Fighting corruption top of Serb students' hitlist

February 1, 2002

Serb students have drafted a policy paper outlining their vision for the reform of post-Milosovic universities.

The Desired University identifies seven areas for reform that emerged from a December conference in Belgrade, attended by 200 students from five universities.

The paper highlights corruption, tuition fees and enrolment policies, curricula, quality assurance, grading, university management and alternative education as the key areas for reform.

Marija Mitrovic, vice-president of the Serb students union, described the conference as "a clear sign that students want to be involved and that students are adequate partners to institutions".

The policy paper, which is being distributed to all university teachers and most students in Serbia, argues that unless corruption is taken seriously by students, teaching staff, the police and the judiciary, little will change.

The paper identifies four areas of corruption in Serbian universities in which "teachers, together with students and administrative staff, participate in illegal acts": students buying grades with money or favours; students masquerading as other students to take tests and gain better grades; forging of documents needed for grants or dormitory rights; and the conspiracy of silence between staff who may gain advantages by not informing on those guilty of corruption.

"A Serbian-wide student network (should) keep close watch for any kind of corruption. Faculty and management, as well as the police and judiciary, must become actively involved," the paper says.

Feedback has been largely positive, according to Ms Mitrovic. But Marija Bogdanovic, rector of Belgrade University, told the students that the situation there was not as serious as was described in the report.

Giving universities more independence, within a system where they are "fully accountable to the state", is also a necessary reform. The paper says it would pave the way for a more responsive admissions system that was not merely designed as a "solution for youth unemployment" and could offer a quality-assured system of fee-paying and state-supported students.

The paper concludes with the demand that "student participation be guaranteed" and that one-fifth of all places on governing bodies be reserved for student participants.

Sjur Bergan, head of the higher education and research division of the Council of Europe, said the students' paper was impressive and "a valuable contribution to the ongoing process of higher education reform in Serbia".

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