TIRANA – The Albanian government has, in a backwards move, presented a new Law for Higher Education. The proposal abandons all healthy principles for student representation, democracy and accessible education. The European Students’ Union (ESU) wholeheartedly supports the efforts of Albanian students to amend the draft law and condemns the government’s attempts to curb student democracy.
Students do currently have rights to vote for rectors and deans at universities, as well as student representatives for governing bodies in higher education. The new draft law ignores those specific elements, and symbolises a crackdown on democracy within the institutions. In addition, the draft law also suggest that tuition fees will be increased, which may fivefold students’ expenses. Albanian students staged protests outside the national parliament that were dissolved with police violence.
Student involvement at the core of citizenship
ESU was formed to defend students’ involvement at all levels of the decision-making in higher education. That vision is also enshrined in the Students’ Rights Charter from 2008 that ESU co-adopted together with the Organising Bureau of School Student Unions (OBESSU). The charter underlines how important it is to involve students, and stipulates that “All students have the right to co-governance in all decision making bodies and fora relevant to their education directly or through democratic representation.”
In times where almost all European countries have acknowledged and taken measures to ensure that this principle is upheld, ESU believes it as tragic that the Albanian government is now moving in an opposite direction. Students’ involvement in the decision-making process qualifies and legitimises decisions in a way that ensures they will be implemented properly. Their involvement is also important because it serves as one of the best tools to promote citizenship, to the advantage of both the individual and society. This view was shared by the Albanian representative that was present at the Regional Ministerial Conference on Education post-2015 that took place in Paris a mere two weeks ago. Once again it is tragic to see the Albanian Government turning its back on this stance.
Effective student representation must be fostered and nurtured. It must be acknowledged that the student body holds certain expertise and is an equal partner in the decision-making process is, which must be translated into practice. Currently in Albania, there is no mandatory support to this process. In the entire spectrum of possible support, from logistical matters to financial ones, both at national and faculty levels, student representation bodies find themselves alone and without assistance.
The new law will do nothing to address this issue, in effect alienating even more students’ self-governing bodies.
The right to education
ESU fears that the proposed increase in tuition fees will result in higher dropout rates and a flawed education system that does not support social mobility. This fear is not irrational, but based on the facts and results of similar changes to tuition fees across Europe. ESU has always and will forever continue to support students’ access to quality education for free, in accordance with the rights of the Students’ Rights Charter. Education should be viewed as a public responsibility that no child or young person should ever be deprived of, reflecting the vision of education as something of value to the society at large.
Additionally, the draft law is in direct conflict with the commitments already made by the Albanian government as part of the Bologna process. Sudden increases in tuition fees and disrespect of student democracy go directly against those commitments.
The right to protest
Students in Albania organised protests outside the national parliament, in which they pointed out how the new law violates their fundamental right to education. However, the protests and student representatives have been silenced by police violence, violating some of the basic human rights laid out in article 19 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations, which stresses that all people have the right to freedom of assembly, opinions and expressions. ESU condemns this behavior and sincerely hopes that the Government will return to the healthy principles of democracy and freely allow the students to express their opinions.
ESU stands in solidarity with all the Albanian students and urges the Albanian government to revert the draft law. Changes to the Law for Higher Education should rather welcome opportunities to create a more accessible, just and student-friendly higher education system, that is in line with the Students’ Rights Charter.
ESU continues to have contact with the Albanian students, who do not wish to have their names mentioned, due to fears of police retaliation.
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The European Students’ Union, headquartered in Brussels, is the umbrella organisation of 47 national unions of students from 39 European countries. ESU represents and promotes the educational, social, economical and cultural interests of students at the European level. Through its member unions, ESU represents over 11 million students in Europe. To find out more about ESU, follow us on Twitter @ESUtwt, check out or Facebook page or visit www.esu-online.org. ESU celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2012.