Higher Education and Research

INTRODUCTION
Higher education and research in Albania has its main goal to meet the international standards, but the progress has been a little disappointing over the past 14 years. The new Law on Higher Education of 2007 has been a major step forward in improving the system and it marks the start. The draft of the national strategy sets out the longer term objectives and goals for the system and then presents the policies for the strategic priorities over the remaining years of the strategy period up to 2013.

The strategy is for Albania, but it is consistent with major trends in the development of higher education in Europe and around the world. Its purpose is to improve the higher education in our country and so enable Albania to take its proper place within the European Higher Education Area, including consistency with the Bologna agreement.

The Strategy sets out the Government’s proposals for strategic priorities. It has been discussed within and outside the academic community and has also benefited from comments by senior members of the Council of Europe to ensure that it is consistent with developments in the European Higher Education Area (EHEA). The Strategy forms the basis of an Action Plan, with an implementation timetable and milestones up to 2013.

WHAT WE HAD TO FACE
The first point is that our higher education system was not sufficiently responsive to the future needs of society and the economy. Many aspects of higher education, particularly the teaching methods in universities, had and have not yet responded to the major changes that have been occurring in the rest of Albanian economy – and in Europe more generally. The institutional framework tended to hinder responsiveness and not encourage it.

The second point is that the current system was too homogeneous with no explicit recognition that different institutions of higher education need to have different missions. The current institutional framework did not reflect differences in missions, roles and structures between institutions. Although there was currently some variation of provision, there was no official recognition of any diversity; this hindered relevant future development.

In particular, the regional universities did not currently have a strong role in the development of their region and were not actively encouraged to help to their local economies (for example through the provision of local services). Many of them were also too small to operate effectively as a university.

Thirdly, until recently, teaching (in universities) and research (in Research Institutes) have been separate from each other - on the old East European model. We have now decided to integrate most of the Research Institutes into one of other of the universities in Tirana. As a result of the previous arrangements, there had been no national strategy for the future direction of research.

The fourth point was that, apart from the training of school teachers, we had and still have little higher education that is professionally oriented; in particular, there were few diploma or sub-degree programs. This had also made it more difficult for regional universities to develop their regional role in support of their local economies.

The fifth point was that the general lack of responsiveness was not all the fault of the universities as they had not had sufficient autonomy to operate effectively in the circumstances of the 21st century. The 2007 Law is a significant step in that direction, but it deliberately stops short of the full autonomy that would make the universities public ones rather than State ones. For them to become public universities is a developmental goal of the Strategy, but it will require further changes to the internal governance and management arrangements as well as changes in the method of providing for public external accountability. It is essential to link together the concepts of autonomy, internal management and external accountability.

Finally, we recognise that there was currently only limited analytical capacity within the Ministry of Education and Science to develop strategic policies for higher education and research; we already have plans to try to improve this.

WHAT WE HAVE STARTED
For the history and based on the recommendations of the European Prime Ministers during the Brussels meeting of March 2005 and on the needs of the Albanian system of Higher Education (HE), the Albanian Government decided to join its efforts to the continental community of policymakers, academic community and social partners in implementing the main issues of Bologna Chart for a deep reforming process in view of rendering higher education market oriented and more social, a good base for building a tomorrow society of knowledge. For the history, the commitment of the Albanian higher education stakeholders in the process of conceiving, writing and hopefully rectifying the National Qualification Framework really started in April 2006, time when the first Albanian dedicated delegation attended the current meeting of the European Bologna Follow-Up Group (BFUG) in Vienna.
Since then, some good steps forward have been accomplished under the kindness and the pressure of the Council of Europe. Two months later, by a decree of the Ministry of Education and Science, a large Albanian Bologna Follow-Up Group was constituted for promoting and leading the entire reforming process over three main axes:

    · Curricula development and standards of teaching;
    · National Qualification Framework;
    · Student information and diploma recognition.

