Conversation of Prime Minister Edi Rama with students and professors of the University “Ismail Qemali” in Vlorë:
Many thanks for the invitation!
We came here in advance. Before we entered the room, we had a very interesting discussion regarding the project of the International Centre of Marine Research, a project that was an objective and an underlying approach of our ambition to radically reform higher education. This centre will be under the auspices of the University "Ismail Qemali", and it will cooperate with relevant international partners regarding every research on the sea. The centre will also function as a dignified scientific basis internationally certified according to European Union standards, for all studies required for the development of the sea economy and the protection of the sea from unsustainable developments, aiming at benefits within a short time, but which affect the future and Next Generation Albania.
There was no need for many comments to the overview of the research done in order to launch the Centre, as it was clear what damages have been made to biodiversity in the Gulf of Vlora, and how Vlora Bay is threatened due to the deposit of waste coming as result of a barbaric use by the fishery industry in Karaburun, and because hotels and restaurants built without the supervision of the state and an infrastructure with normal standards, throw their waste into the sea like no other country in the Mediterranean.
Even the new piers, made with or without environmental studies – actually it is the same thing if we consider how studies are used to be done here - have seriously damaged the Bay of Vlora. The damage done today is an alarm bell for the next generation and for other generations. The bay, which is a fantastic asset, is also a very delicate area because of the limited circulation of water and the necessity that water has to circulate without being hindered by these kinds of structural deformities, coming as a result of the human barbarism.
I believe that we are on time. The government will do its duty to ensure the infrastructure for the International Marine Research Centre. The University has had a great, commendable role because it has cooperated with domestic and foreign experts of international level, and it will be the guardian of this Centre. This will create also the conditions to train at this University, scientists of this field, who, thanks to this new asset of the University will have international certificates of their knowledge. They will be able to work not only at the Centre, but also in the institutions of the same level and standards in other European countries.
It runs entirely in line with the essence of our reform of higher education, for which the Director-General for Education and Culture at the European Commission has said explicitly: "The Albanian Law on Higher Education is a systematic response to the problems of the universal nature of Higher Education." Meanwhile, one of the most prominent personalities in Europe, also rector of the Catholic University of Milan, has underlined that "If you see the possible development of Albania and its functioning as a European state and significant part of the Balkan region, this reform of higher education is a necessity for the European future of Albania."
The reform has had its debates and controversies because it is a true reform. We have heard the word "reform" in all areas for many years. He heave heard "justice reform" also in the past, but the debates were simply closed in the framework of parliamentary activity, and they have not been extended further because it was not a real reform.
Real reforms affect the neuralgic system in every part of the body, and therefore the system reacts, opposes, it has controversies, conflicts. Albanian governments have historically avoided such consequence, by putting off until tomorrow what must be done today, just like putting off until tomorrow a surgery in the body of someone who is threatened by cancer. When the surgery is needed, you say let’s put it off for tomorrow and keep the patient today with kind words and candies.
This has led to a continuous degradation of the whole body of the state texture, and it has actually brought on the agenda the need to make statehood by making these reforms. Of course, reforms are painful and have costs. Of course, it is very difficult to move from a state of numbness due to sleeping pills and tranquilizers, to the surgery and its pains. But, is there any other option? Can these reforms be delayed any further?
The answer has been provided by these 25 years. By delaying them, not only we have not received anything positive back, but we have seriously damaged the next generation because we have lived on the expenses of the future, burdening it with debts and allowing its constant putrefaction.
In this debate there are opinions on the one side, and facts on the other side. On the one hand there are accusations, and on the other there are figures. On one hand, a virtual reality of the end of the world, and on the other hand, a reality which is quite different in every university. This year, the quality of admissions has increased by 56% out of 291 programs at public universities. Just as the contrary is true of what is being said, and that is that students with an average grade above 9 have not addressed massively to private universities, but 84% of them have enrolled in public universities. The contrary is true also about the fact that hundreds and thousands of students could not have access to universities, but 22.963 out of 27.600, or 83% of the applicants result to have enrolled in universities.
Had 100% of the applicants made it, this wouldn’t be a university. The path to it wouldn’t be that of competition and merit. Not only we wouldn’t take any step further on the path to the future, but we would continue taking steps back on the hopeless path of the past.
It is clear that the increased number of students, as it happened in the past, didn’t increase the quality of education, quite the opposite. But the worst is that the increased number of students was not accompanied by increased funding of universities, neither with increased investment in universities, or increase quality in the university environment. The financing scheme, amended by this law, was a parasitic scheme, without any mechanism of transparency and accountability. Above all, it did not provide any incentive to universities so to make them competitive. Today the scheme is absolutely not a scheme that finances the private sector, as it is said, but it is a publicly funding, fair for the student because the children of parents attending private universities are not of the stepmother.
Today we don’t have for-profit private universities anymore. Today we have institutions of higher education funded privately, but they must meet the same standards and requirements as a public university funded by the state. Which means that if until yesterday money was all you need to attend a private university, and you didn’t even need to show proof of the accomplishment of the high school, but you could be awarded the degree without attending any class hour, such thing does not happen anymore today. The same competition system, the same contest criteria, and the same admission standards are applied both in public and private universities. The same digital and transparent platform applies throughout the process both in public and private universities.
The opposite is true also because higher education tuition fees have not increased, as it has been stated. Under the previous law, fees for first and the second cycle of studies were approved by a government decision for each program. Today, the government has nothing to do with them anymore. For how many years have you heard the word autonomy? Until yesterday, autonomy was independence for irresponsibility. True autonomy is when universities determine the level of fees for each program, once the government has approved the ceiling not to allow exceeding and abuse. It is universities that manage their budget, but they are held accountable also for the way they spend public money, based on determined performance criteria tracked by the Ministry.
