“Pact for the University,” meeting with students in Vlora

Prime Minister Edi Rama at meeting with “Ismail Qemali” University students in Vlora to discuss Pact for the University:

Thank you very much for providing this opportunity!

I think it would be better that we go on with a question and answer session so that we can go over details of aspects concerning the Pact for the University, as well as address this issues or questions that you may raise.

-I would like to publicly express my appreciation for transferring the territory of the nursing school under administrative responsibility, because it is imperative that a new building for the nursing faculty is constructed. I hope the project will be funded by the state budget so that project completes as scheduled.

PM Edi Rama: We have launched a process of gathering data on the infrastructural and logistical needs of each university and we have already built some partnerships between ministries and universities according to their field of expertise. Meanwhile, working teams have been already set up in order not only to collect the data on the needs of universities across the country, but also push for implementation of respective projects because genuine support programmes and projects are needed in order to fund a process like this. Our objective is that this programme becomes available by autumn and then launch the procedures by issuing open calls to various bidders so we can kick off work early next year. Likewise, we have also kicked off intensive work to reconstruct the student dormitories. We will go further with projects to renovate all student all over Albania, not only in Tirana, to ensure decent housing conditions for students and ultimately address all inherited problems once and for all so that we can then move to another stage.

Regarding the concrete example of the nursing faculty, I would like to reiterate that constructing a new faculty building is one of the needs of Vlora University. The process of collecting data on the needs and the respective projects should complete and we will then provide due funding to support these projects.

-You visited the university of Vlora around a year ago and unveiled a project on building the National Research Centre. When the process is supposed to begin?

PM Edi Rama: Well, it was not me to unveil the project, but the project has been presented to me. IN other words, I was a viewer of the project that was proposed by a group of university professors under the auspices of the rector. So, this is a question you should address to the rector, because, for months now, you are asking me all the questions you actually have for your lecturers, rectors. I agree, yet the government can’t play the role of your parents. The government has deal with its own tasks. It can’t do everything. I would be happy to take the university secretariat’s role and notify you about the new reduced tuition fees. I am ready to provide answers to everyone, but, in this case, it is the university rector the one who should provide details over the project. I have seen the project, but I don’t know what is going on with it.

Rector “Ismail Qemali” University, Roland Zisi: Student is right about the question in relation to the rector’s answer. The project was introduced in front of students and several cabinet members. You have provided a great contribution by initiating the initial talks, but given that this is an international project, its elements should be discussed in Brussels and it has been incredibly difficult to combine a set of factors.

Deputy Education Minister: The situation has run into the sand due to an institutional decision between the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Defence and the Delegation of the European Union. The Albanian side has tackled these issues and fortunately the EU Delegation has shown interest and commitment. We will try to push for the project and expect positive outcomes.

PM Edi Rama: All projects take their time. We discuss infrastructure projects here in our country, but if we were to look at the road projects in the EU members we would see that such projects take a very long time to complete, as they include a series of phases, starting with the feasibility study, funding and implementation.

Prior to this meeting, we attended the presentation made by the Turkish Airline executive and the Minister of Infrastructure and the financing agreement was practically signed today. Of course, it is impossible to answer everyone, although I do my best to communicate and provide answers and explanations to as many people as possible, but it is important for people to understand that projects take their time. Air Albania, at this stage – despite rumours – has gone through testing, training and internal legal procedures and international authorizations. The financing agreement has completed as it was signed today and the company will hopefully be certified within a reasonable time and another process of obtaining entire required documentation regarding international flights in Europe about which we have already received a positive response following a whole set of verifications carried out by the relevant international authorities about structure and other technical aspects. So, it is a process.

I provided this example as it is a fresh one, but I can bring much more other examples. Just like it is the case of the financing process and commencement of all these projects we are preparing for the university. It is important that we have made a massive shift of the fiscal space from the Thumana-Kashar Highway project to the Pact for the University so that we will have the largest volume of funding that the Albanian state has ever made available to the higher education. comparable, in terms of financing in higher education, in infrastructure. It is the largest funding volume over the past 30 years combined. But, in terms of concrete funding, it will take concrete detailed projects for each university. We will develop projects together and will gradually start to provide funding for them so that we can launch and complete a part of the university infrastructure projects and logistics within this term in office. By logistics I mean the massive needs for labs, didactic tools and student dormitories, but we are committed to materialize them.

