Bosnian education rises from ashes

January 8, 1999

Four years of war have devastated Bosnia's universities: thousands of students and lecturers have quit, courses are out of date, and damaged university buildings remain in disrepair.

Not only does higher education in Bosnia and Hercegovina lag behind the rest of the world, there are also few jobs available for young people who complete university study, and rates of pay for lecturers are particularly poor.

Other European universities are now trying to address the situation. Last year, representatives from 26 European institutions visited Sarajevo to meet colleagues from five universities in Bosnia and Hercegovina to take stock of existing projects and to review a four-year aid programme.

Nicolas Levrat of the Free University of Brussels, a regular visitor to Sarajevo, believes significant progress has been made in reconstructing damaged buildings, replacing teaching materials and in developing academic cooperation.

"The prospects look much better this year," Professor Levrat said. "With encouragement from European partners, the five universities in Bosnia and Hercegovina have started to cooperate among themselves."

One difficulty that worries both Professor Levrat and Martin Botta, of the Human Rights Centre at the University of Sarajevo, is the division of responsibility for the universities among different public authorities.

"The structure of the universities is a small model of the sickness of the structure of the state as a whole," Mr Botta said. "Decentralisation is an excellent means of creating responsibility and increasing abilities for self-government, but one has to acknowledge that there can be too much (of a good thing)."

This approach has encouraged a multiplication of universities and the spread of efforts to develop academic life. But according to Borna Krempler, programme adviser to World University Service in Sarajevo: "As there are neither financial nor human resources to run so many institutions properly, high-quality education will be impossible to achieve and the future of the country will be at risk."

Professor Levrat believes the quality of teaching in Bosnia is still high, but that a cohort of young professors and advanced PhD students is missing. "Efforts by the international academic community should, in the mid-term, concentrate on allowing a new generation of university professors to emerge," he said.

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