Some graduates from Serbia are invisible in Kosovo

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The problem of mutual diploma recognition of Serbian universities in Kosovo and Kosovo universities in Serbia has existed since 1999. The problem was to be solved by signing the Diploma Recognition Agreement in 2011, which came into force on the 1st of April, the following year. Agreement was expanded in 2015. However, the implementation of the agreement has been halted, which is why Serbs from Kosovo who graduated from universities in Serbia cannot validate their diplomas in Kosovo. Therefore, they remain unemployed and they are not able to make professional progress in the Kosovo system.

Milos Timotijević

Since the Brussels Agreement in 2013 and the integration of Serbian institutions, employment in the Kosovo system is no longer a taboo. The borders have been broken. But one of the prerequisites stated in many job vacancies is to deliver a verified diploma. In order to be verified, a University diploma must be nostrified beforehand. Kosovo institutions are responsible for the nostrification process of Serbian diplomas, but the process is “frozen”.

The only diplomas which are undergoing the verification process easily are those from the University of Pristina temporary located in Kosovska Mitrovica. However, this was made possible due to the decision of the Kosovo government in 2015, which allowed for diplomas of this university to be verified so that their holders could apply for jobs within Kosovo institutions. Nevertheless, for the Government of Kosovo, this is a “temporary transitional measure” until the “full integration” of the Serbian State University located in Mitrovica – into the Kosovo system.

Selective employment prohibition

Many graduates who live in Mitrovica, Zubin Potok, Gracanica, Strpce and other predominantly Serbian areas are holders of diplomas from universities operating in Serbia. Their exact number is unknown but, for example, the University of Nis and Belgrade are often focal points of Serb students from Kosovo. However, diplomas from these universities are not a crucial factor for Serb students to get jobs in the Kosovo system. They are rather an obstacle.

Jelena Simić, a student who graduated at the Faculty of Political Science in Belgrade, faced employment issues in 2018.

From 2015 to 2018 she worked for the Independent Media Commission funded by the Kosovo budget. She worked as a Board member, where they needed a person with a college degree.

At the time, no one questioned her diploma. However, she faced a problem when applying for a job in June 2018 at the Office of the Prime Minister of Kosovo for the position of Information and Media Officer.

„When I handed in the documents, I was asked for a nostrified diploma. I didn’t have one. That was the reason why I wasn’t in the second round. I was told that my diploma could not even be considered and that there is no basis for that,” Simić said, adding that she informally addressed a friend who works at the Kosovo Ombudsman’s office regarding her problem.

Asked if she tried to validate her diploma, Simić stressed that she contacted the Ministry of Education of Kosovo and received a reply that the Ministry is not currently receiving applications, that such procedure does not exist and that her case is isolated.

„However, the problem is not the same for everyone. I know several people who have degrees from Belgrade University and they work in Kosovo institutions. This means that this ban is being applied selectively – it applies to some people,” she added.

Simić says that she will certainly object to the Ombudsman’s Office in Kosovo, but that she has no expectations regarding the resolution of such cases.

Our redaction contacted the Ombudsman’s Office to find out more about whether the Ombudsman received complaints from graduates from universities in Serbia or Vojvodina and what can be done about it. We submitted the questions in writing, but have not received any response to date.

“Frozen” process

The process of verification and certification of diplomas under the 2011 Agreement began on February 15, 2012 and lasted until June 14, 2014 – for our redaction states Kumrije Gagica from Kosovo’s National Center for Academic Recognition and Information at the Kosovo Ministry of Education.

She recalls that, with the financial support of the European Union, a Dutch non-governmental organization SPARK was contracted to manage the technical part of the diploma recognition process, while the European University Association (EUA) was the “diploma certification authority”.

Applications were sent to the SPARK office at the Kosovo Ministry of Education, then to the EUA in Brussels, and the EUA decided on the recognition of these diplomas, after which they issued a document confirming the authenticity of the diploma.

She further explained that the certification process was completed through four cycles – the first application cycle was from February to June 2012; the second – from July to December 2012; the third – from January to June 2013 and the fourth – from July to February 2014.

“This means that from 2012 to 2014 Serbian diplomas were being recognized through this project,” Gagica said.

“The 2016 agreement has not yet been implemented, although some preparatory actions have been taken by the parties. On February 25, 2016, the European Union contracted the Dutch organization SPARK to provide technical assistance for the recognition of higher education diplomas, but the project implementation has not yet successfully started , so the certification process is still frozen,” she concluded.

Gagica added that “the issue of recognition of diplomas between Kosovo and Serbia is a matter that must be addressed at the highest political level” and that the Kosovo Ministry of Education will continue to work “after accepting any decision on the issue.”

However, in their response for CBS, the Office for Kosovo and Metohija of the Government of Serbia stated that the problem arose because Pristina did not accept the list of accredited higher education institutions of the Republic of Serbia. The list contained the University of Pristina temporarily located in Kosovska Mitrovica claimed by the Kosovo authorities to belong to their educational system.

In their written response for CBS, Office for KiM claims that after the Agreement was reached in 2011, Pristina authorities have not recognized any of the 13 diplomas with the certificate of the European University Association (EAU). By 2015, Serbia had positively decided on almost 80% of the submitted diplomas (28 out of 38 received diplomas), they explained.

The Office stated that the deadlock in the implementation of the agreement will remain in effect until Pristina recognizes all accredited higher education institutions of the Republic of Serbia including the University with its headquarters in Kosovska Mitrovica.

In order to resolve this issue, it is necessary that the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue continues, they added.

Trapped in the system

An example of our interlocutor who wished to remain anonymous (name known to the editorial staff) speaks of another consequence of the halted implementation of the Agreement. Our interviewee is employed by the Basic Court in North Mitrovica. After graduating from the Faculty of Law in Belgrade and returning to Mitrovica, he also completed a two-year internship at the Serbian Prosecutor’s office. The internship was a prerequisite for passing a bar exam.

Before the integration of the judiciary into the Kosovo system, he got a job in the Serbian Basic Court. After the integration process, all the Serbian court employees got integrated into the Kosovo courts, including those who had degrees from Belgrade, Nis, Kragujevac, Novi Sad and other cities in Serbia.

However, our interviewee started facing problems at the beginning of 2018 when he had to take a bar exam. Although he obtained and submitted all the necessary documentation, his name did not appear on the website of the Kosovo’s Ministry of Justice. He was informed by the Ministry that he did not have a nostrified diploma and that the process could last for years.

“Legally speaking, there is no ban on the nostrification of such diplomas, but they (applicants) are de facto waiting for a response for years. I was told so by the people who knew about this problem,” said the young man we spoke with.

After consulting with experts, he was told that the process was slowed down and, although the agreement was reached, circumstances have now changed.

“Indeed, all this has discouraged me, especially as I keep in mind that people who try to nostrify their diplomas have failed to achieve anything in that process,” he said.

Since he also holds a master’s degree from the University of North Mitrovica, he tried to verify that diploma, but until now he has not received any information on whether the diploma was processed.

Even though he is already employed at one of Kosovo institutions, our interlocutor says that he is trapped in his current workplace and that he cannot be promoted or move on from it because he cannot nostrify his diploma.

He stressed that the main issue for him to take a bar exam was solely the diploma from Belgrade University.

Due to the “frozen” processes of the recognition of diplomas and dialogue, some individuals in Kosovo are trapped in their positions, while others cannot enter the Kosovo system. Job applications may be rejected even before the CVs were considered by the committees.

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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