Serbian universities took the first steps towards reintegration into Europe last week.
Thirty-seven academics from the countries' universities met in Belgrade with the administrators of European funding programmes. The aim was to bring Serbia, after ten years of sanctions and isolation, back into the community of universities and to enable the funding institutions to share information about grant, fellowship and exchange programmes.
Acting rector of Belgrade University, Marija Bogdanovic, said the conference had succeeded. "We now know how to contact many institutions about joint projects, fellowships and grants."
Holger Shroeder, manager at the European Commission for the Tempus programme - which offers funding to universities in Albania, Macedonia, Bosnia, Herzegovina and Croatia - said he had come to explore the possibility of including Serbia within Tempus. "I wanted to listen and understand the situation in the country and to understand the reforms that are going on in higher education," he said.
The principal legal change is the new Serbian university law, which will replace a 1998 law imposed by the Milosevic regime. This led to the dismissal of hundreds of professors because they would not sign restricted job contracts that many viewed as crude pledges of party loyalty.
Those Serb professors cannot return to work until the law is revoked and a new one passed, which should happen within a month.
European Union representatives at the conference advised the Belgrade authorities on bringing its new law in line with European legislation.
Lewis Purser, programme manager for the Association of European Universities (European Rectors' conference), made his first contact with the Belgrade authorities. He said that previous contact had been limited and that he gained information about the situation in Serbia through individuals and news reports.
Austrian, German and Norwegian institutions were strongly represented. Gerhard Duda, from the German rectors' conference, said he was looking for projects that would come under the stability pact of southeastern Europe.
An outstanding and unresolved issue at the conference was the status of Pristina University. The university falls under the administrative remit of the United Nations mission in Kosovo but the whole issue of the university is linked to the debate over the long-term status of Kosovo itself, which remains part of Yugoslavia.