Serbia funding crisis prompts fears of closure

April 23, 2004

Six universities in the former Yugoslav republic of Serbia and Montenegro are facing possible closure after the government announced that their budgets would be cut by 70 per cent.

The cuts would leave the universities with combined funding of less than 323 million dinars (£3 million) a year.

Some of the institutions are concerned that they will be unable to pay utilities bills, and that faculties and even universities will have to shut down as early as next month.

Marija Bogdanovic, dean of Belgrade University, said: "It is impossible to maintain courses with just 30 per cent of the budget. We won't be able to pay our amenity bills, let alone staff wages.

"I don't know what the authorities are thinking. We have about 80,000 students at our university - I don't think I can make it clear enough that we will not be able to survive on so little money. Teaching requirements could not be met, and we would not be able to achieve basic standards of hygiene around the campus."

Science departments will be the first to be affected by the cuts, because they need the most materials, according to Professor Bogdanovic and her colleagues at the five other universities.

The finance plan has set aside 3 million dinar for all the science faculties of the six universities - the same sum previously required by the chemistry faculties alone.

Mirko Rosic, dean of the 12,000-student Kragujevac University to the south of the capital, said it had appealed to the government to revise its financial plan with the suggestion that money be siphoned from the government's natural catastrophe fund.

"We have started an initiative to force the government to change its plans," Professor Rosic said.

He added that Kragujevac had only just managed to get by on last year's budget by redeploying existing debts.

Academics fear that they will be unable to fulfil the terms of the Bologna agreement on convergence signed by the Serbian-Montenegrin government last year.

Bogdan Djuricic, Belgrade's vice-dean, said: "If we do not invest in our universities, then we will not be able to fulfil the Bologna terms or compete on an international level."

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