The issue of verifying the academic degrees is another issue that needs to be addressed. This has been one of the most pressing protest issues. It is one of the reasons why lecturers have blocked teaching process. Let alone what they claim. Mark Marks have nothing to do with what they claim, but they have to do with an attempt that will become more aggressive in many ways in order to avoid verification of the academic degrees, which is one of the reasons why your and your parents’ investment is not always translated into the value you deserve.

Secondly, banning sale of textbooks by university professors as students are forced to buy them in exchange of a positive grade.

Third, evaluation of the professors’ performance by students.

These are the three pressing issues voiced during the protest. I have heard the voice of every student. Everyone knows I don’t watch TV. If it happens to turn on TV, I watch just movies or sports, while I receive a news brief on the main events from my press office and I have permanently closed the cover of the trash media in my private life. However, I have received a full transcript of everything students have said either during the mass protests, or on news reports. In addition to that, I have also been very attentive during the few meetings I’ve had during that half-revolutionary and half-vulgar atmosphere and I believe it is not wrong to say that these three were the most pressing demands. If you were to look at the individuals who sought to prolong protests and block teaching process, or those who warn to stage protests once a week without assuming their responsibility to teach every student, you won’t hear them say when and how they want to verification of academic degrees to be done, when the evaluation of the professors’ performance will be done by students or mention the ban on the sale of textbooks. I am saying this because when they say that the Council of Ministers’ decisions are unconstitutional this is related to the fact that they do not want decisions on such issues.

Meanwhile, we have clearly stated that we don’t want to make the verification of the academic degrees, because it is not the government, but the university that should carry out this process, but the mechanism has been in place. The higher education law also includes the mechanism how this process should have been carried out by the university itself. It turns out this process has not been done! Therefore, when we talk about Pact for the University it is not a unilateral thing. It is not about what we will be doing, but what you will be doing too?

In its current stage, I see the Pact for the University as a document of commitments, but it will soon, most likely by March or April, become a contract with the university officials and all students ready to become member of this Pact by signing it and want to monitor its implementation. This means that they will be guarantors of the Pact implementation by the government. Should the government set a deadline to build the digital library, someone will be held responsible if failing to deliver on this commitment. Of course the government will oversee the process together with you. However, there are things that cannot be done by the government. The government can’t intervene – as you have already seen – to free the university premises. When we talk about university autonomy, one should know that autonomy doesn’t mean freedom only, but it is also a great responsibility and it is up to the university officials to make sure teaching process takes place properly.

If you give up, I tell you that verification of the academic degrees will never take place. By saying this I am not playing politics and I am not making propaganda. I am saying it because I believe it based on what I have read and what I have been informed about. I have been extensively informed about university and I can confidently say that many university lecturers are covered up by using fake academic degrees. They do not represent a majority, yet a significant number of university professors are fake university degree holders. They are neither PHD holders, neither professors, but merely charlatans who force you to buy their textbooks in exchange of a positive grade. Meanwhile, we want to set up a mechanism that allows you to assess the professors’ performance once a year just like they evaluate yours. This is not a witch-hunt but a democratic and transparent mechanism, with every student granted the right to express his or her own opinion on teaching and therefore you have to listen this carefully. Even those revolutionaries who were shouting at the door upon my arrival, it would better for them not to forget their sacrifice during the protest.

