Serbia's isolated universities this week began to claw back control from the allies of ousted Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic in the expectation that they will soon rejoin the European academic community.
Despite an early setback when the Milosevic-dominated Serbian parliament rejected student demands to discuss immediate repeal of the hated 1998 University Act, news filtered out of Belgrade of resignations and dismissals of faculty deans loyal to the old regime.
The rate of progress back to autonomy will determine how quickly the CRE/ Association of European Universities and associated agencies readmit Serbia's four universities, which were suspended from the organisation in retaliation against the 1998 legislation. Education ministers from the Council of Europe will review the situation at their meeting in Cracow early next week. The CRE's board meets in the same city later this month and the issue is high on its agenda.
The 1998 law gave Milosevic supporters control over the universities and the power to purge political opponents. Its repeal was a key demand of the Democratic Opposition in the weeks leading up to last month's election, which eventually swept former Belgrade University law professor Vojislav Kostunica to power.
MPs voted by 148 to 41 not to discuss repeal, with three abstaining. The refusal to abolish the law is evidence of an outbreak of pique by MPs who support Mr Milosevic and resent the role students played in the collapse of the regime.
Speaking from Belgrade, Bogdan Ivanesevic, of the New York-based Human Rights Watch, said: "A number of deans appointed by the former government have resigned. The temporary administrations that are assuming control of faculties in the interim period will act without the formal repeal of the law."
Belgrade University rector Jagos Puric appealed to Mr Kostunica to abide by the "constitutional order" and take action against the "uninvited persons" who, headed by Marija Bogdanovic, had taken control of the university administration. The rectors of Nis and Novi Sad universities have already resigned.
Goran Milicevic, associate professor of urban economics at Belgrade, said that members of the university council had demanded Mr Puric's resignation and declared Professor Bogdanovic acting rector.
Kenneth Edwards, president of the CRE/AEU, indicated that formal repeal might not be necessary if universities demonstrated that their appointments procedures were returning to the pre-Milosevic pattern of faculty election. "The hope is we will be in a position to readmit them. We would not necessarily insist that the law be repealed so long as it is clear that practice is being changed," he said.
Lewis Purser, the CRE/AEU programme manager, said: "With elections for Serbia likely to take place in December, it is possible that a significant amount of internal spring-cleaning in a variety of institutions will take place before then. But it is unclear how much this will affect the universities."
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OUT: Jevrem Janjic, Serbia's minister of higher education.
OUT: Oliver Antic, dean of Belgrade University's law faculty.
OUT: Vladimir Stambuk, dean of the school of political sciences.
OUT: Radivoje Grbic, dean of medicine.
Fighting back: Jagos Puric, rector of Belgrade University.
UNDER THREAT: Radmilo Marojevic, dean of the faculty of philology.
UNDER THREAT: Vlada Teodosic,dean of the faculty of electrical engineering.