To the Albanian BFUG were invited the most active and qualitative experts among the academic community, social partners and the local world of business.
DRAFTING THE NATIONAL QUALIFICATION FRAMEWORK
As a matter of fact the Albanian Qualification Framework had to be in line with the European directives and considering the lack of experience in the field, it has been decided to give the kick-off to its drafting process by a meeting, organised in Tirana in July 2006, with the most distinct European experts of the field and a large number of Albanian academics. Moreover, with a dedicated small budget of the Ministry of Education and Science a few Albanian experts attended some of the international both regional and continental workshops and meetings on European Frame of Qualifications.
Based on that and in consequence, the Albanian members of the sub-group working on National Qualification Framework decided to:

      · take the advantages of a European model, already drafted and approved by the authorities of the country;
      · draft a frame including the 8 (eight) European levels taking into account, as well, the Albanian particularities and needs;
      · draft firstly the university levels together with the learning outcomes – Dublin descriptors;
      · establish, later on, links with another group of experts of the area of pre-university education in view of proposing an overarching Albanian Frame of Qualifications.

Hereby we present the actual state of the Albanian Qualification Framework:

Where:
LEVEL 1 First level of pre-university education - accomplishing the obligatory education
LEVEL 2 Second level of pre-university education - accomplishing the obligatory education continuing the high school
LEVEL 3 Thirst level of pre-university education - accomplishing the secondary education
LEVEL 4 Fourth level of pre-university education - accomplishing the secondary professional education
and:
LEVEL 4 First level, called post secondary, which may go from short trainings to “Baccalauréat + 1” or “Baccalauréat + 2” and finalised with professional certificates up to 120 ECTS.
LEVEL 5 Is the first university level “Baccalauréat + 3”, called Ordinary Bachelor – 180 ECTS.
LEVEL 6 Is the second university level “Baccalauréat + 4”, called Bachelor with Honours – 240 ECTS.
LEVEL 7 Is the third university level “Baccalauréat + 5”, called “Master” with >= 300 ECTS.
LEVEL 8 Is the fourth university level “Baccalauréat + 8”, leading to the PhD with >= 360 ECTS.
The Albanian Qualification framework will be written both in Albanian and English.
So far, per each university level, Dublin descriptors have been drafted in Albanian language in accordance with:

    · knowledge acquainted,
    · skills gained,
    · competencies, described as personal and professional learning outcomes

in conformity with the European main documents.
Typical Albanian in the above frame is the university sixth level, which is proposed to standardise the education of teachers following the continental experience. It tends to give all candidates, wishing to become teachers, in a first stage (third level) special knowledge, skills and competencies such as mathematics, language or whatever it might be and in a second one pedagogical knowledge, skills and competencies. At the end, a special teaching capacity certificate will be awarded giving them, this way, the possibility to integrate the Pre-University Institutions (PUIs).
The actual emerging task, still remaining in front of the education stakeholders in Albania, is finalising the overarching Albanian Frame of Qualifications and propose legal and sub-legal acts to the Albanian authorities for approving it. Then the last stage to follow is the process of writing and attaching to the frame a detailed book with all academic degrees awarded in Albania in both public and private sectors of education and their links with the NQF and the EQF.
R&D IN ALBANIA
The high costs of academic research mean that Albania must undertake research in a selective way to maximise its value – this is done even in rich countries. Academic research is very different from the ‘scholarship’ work that all academics should do to help their teaching. To develop this focus within research, we will establish a high level Research Strategy Group (RSG), probably reporting to the Council of Higher Education and Science (CHES) with an annual report. A key role for the RSG will be to develop a national research strategy with its focus on the priority topics that can, and must, be done well in Albania (eg Albanology, agriculture and food, aspects of natural resources). The RSG will also monitor the implementation of the research strategy and the external circumstances of the country and so keep the strategy under constant review, up-dating it when needed.

