In Serbia, Kosovo Diplomas Just Like from Harvard

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Ilustracija: Milenko Todorović
Ilustrimi: Millenko Todoroviq (Milenko Todorović)

While the lack of medical doctors is one of the biggest problems in Bujanovac, Almedin Ramizi from this municipality, a general practitioner in the field of medicine, has been waiting for a nostrification of his diploma in Serbia for five years now.

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He says that in 2014 he prepared all necessary documentation, obtained the necessary certificate in Pristina and took all this to the Ministry of Education in Belgrade.

“I waited for a while and I called them, they told me – we are waiting for the Minister to tell us that we can start with the nostrification for you who graduated in Kosovo – I called them several times, but I got the same answer,” Ramizi describes his experience.

Fismir Jegiu also lives in Bujanovac. He otaied his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Pristina, at the Department of Management and Informatics, Faculty of Economics. For two years straight he has not received any response to the request for the nostrification of his diplomas in Serbia. That is why he can only get a job with a high school degree in state institutions in Serbia.

“I submitted a request to the Ministry in Belgrade, at the end of 2016 or at the beginning of 2017. But I have not received any response yet. Fortunately, I work in the non-governmental sector, where I do not have any problems because of a diploma, otherwise I would be disqualified immediately because I do not meet the criteria for jobs in public institutions.”

With the 2014 Government Decree, amended in 2016, adopted on the basis of the amendments to the Law on Higher Education, as well as the agreements signed in Brussels relating to the mutual recognition of diplomas, the ways of recognizing diplomas from Kosovo in Serbia were established.

The National Center for the Recognition of Foreign Higher Education Documents (ENIC / NARIC) is responsible for the evaluation of a foreign study program for employment purposes, while recognition for the purpose of continuing education is carried out by universities.

The deadline for academic recognition is maximum 5 months, while the deadline for the recognition of diplomas for the purpose of employment is significantly shorter, i.e. 3 months.

However, although there is legal regulation in the form of agreements, laws and regulations, things are not so good is in practice, so, it is almost impossible for graduates from Kosovo universities to become employed in their field in Central Serbia.

“Namely, the process is very complex and does not produce results,” the President of the National Council of the Albanian National Minority in Serbia, Ragmi Mustafa, said for our portal.  

Our interlocutor adds that the process of recognizing diplomas from Kosovo in Serbia is dysfunctional, and that the process of recognizing diplomas at the ENIC / NARIC Center lasts for up to three years, and a large number of applicants does not even receive a response to the request.

We have tried to obtain relevant data from the ENIC / NARIC Center, as well as from universities in Belgrade, Nis and Novi Sad. More specifically, we asked them for statistical data on the number of received, approved and rejected applications for recognition of diplomas obtained in Kosovo at higher education institutions that do not work under the system of the Republic of Serbia.

Until the moment of publication of this article, only our universities in Novi Sad and Belgrade responded to our request for information of public importance.

What universities say

It is not surprising that the University of Novi Sad has not received any application for recognition of a diploma from Kosovo for the purpose of continuing education, given the physical distance of this city from Kosovo and South Serbia, where there is the highest concentration of Albanian-speakers with diplomas from Kosovo.

Similar can be said of the University of Belgrade, which received only two requests, of which, according to the representatives of this University, “both candidates gave up from the process, and these proceedings were terminated, therefore.”

The decentralization of academic recognition has led to the largest number of requests for this purpose being submitted at the University of Niš. Rector of the University of Niš, Dragan Antić, in a statement for Radio Free Europe from 2018, stated that in the period from 2012 to 2014, 30 diplomas from Kosovo were recognized by the University of Niš, making this university the institution that recognized the highest number of diplomas from the territory of Kosovo.

Univerzitet u Nišu; Foto: pacificlc.com
Univerzitet u Nišu; Foto: pacificlc.com

He also emphasized that the number of applications for recognition of diplomas at the University has dropped significantly since the universities are no longer able to recognize diplomas for the purpose of employment, but only for the purpose of continuing education.

In contrast, it is highly likely that ENIC / NARIC Center received a significant number of applications for recognition of diplomas for the employment purposes. However, the fate of these requests, as well as their number, are not known to the public, and the ENIC / NARIC Center has not yet responded to our request for this information of public importance sent on March 20, 2019, to the e-mail address of the Director of the Center, Emina Najdanović, by which, among other things, we requested information on the number of received, rejected and approved applications for recognition of diplomas from Kosovo.

The biggest problem of young people in Preševo Valley

Young people from the South of Serbia continue to enroll faculties in Pristina en masse. This is shown by the data on municipal scholarships in Bujanovac awarded for the school year 2018/2019. For the first year of study, a total of 140 students from Bujanovac received scholarships from the Municipality of Bujanovac for studying outside of this municipality. Exactly 50% of these awarded students started their studies in Pristina (70 of the total 140), while 19 awarded students from Bujanovac enrolled at the university in Niš, 13 in Belgrade, four enrolled at faculties in Kosovska Mitrovica, and 9 scholars from the Bujanovac municipality began their studies in 2018 in Tirana. Nevertheless, although a good GPA enabled financial support of the municipality to students, the future of young people from Serbia who enroll at universities in Kosovo and Albania remains uncertain regarding their employment if they return to Serbia after they graduate. 

