Exit.al | On September 21, the Quality Assurance Agency in Higher Education (ASCAL, formerly APAAL) decided to extend the accreditation of the University of Tirana for only one year (out of a possible maximum of six), after an accreditation report drafted by UK accreditation company QAA and APAAL ranked it the lowest of all Albanian public universities.
Considering that the University of Tirana is also Albania’s largest public education institution, attracting 15,500 BA student and 7,600 MA students in 2016–17, the news caused considerable uproar. The current rector Mynyr Koni, publicly blaming his predecessor Dhori Kule for the desperate state of the university. Kule, currently the Dean of the Faculty of Economics, claimed that the report didn’t include “the accreditation of academic standards and quality.” Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education, Sport, and Youth, headed by Lindita Nikolla, refused to make the accreditation reports available to worried students or the general public.
After a freedom of information request, the University of Tirana has sent Exit a copy of the QAA/APAAL accreditation report, which has formed the basis for the ASCAL accreditation of one year. The report covers five “Evaluation Areas: the Organisation and its Management; Resourcing; the Curriculum; Teaching, Learning, Assessment and Research; and Students and their Support.” All five areas are judged based on the State Quality Standards set by the Albanian government, and are judged with the following levels: “State Quality Standards are met/substantially met/partly met/not met.”
The results are overall shocking: the University of Tirana didn’t fully meet any of the State Quality Standards. In three areas they were “substantially met” and in two only “partly.” In none of the five areas did the accreditation team identify “any examples of good practice or affirmations.”
The judgment of the accreditation team is as follows: “The reviewers recommend to the Accreditation Council that at the University of Tirana the State Quality Standards are partly met.” In other words, a below-average grade.
Organization and Management
According to the accreditation report, standards for Organization and Management were only partly met. There exists no “clear statement of the University’s mission and objectives in the 2009 Statute” and there is a delay in adapting them to 2015 higher education reform. The university also lacks a “development strategy,” and no annual report over 2016 was submitted to the Ministry of Education.
These standards were substantially met. There is no “comprehensive, consistent and documented approach to the periodic assessment of staff performance and skills,” meaning that professors and other personnel are not assessed frequently and in a systematic manner. Another weak point is the university’s website, which is not “consistent” or “bilingual” (Albanian/English).
The standards for the curriculum were substantially met. The report notes that the database of study programs is not updated, accurate, and fails to be in line with the legal requirements. Moreover, the accreditation team notices “low student mobility,” namely that it is difficult for students to switch programs or faculties.
Teaching, Learning, Assessment and Research
Even though former rector Kule claimed that “academic standards and quality” were not reviewed by the accreditation team, their evaluation of precisely these standards is only partly met. The university appears to have “no clear, documentary evidence of a moderation system,” meaning basically that grading practices are arbitrary. Furthermore, there is no “formal policy on plagiarism and other academic misconduct,” which leads to the common complaints of students that are, for example, forced to buy overpriced Google translations of text books sold by professors, and a lively market in plagiarized papers and theses from the bachelor to PhD level. Moreover, the university had no clearly “documented University policy on the quality assurance of study programmes,” and no “formal research strategy to guide institutional research priorities.”
In short: grades are arbitrary, professors and students are not beholden to any formalized academic guidelines, there is no quality assurance, and there no research priorities. The University of Tirana simply doesn’t know what it is doing, or where it is going.
Students and their Support
Again the standards were substantially met. This means, in fact, that university insufficiently provides or grants access to “both textbooks and online materials.” The long lines in front of the University Bookstore each beginning of the academic year are a witness to this. There is little access for students to “library books and online resources,” while a “formal health policy” is absent. Moreover, there are is no central database for alumni, and general guidance toward a career path or sustainable employment is also missing.
Overall the damning evaluation of the University of Tirana reflects the predatory strategy followed by the Ministry of Education under Minister Lindita Nikolla, which has consistently raised public university fees, while allowing private universities to compete for government grants and excellent students. The results of this “higher education reform” will only further weaken Albania’s overpriced and overburdened public education system, and the University of Tirana is a sad witness to its decline.