From: Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei
Only Public Universities Late with Applying for Accreditation

According to data of the Quality Assurance Agency in Higher Education (ASCAL), 225 study programs in Albania have been accredited for the 2019–2020 academic year, only one of which is given at a public university (the Master Sports and Tourism Management at the the University of Sports in Tirana). This means that incoming students in the public system will be unable to verify whether their chosen department fulfills the quality standards set by the law.

The accreditation process is one of the outcomes of the controversial higher education law, which allowed private universities to compete for public education funding with public universities. At the same time, the law increased student fees without improving public education standards. The first signs already appeared in October 2017, when the University of Tirana, the largest public university in Albania, failed to meet many of the new accreditation standards.

Rather than listening to the students and improving public education, the government further increased fees, while refusing to change the higher education law. This then led to massive student protests in December 2018, which after many weeks of continuous manifestations fell prey to state-sanctioned violence by private security firms, exhaustion, and divisions caused by a government-proposed “student pact.” The law on higher education, however, was never changed; the student pact never implemented.

Meanwhile, private universities have become a booming business in Albania. Supported by government funding and fully accredited by ASCAL, they siphon away students that can afford its programs, but do not necessarily have the high grades to attend public university. For talented students from less wealthy families there are therefore increasingly fewer options inside Albania.

The result of the government’s misguided policies will be felt for decades. Not only will the absence of affordable, quality higher education further accelerate the braindrain from Albania while making higher education inaccessible to the less privileged layers of Albanian society. At the same time, the Albanian labor market will be flooded with students “graduating” from private universities, which are known to provide diplomas in exchange for bribes. Indeed, former Minister of Education Lindita Nikolla got her degree from such a predatory institution, Kristal University.

At the same time, this self-reinforcing mechanism will further divert public investment from public to private universities, assuring that the discrepancy between the public and private institutions will continue to grow. The political influence that the owners of these private universities will acquire thanks to their profits amassed from public money will subsequently buy them the political influence they need to maintain the status quo.

In destroying the Albanian higher public education infrastructure, the Rama government has done precisely what it has done in all other areas: healthcare, infrastructure, waste management: privatization without regard for the Albanian citizen, to the benefit of a small, privileged class of oligarchs, enriching itself with public money.