Dissident Serbian academics are exploring the possibility of collaboration with universities in the UK.
Representatives from the Belgrade-based Alternative Academic Education Network have been in London seeking support for their initiative. The group's members are mainly former academics from the University of Belgrade who were sacked or resigned in the wake of the University Law, which was in effect a loyalty test for Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic. The network was launched last year, shortly before the Nato bombing campaign began and after 1,000 professors and assistants out of Belgrade's 4,000 staff lost their jobs. About a third were involved in setting up the AAEN, which began its first semester in February 1999.
The first students have already graduated, but their diplomas are not recognised either in Serbia or internationally. Before the Nato air strikes, the AAEN professors were planning visits to the US, Germany, France and some other Western European countries in search of cooperation. The war put all possible initiatives on hold, either because the professors could not travel or because their western colleagues decided to wait until conflict between the sides eased.
Marija Bogdanovic, a former dean at the philosophy faculty, was one of three AAEN academics in London on a visit organised by the Serbian Information Centre and supported by the Foreign Office and the British Council. "We came to the UK to look for 'benefits in kind' - cooperation with UK universities, such as exchange of courses, seminars, professors and students, and most important, recognition of AAEN diplomas," said Ms Bogdanovic. "We are hoping to find a partner here for a joint masters course."
Gasa Petrovic, formerly a law professor at Belgrade, said: "Our students are chosen from among the best graduates in Serbia. At the AAEN we have adopted comprehensive, interdisciplinary courses - quite a new idea in countries in transition. We believe the AAEN is the basis of a future modern university of Serbia."
The AAEN representatives met academics from the University of Westminster and the School for Slavonic and East European Studies. Westminster staff have already collaborated with individual academics from the network through two British Council-sponsored conferences in Montenegro - on democratic reconstruction in the Balkans and on environmental strategies for the region. Margaret Blunden, provost of the Regent campus of the University of Westminster, said: "We are keen to offer what assistance we can to the network, which includes some very distinguished academics, and hope to be able to offer a scholarship to enable an outstanding student from the network to take an MA in international relations and political theory."