The University of Pristina is ready to greet the rest of Europe as an equal, as Michael Daxner reports
At the start of a new millennium, the University of Pristina has a chance to become a fully respected member of Europe's community of higher education.
Its staff and students can be proud of the many achievements for which they have worked, and sometimes fought, over the university's 30 years of existence.
The experience of those years will make administrators, academics and students sensitive to, and aware of, the demands that society makes of its intellectuals.
It is impossible to celebrate the anniversary without painful memories and an awareness of irreversible losses and breaches. There are many absentees who, under different circumstances, would be greeted as friends and colleagues. We must now work very hard to create circumstances in which it is once again possible to greet them and to be greeted by them as members of the same community.
The academic community has often been ahead of political and diplomatic activities. Why should this not be the case with Pristina, as an equal among neighbours in the region?
Together with international partners and donors, we shall reform this university. Immense effort has already been put into the changes needed to achieve integration into the European network of universities, as an equal among equals.
There will be a high price to pay. Traditions will be sacrificed: it will not be possible to shelter behind the self-referential containment of the parallel system that sprang up in 1990.
Old systems of appointment and hierarchy will not survive, and the university must become more horizontally organised and open. Students will not learn from inflexible, teacher-oriented curricula, focused on replication rather than motivating the development of critical personalities.
With or without the United Nations mission in Kosovo, the university will have to pay this price. But it is better to initiate reforms now, in a partnership that may be strenuous and often conflicting, but that has the same tasks and visions in sight.
This window of opportunity will be open for only a short time. Donors and organised groups in higher education always look for the place where the greatest impetus for reform is deployed, where the dynamics of reforms are most visible.
Anyone excluding themselves from this process will not be punished or suffer sanctions, but will simply disappear from the public and professional awareness of the scientific community that sets such rules and standards.
Pristina, like any university in Germany, Canada or Japan, must develop honest and self-critical accountability that does not rely too heavily on the merits of the past.
Steps have already been taken - work on a new statute has been initiated. Consultants from the Council of Europe have met a commission elected by the senate of the university.
The first decisions will soon be made on teacher training and a new organisation of professional education. A management information system will be developed. The university has always insisted it has more than 20,000 students. The basic data for the student elections records just over 15,000. The question of how to count regular and "irregular" (not enrolled) students is not trivial, when 6,000 or more "irregulars" are admitted.
Left unchecked, overstaffing will hinder the appointment of young faculty and the introduction of new subjects and programmes.
The reforms will be intensive. It is inevitable that the standards ensuring compatibility and international recognition are not only locally introduced and supervised, but that external competencies are also involved. This should not be feared as a threat but seen as an opportunity. However, social and cultural ruptures will dig deeply into this young, yet traditional, university.
Making our graduates employable, as well as creating mature personalities, is vital for the university and the province.
We are not seeking to deliver the youth of Kosovo to a blind and inhumane capitalism, but it is essential to recognise that the market is the only mechanism through which the university can become involved in decisions about the Kosovar economy.
A market economy has rules that should govern academics and guide students, who will be privileged among their age-group just by being able to enrol for degree-level study and come into contact with the intellectual world of science and scholarship.
We may feel overburdened by demanding visions of a civil society, democratic spirit, and, particularly, multi-ethnic institution-building. Yet these visions must be realised, otherwise we will fail in our mission. They can only become real, however, if we start with the concrete, everyday life of the university. It is the essence of the university, not the bureaucratic systems, that will decide whether our reforms stand a chance of success.
Neither blind heroism, a retreat into nationalist mythology, nor an attempt at self-contained isolation can solve our problems. As intellectuals, we must be exposed to the reality that comes only from the arts and from science.
The University of Pristina must not remain a vision and a dream, but become a reality as soon as we start once more to bring Europe into our classrooms, lecture theatres and laboratories. Europe will become more aware of the new civil Kosovo, and this young university may be also linked to this success.
Michael Daxner is international administrator of the University of Pristina, Kosovo.