The research strategy will inform decisions about the fields in which academic research projects will be considered; academic research will be funded on a project basis, as a result of competitive and costed research proposal bids and awarded entirely on merit. This will be the other main role of the RSG. To do this, the RSG will use three broad subject panels, one for physical sciences (including maths and computing), one for life sciences (including medicine and agriculture), one for social sciences (including humanities and arts). Each panel would usually have about six distinguished members, perhaps one of them being from abroad. The three chairmen of these panels would be members of the CHES. The Action Plan will examine the procedures that the RSG would need to undertake this task and also whether or not the funds should include the research part of the salaries of academic staff; this will depend on the extent to which salary costs should be for teaching only and so covered by the more general resource allocation process.

IMPROVING THE QUALITY OF TEACHING AND LEARNING
The future needs of our country require the standards of all three cycles of provision to meet those of the rest of Europe, in particular through the implementation of the European Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the Higher Education Area. At present, our provision does not generally meet those standards. To improve our standards will require the setting up and updating national standards in Higher Education and the development of criteria to assess provision. We will strengthen the role of the NAA to operate with these standards, not least to ensure that any intended opening of a new course or cycle meets the defined criteria and standards.

It is also important to develop a stronger culture of quality inside universities. In formal terms, this means setting up and operating responsibilities for standards at the institutional level, in particular through an internal Quality Assurance process – which is already being developed thorough advice for the NAA. At least as important is the more informal pervasion of a culture that recognises what quality is and that it is important. This can only be achieved through example at the senior levels and by the continual emphasis on quality for everything that the university does.

For teaching, there are two types of standards for which high quality is needed: standards for the methods of teaching and standards for teaching content; we need a national approach to improve both of them – and universities will need time to make the required improvements.

IMPROVING THE QUALITY OF UNIVERSITY GOVERNANCE
The present levels of financing from the State budget are not sufficient for the development and improvement of our universities – even after allowing for the more efficient use of resources. The quality of some buildings, equipment and libraries are not up to the European standards; they are certainly not up to international standards, but we think that they could be brought to that level within five to six years of time. Further, levels of staff pay are lower than ideal, which can result in staff taking other jobs, sometimes at the risk of the quality of their teaching.

In terms of future investment, the most urgent and important need for the future is to invest to develop the quality and methods of teaching of our academic staff and to improve their teaching style so that they will provide better for the future needs of students.

With the method of funding hitherto, the universities have not had sufficient flexibility in the use of funds; the 2007 Law increases their flexibility. Further flexibility would be an important aspect of increased autonomy, but it will need to be linked to better internal management and stronger external accountability. Currently only a limited proportion of the total State funds allocated to each university are calculated on an objective basis, the funds for the costs of salaries being a major exception; nor does the present funding method take account of a university’s performance. The 2007 Law provides for the development of a new funding methodology. Also, until recently, the financial arrangements had meant that universities had little incentive to generate their own income, although this has now been changes.

EPILOGUE
Our objectives for the higher education sector start from the overall strategy for the development of the country. We have four main objectives for the sector:

    · to assist with the development of our society and to promote standards of democracy and civilisation by preparing students for life as active citizens
    · to assist with the development of our economy by providing highly skilled manpower and by helping with the development of the regions
    · to meet the personal development aspirations of our young people
    · to develop and maintain an appropriate broad knowledge base for the country.

Considering the commitment of the Albanian education stakeholders, we feel confident that up to the European deadline of 2010, our country will be able to be part of the European Higher Education Area with dignity. We think and hope to facilitate, on one hand, the mobility of students and academic staff nationally and internationally and guaranteeing, on a second one, a transparent process of quality assurance, as a very important issue of the education generally and of the higher education in particular. Finally, the best basis of our optimism on the future is the quality of the second cycle graduated students 2007 at the Department of Electronics of Polytechnic University of Tirana – the very first Albanian HEI to have completely adopted and implemented the Bologna Process in the country.
Thank you.

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