From: Ilir Aliaj
The Ministry of Education Refuses to Recognize European Commission-Supported University

In the final days of 2016, the Administrative Court of Tirana ordered the Ministry of Sports and Education to recognize the degrees received by those Albanian students who have completed the European College in Warsaw, Poland. This article tells the story of a student who went through the process of having his degree recognized.

I was lucky to be one of the Albanian students who went to the European College, where I graduated as a Master of Arts in European Studies during the academic year 2001–2002.

My studies were funded by the government of the Kingdom of Belgium through a “King Baudouin” scholarship. This scholarship covered payments for school tuition, food, and accommodation for a total of €22,000, with another €1,200 given as stipend.

When I returned in Albania I never tried to convert my degree. I thought that in a country like Albania, which strives to become part of the European Union, it wasn’t necessary to demand such a thing in case of an educational institution financed by both the European Commission and almost all other state members.

But in the beginning of 2016, I needed to convert the Master’s degree I received from the European College to the Albanian standards. So I applied in the Ministry of Educations and Sports (MAS) and filled in all their necessary documentation and made the payment as required by the 2009 law “For the Procedures on the Conversion of the Degrees and Diplomas Received at Foreign Schools.” This is also explained in the Lisbon Convention for Recognition of Diplomas in Europe, Council of Europe, dated 11/06/1997, article III, 3/2, ratified from the Convention in 2001. To help in the process, I supplied MAS with all the necessary files and additional documentations as required in the official website of the ministry.

The degree issued by the European College is well known and recognized by the Dutch-Flemish Accreditation Organization NVAO. The Flemish government is responsible for all academic matters within the Federal State of Belgium. This Master’s degree is officially recognized by the Flemish Government and is on an equal level with all masters issued by other Flemish universities. This official recognition holds for students graduated from both European College campuses in Bruges and Warsaw.

But MAS decided not to recognize this Masters degree, on May 4, 2016, based on order no. 177. This order was issued two months late, thus failing to meet the deadlines provided in the 2009 guidelines, in which point 4.8 states: “The whole procedure for the recognition of the diplomas and certificates from the Ministry of Education and Sports is to be completed within 45 days (forty five) from the day when the file for application is completed with the necessary documentation.”  Moreover, the order was not communicated to me as required by the guidelines. And only after making a constant effort and several trips to MAS from January until June 2016, I finally received the letter no. 177, on June 23, 2016 “For the refusal of the degree of master.”

On July 12, 2016, I made an information request to MAS, based on the right granted from the Convention of Lisbon “For the Recognition of Diplomas in Europe,” Section 3, art. 3(1), where it says: “Holders of these qualifications should have adequate access in their countries, when assessing these qualifications.” Moreover, there is the right granted by the Albanian freedom of information law. Based on this right, I asked MAS to return my file with all the documents and also the correspondence with the international institutions responsible for the issuing and assessing of the diploma, records of the commission for recognition of the diploma and everything else related to my case..

I was prompt in following all the deadlines as required from the freedom of information law. After ten working days as required by the legal deadline, the Ministry had not sent me an answer as to my right on information. Following the law,  I then addressed the Commissioner for the Right on information. And only after two months after his intervention, on September 21, 2016, I retrieved a copy of the requested documents.

The documents show that MAS did not address the College of Europe as required in the 2009 guidelines but had initially communicated with the Polish Ministry of Education instead.

Despite its refusal to recognize my Master’s degree, issued on May 4, 2016, the ministry had continued its correspondence with the specific office in the European College during the month of June. In these communications, the ministry was informed that the European College was an academic institution, which was recognized from the Agency of Higher Education, Qualification and Study Grants in Belgium, by the Flemish Community. MAS then continued its correspondence with the Flemish Agency of Higher Education. The last email received from the agency was dated on June 23, a month after the decision to deny the recognition of the diploma. In this email the Agency confirms that the European College is a lawful and well-established academic institution.

Based on the Code of Administrative Procedures, I addressed an administrative complaint to the General Secretariat of MAS Mr. Plarent Ndreca and Minister Lindita Nikolla, requiring a “Review of the order issued Nr. Register 177, dated 4.05.2016”. This administrative complaint, sent on July 15, 2016, remains unanswered. Faced with a situation like this I went to the Administrative Court of the First Instance with a petition. I demanded the recognition of my diploma, issued by the College of Europe.

During the court sessions the representatives of MAS insisted that that the European College did not meet the quality criteria and so they refused to recognize my diploma. But some of the names that carry a diploma from this college are former prime minister of Denmank Helle Thorning-Shmidt; former deputy minister of Great Britain Nick Clegg; former Foreign Minister of Austria Ursula Plansik; a former minister in the government of Monti, Italy; and also a former minister of Finland; Secretary General of the United Nations, and many other European and world personalities. In the final court session, based on these facts, the judge ordered the Ministry of Education and Sports to recognize my diploma from the European College.

Therefore, while the court recognized Europe the Ministry did not.