the most endangered public service sectors in Kosovo (UNKT, 2010). The lack of capacities in the public hospital, which meantime hosts all the departments of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Prishtina, is a result of misuse, fraud and corruption. Financial support has been provided by different international donors in addressing the needs of public hospitals, but very often the resources have disappeared and never reached out to those in need.

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Source: UNKT, 2010

The quality and access to antenatal care is one of the most unsatisfactory services offered by public hospitals in Kosovo. The recent data (UNDP, 2009) demonstrate an increase in the number of reported maternal deaths and maternal mortality rate – 43.3 mothers die in 100,000 births. The same troubling rates exist for child care whereby Kosovo with a very high under-five mortality rate – 69 per 1,000 live births (DHS 2003, SOK) as compared to other European countries is considered to have the poorest status in child health (UNKT, 2010). The limited knowledge of women’s health, the government’s low spending on health (specifically for maternal and child health care) and poor quality of data are considered as some of the main hindrances to these two goals. What is the role and potential contribution of the Medical Faculty of the University of Prishtina in attaining these goals? Several activities in which HE institutions can assist with these goals are suggested by international scholars (Mohamedbhai, 2008). Educating mothers about childcare can help reduce the under 5-mortality in many countries, in particular developing countries. The role of HE institutions in this respect is vital by reaching out to target populations through various forms of non-formal education programs organized by faculties and departments of social work. Students of Faculty of Medicine can provide immunization programs through Ministries of Health. Training nurses, midwives, offering skilled attendance during childbirth and introducing family planning as part of HE curricula are some of the programs that can help reduce maternal mortality. Notwithstanding austerity measures and lack of resources, academia in the Faculty of Medicine in Kosovo is engaged on individual basis in some scientific research though limited. Research is a panacea that could shed light on the underestimated issues that are rooted in larger concerns of the country. Nevertheless public HE in Kosovo is financed by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, thus the final decision for funding is not in the University’s hands.

Conclusion
History of the University of Prishtina is a splendid example for highlighting the challenges and decision-making an institution can face in tumultuous times. The commitment and efforts of the University of Prishtina to MDGs, although not direct are apparently more effective and progress-oriented than those of the government. It is important for the government to realize the role of universities and give them more autonomy and freedom to lead. Given the research being undertaken by academia, the management of the University of Prishtina should acknowledge their capacities and recognize academic work and provide more space to generate knowledge inside the university and disseminate it to society. Like many other economically under-developed countries, corruption is no stranger in Kosovo’s public institutions, which is certainly curtailing overall development.

Accelerating progress in MDGs will depend on the policies that Kosovo’s government will endorse together with the help of academia, civil society and international organizations. Distribution of responsibilities to HE would complement the role of government and would increase the level of commitment. Guidance and inception of legislation are some of the responsibilities that could be spearheaded by higher education to ease government’s pain (Sahatciu, 2010). At a time of financial crisis, when countries around the world are cutting HE budgets, Kosovo will undoubtedly follow suit. Therefore, it is important to use existing capacities and “do more with less” to achieve effective and efficient results at a time of greater demand with fewer resources.

About the author

Jehona Serhati, a Kosovar native, earned her Bachelor degree in Psychology from the University of Prishtina in Kosovo. In 2009 she was awarded with Deutsche Akademischer Austausch Dienst (DAAD) scholarship to continue her education in Germany, and is currently a Master’s candidate of Higher Education Research and Development at the University of Kassel-INCHER in Germany.

Jehona has worked for local and international organizations and companies whereby she has coordinated many third –party funding projects supported by UNICEF, SOROS, Dutch Embassy, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, EULEX to name a few. Jehona has built and developed her academic, training, and work experience in Kosovo, Serbia, Poland, The Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. Her research areas are mainly focused on: the role of higher education in developing countries, transition from higher education to employment and professional career, and lifelong learning.

For further information about this article, contact the author at the following e-mail address: jserhati@gmail.com

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