Of course, we cut the tuition fees as we can afford it now. I have repeatedly stated and I want to reiterate it today. Should all of you and whole Albania were to protest and calling for the reduction of the tuition fee two years ago, we would have stated this is impossible. You could have been still protesting, but we would have rejected it. And why? Because we couldn’t afford it back then. But we now can. One could ask, “ok, but why now?” Because we are living in a democracy. We live in a democracy exactly because we are tasked with governing the country, yet we are also obliged and have the opportunity to listen to those we are governing, if we want to do so, and by listening to them we can understand and learn from them a lot of things, which, at certain moments, we either don’t understand or we don’t figure out what is going on. This is the reason why I have repeatedly put emphasis on the co-governance. This is not a slogan, but an imperative. We can learn in the process of listening those who raise their voice. Although a true professional, a doctor asks his patients 1000 times before drawing a conclusion on the diagnose. The same happens in this process. The government needs to listed to the citizens’ voice in order to understand and define the exact diagnosis of a problem and provide and answer to a problem. This is the process and we have drawn many conclusions and we have seriously reflected, not only on the basis of the eight student demands, but we have gone above and beyond their demands. We have also reflected on the governance process. The students protest has improved our government. The protest will have a significant impact to improve the university life. We will do our share. Our share is to provide funding for the infrastructure projects and logistics in the country’s universities. Our share is to support best performing students by covering the whole tuition fee and provide scholarships worth of 100 000 lek each month. Our share is to support students coming from families in need and students with disabilities or other social categories included in the Pact for the University.

This is all the government can do and it can’t order the university because we have to respect the autonomy of the university. You should be held accountable for the quality of teaching process, textbooks and the academic staff.

– Greetings! I would like to ask you about the master degree programs. I have noticed that the tuition fee for the master degree program at the social sciences faculty has increased to 1.2 million lek from a previous fee of 900000 lek. I am asking you about that because my sister is attending the master degree program there and it seems that you have halved the tuition fee for the bachelor programs, while increasing the fee for the master degree programs. Thank you!

PM Edi Rama: First of all, I have nothing to do with this. It is the university that should be held accountable and provide answers to this question. We don’t cut one fee to increase others. The government cannot interfere and set the tuition fees for the master degree programs. We have pledged to cover half of the tuition fee for best performing students with grade point average 9 to 10 and students coming from families under welfare benefits. This is all we can do regarding the master degree programs, but the university rector can answer to this question, because it is the university that imposes the tuition fees.

It is not true that the tuition fee for the master degree program has been raised. Quite the contrary, Ismail Qemali university in Vlora applies the lowest tuition fee rates compared to other universities. I can provide further details after this meeting. Thank you!

Rector of the Ismail Qemali University, Roland Zisi: Thank you Mr. Prime Minister. The issue regarding the student’s question has not to do with the rector’s decisions, but with the decisionmaking process of the university departments and faculties and it is the administrative board and the senate that have the last say on the teaching cost and tuition fees.

PM Edi Rama: To conclude, again I would like to draw attention on the issue of students’ employment. We have launched an online platform and we have already announced the vacancies in the public administration that are available to the best performing students. All vacancies in the public administration are now available to this category. The first 800 job positions have been announced and more vacancies will be announced in the future. Meanwhile, other vacancies in non-public administration will be announced soon. The difference is that a part of the administration enjoys the civil servant status. The problem we have encountered and the question we have been always asked was about the employment and working experience of the best performing students. We will provide them the working experience opportunity and they will take up job positions in the public administration based on their performance. It is a merit-based system. We will also make available to this student category all vacancies in other institutions not included in the civil service administration. Thank you very much and we are ready and available for everything.

– We have some idea regarding the students’ employment. Hotels and other accommodation facilities will be accredited according to the new national strategy on tourism. We propose that graduates from the School of Tourism and Hospitality Management be provided the opportunity to work as hotel managers.

PM Edi Rama: We are working on a whole process of cooperation and partnership agreements that are being inked between the universities and ministries according to the field of expertise. So we are establishing direct relations and partnership with the universities that will help the government with expertise and consultancy in various areas. We will amend the legislation or the Council of Ministers’ decisions to allow universities launch their own profit companies that will have access to the market. A series of internships can be carried out under such programs. Your idea will be seriously considered and I believe it has been already included in the program of the Ministry of Tourism. They are drafting the partnership documents with the faculties and of course your idea can be easily taken into consideration.

Thank you very much!