Agon Islami, Editor-in-Chief of the Lugina Lajm portal and a civil society activist from Bujanovac, says that recognition, or nostrification of diplomas, is the biggest problem of young people in Bujanovac.

He says that, despite that there is the ENIC / NARIC Center for recognition of these diplomas, it currently seems that the Center is blocked, and students from Preševo, Bujanovac and Medveđa have been unable to nostrify their diplomas for years.

 “There are over one hundred students from the Preševo Valley who have submitted applications for recognition of their diplomas. Some of them received answers that the process of nostrification is still ongoing, even a year and a half and two years after the submission of the request. A large number of young people are leaving Bujanovac because of that. Germany began to receive labor force from here, and people are mostly leaving because they have no choice,” Islami told our portal.

Non-recognition of diplomas from Kosovo makes the process of employment difficult for citizens of Serbia and even hinders it. On the other hand, there is a shortage of staff for jobs that require higher education in public institutions.

Due to the inability to nostrify the diploma in Serbia, Agon Islami was forced to complete master studies in Macedonia. He says he was forced to do so.

“I graduated from the Faculty of Economics at Pristina University, in 2009. At that time, the process of nostrification of the Kosovo diplomas in Serbia was blocked. In order to be able to apply for jobs and doctoral studies in Serbia, I had to complete a master in Macedonia, and then apply for the master’s nostrification.  I nostrified my degree from Macedonia at the University of Novi Sad, passing two additional exams, and I did not have any problems,” explains Islami.

However, many students from the Preševo Valley have problems with the nostrification of diplomas from Albania and Macedonia, and the subject of the dispute is very often – the status symbol of Kosovo.

As Islami further explains, a student from the Bujanovac municipality who was born in Kamenica and graduated from the faculty in Macedonia, has a problem with the recognition of a diploma in Serbia because on his diploma it is written that his place of birth is “Kamenica, Republic of Kosovo”.

As soon as they saw it at ENIC / NARIC Center in Belgrade, they told him that they could not recognize his diploma from Macedonia because they did not recognize Kosovo as a republic or Kamenica as part of Kosovo, our interlocutor explains.

The controversial form does not make things easier

In the meantime, the application form for completing the diploma nostrification certificate on the ENIC / NARIC Center website tells its own story. The first thing to notice is the lack of options to fill out the form in any other language other than Serbian, there is not even an option in English.

Then, if you are born or live in Kosovo, the only option for registering your country of birth, citizenship and country of residence is “state” or “citizenship” – Kosovo and Metohija.

The paradox is clear – if you were born or live in the territory of Kosovo, that is, Kosovo and Metohija, in order to nostrify your diploma within the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Serbia, you are obliged to call it a state.

The problem of recognizing diplomas from Kosovo, according to Agon Islami from Bujanovac, is more political than technical, and, in his opinion, it will end if Kosovo’s issue is resolved. In the meantime, while awaiting the resolution of this issue, more and more young people from the South of Serbia are graduating from faculties in Kosovo, Albania and Macedonia.

Kosovo diplomas just like those from Harvard

In its 2015 report, Serbia’s Office for Kosovo and Metohija pointed out that diplomas of universities from Kosovo in Serbia go through the same procedure as “the diplomas issued by, for example, the University of Vienna, Oxford, Harvard.”

But, perhaps, this statement does not have a positive connotation, although at first glance it seems like it does. Perhaps it does not concern the absence of problems, but means that diplomas from Oxford and Harvard actually have the same problems in Serbia.

However, the need of individuals who had the opportunity to study at Harvard and Oxford for the nostrification of their diploma in Serbia (given the broad and direct recognition of these diploma in the world) is far less than the need of graduates from Kosovo’s universities living in the underdeveloped southern Serbia. They do not want their diplomas in Serbia to be treated like those of Harvard, but only to be recognized.

Some of them hope that the problem will be solved until their graduation. The other part of these employable citizens of Serbia are planning to leave the country for a place where their diploma will be respected and where they will be able to find work according to their education.

This article was created under the project “Development of Investigative Journalism for Journalists Reporting in Serbian Language in Kosovo” implemented by CBS and InTER. This grant is financed by the project ‘Support to the Civil Society in Kosovo’, funded by the Government of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and managed by the Kosovo Civil Society Foundation (KCSF). The content and recommendations made do not represent the official position of the Government of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and the Kosovo Foundation for Civil Society (KCSF). The article is the sole responsibility of the author and does not represent the views of CBS and InTER.

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