Serbs get ready for Bologna

December 24, 2004

A law that aims to bring higher education in Serbia closer to European norms is scheduled to come before the Serbian Parliament early next year.

The reforms are critical to Serbia's inclusion in the developing European Higher Education Area under the Bologna Process. Draft legislation is out to public consultation after being drawn up by a panel of academics under Belgrade University's rector, Dejan Popovic.

But it is less radical than the legislation that failed with the collapse of the reformist government that took power after the fall of Slobodan Milosevic.

Professor Popovic said it would help if the law was passed by May, when an assessment will be made of the development of reform in Serbia. The final draft is due in Parliament by February.

He admitted there might be some areas of dispute at the Bergen ministerial meeting that will review progress even if the draft bill is enacted. The most glaring example is the status of faculties that are highly autonomous entities within universities. Under the proposed draft, they may remain single legal entities or all come under central control. Critics say Belgrade is so huge - with 31 faculties, five research institutes and 80,000 students - that such a move would make it unwieldy.

Professor Popovic is optimistic about the draft's progress, but some radicals are concerned that anti-reform faculties at Belgrade University and some Government members may attempt to block it.

The law aims to address many of the anomalies and inefficiencies of a system that grew up during the Milosevic era and left the country's higher education out of step with the rest of Europe. Issues such as recognition of qualifications; university organisation and governance; and the hours and length of time students must study before completing a degree are key elements of the legislation.

Professor Popovic admitted that Serbia and Montenegro came late to academic reform, becoming a signatory to the Bologna process just last year.

Professor Popovic said the reform process began in 2003. By early 2004, two documents had been prepared: the bill by former education minister Srbijanka Turajlic, which was never enacted, and an alternative draft prepared by a commission set up by Belgrade University.

After the reformist government collapsed, the momentum for change was lost.

Then, in October, new Education Minister Slobodan Vuksanovic asked academics at Belgrade to draft proposals for a new law, Professor Popovic said.

Belgrade University student vice-rector Miljana Radivojevic said: "We are very happy about implementing the Bologna Process and all that is realisable in a European Higher Education area."

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