Demo at dismissal of Kosovo academic

May 26, 2006

The University of Pristina, re-established as part of the strategy for the reconstruction of Kosovo after the end of the war in 1999, is in turmoil after the dismissal of its steering committee president and a year without a rector.

Jahi Hoxha was dismissed from the committee at the beginning of May. Last Friday, he agreed to vacate his office, in spite of protests that his dismissal was illegal. Students claimed that Mr Hoxha's dismissal by Kosovo's Education Minister, Agim Veliu, infringed academic autonomy. They appealed to Prime Minister Agim Ceku to dismiss Mr Veliu and to revoke the administrative order under which the Education Minister can dismiss senior university officials.

Protests included a boycott of lectures (claimed to have been supported by 95 per cent of the students) and a demonstration outside the ministry headquarters, during which eggs were thrown.

There has been a delay of more than a year in electing a new rector.

Elections were held, but the result was considered illegal. The Kosovo Government's intervention and the dismissal of Mr Hoxha was an attempt to break the deadlock. But it triggered a major dispute in the Kosovo Parliament, leading to accusations from university academics that the issue was becoming unnecessarily "politicised". The lecture boycott ended in an agreement between the ministry and the university that elections for a new rector would be held in July.

But Michael Daxner, who was responsible for the higher education sector in Kosovo during the early years of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo mandate, sees this latest dispute as symptomatic of wider problems. He said that the changes of elite necessary for civil development in Kosovo "must and will" have to start in the higher education sector and that only internationalisation - at least for a transitional period - of the whole higher education sector in Kosovo could ensure some "peaceful development and stabilisation", irrespective of the final decision on the status of the territory.

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