The government is the guarantor before the parents that what is written in the law and in the regulations will be applied in reality. By using their autonomy, universities have a responsibility to provide students everything for which they have enrolled at their respective university. Part of this autonomy is the necessity and the possibility for universities not to be isolated islands from life and the economy, but generate secondary income by being directly involved in projects from which they have profits.
We still need to push very strongly so that universities become key consultants of the government. We have been paying since 25 years some non-governmental organizations that receive money to provide assistance for laws, to do studies, projects, whereas we could pay universities. We can do this in cooperation with universities. This has not happened because universities lost their vital functions, and were left only with the function to vegetate and to distribute diplomas, thus turning into a chain of mediocrity and corruption.
Many things can be said about university admissions, usually nonsense, but even those who talk nonsense cannot say that the process of university admission leaves room for corruption. No matter how much money you have, no matter how much of a fan you are of one party or of another one, no matter how many acquaintances you have, you will not be admitted to university provided that your results are better than those of somebody else’s before you. The system does not allow this, and in case this happens the system shows immediately such violation.
If the minimum fee of the first cycle of studies has increased comparatively in time by 20% during the period 2008-2013, the maximum has increased by 50%. Fees for the academic year 2014-2015 were only the reflection of the requirements of universities, but they have always been below the cap set by the Ministry of Education. What is most important is that there has been no increase of the maximum fee. Nobody can say and prove that the maximum tariff has changed. It has remained absolutely unchanged.
The minimum fee programs occupy a very specific low load in the overall programs. Increasing the minimum fee was necessary to keep the program alive. This is the argument that university has presented.
Let's not forget that we had a jungle, the consequences of which will be paid by this country for years. A jungle where, no matter how you were, once you were in you had a diploma. We closed down 22 facilities. We did not only close 18 private facilities, but also public facilities that were totally outside of their supposed function, which had turned into pyramids of corruption, lies and illusions for the parents and for the students.
This reform will lead us into a new stage. It has begun to create a new standard, which proves the quality of admissions in this academic year. The coming years will strengthen this base, which is part of the base to make statehood.
It’s impossible to take seriously people who defend the idea that you shall be admitted to university even if you have an average grade of 4.3. It’s impossible to take seriously people who say that the reform is stressing out the young people. How can there be competition without stress? How can somebody think that between the stress of competition and the lack of concern because the path is open for everyone, we will chose the latter? How can somebody say that determining the average grade of 6 as the lowest benchmark means discriminating those whose average is 5? Because, according to some, “even those whose average is 5 must absolutely have a chance to become scientists”. This means that those with the average of 5 are being shown the wrong path, and are being fooled for just 5 votes. They must be told that there is another way, where they can be more successful than those with the average grade of 10, provided that they take it seriously, and this way is that of vocational education. So that they can learn a craft and become successful, become also rich if they want to, by the means of this craft.
If Germany is an example of how, even throughout the worst crisis that has hit Europe in recent years, it did not have a dramatic impact in terms of unemployment, this is a result of a fantastic structure of vocational education. It is also a fact that the owners of the largest part of small business (let’s make clear that small business in Germany means large business in Albania) have a vocational education background. They are people who have studied to become electricians, mechanics, technicians of various industries, and they are entrepreneurs of companies providing services in the field of their specialization.
How could we take seriously an effort to keep going on the old path “graduation diplomas for everybody”, by creating the most original country in the world? Albania has the largest number of jurists for square metres. And the irony is that although we have more jurists than America, England and Germany per capita, our justice system is the mirror of doomsday. How can you explain this?
We could have said, “Ok, we’ll become a people of jurists, and we will export them”. We would have built a system of excellence where everybody could become jurists who would go around the world, they could become prosecutors and judges and would have saved the world from injustice. But the contrary is true. We have created an army of jurists, most of them unemployed, and the rest have big problems. Meanwhile, we don’t have any electricians, any technologists, we don’t have any tailors, and we don’t have any shoemakers either. We say, we’re rich in oil but we don’t have any oil technicians. The oil companies coming here take people from above. We say we’re rich in hydropower resources, but we lack technicians for hydropower works. We say, we’re rich and can do tourism, but where is the professional tourism service? Where are those who have attended vocational education for many years? Tourism is not just water, sea, sun and sand. Tourism is also service.
Therefore, I believe that the reform does a great service to the country in this respect. Just as justice reform does a great service to the country, to make it possible for judges and prosecutors to realistically perform their duty for the country, and separate themselves from the judges and prosecutors who have taken this country hostage for so many years.
We could talk all day long about the economy of the sea, the economy of the earth, the economy of water, and we can do all the necessary reforms but if we don’t radically change the justice system, it will be impossible for us to design for the next generation a state that provides solid guarantees for the future of everyone. There’s a limit up to which we can increase economy, employment, up to which we can fight poverty, when we face the blocking wall of a corrupt justice system.
We need more foreign investments, but the main obstacle to foreign investment in tourism is the system of justice, it is corrupt judges and prosecutors who have been playing with the properties for 25 years.
I’ll show you a case. A strategic investor knocked on the government’s door two years ago to build a five-star tourist resort. As provided for by the law, we made him available a state property on the coast, so he prepared the project, the study, and guaranteed the funding. When the project was about to be finalized, we were informed that meanwhile the court had issued a decision on the state property, based on the request of claimants, who are as always great-grandchildren of an ancient Albanian family. And that’s not all. These great-grandchildren had asked the court to receive 50 ha, and the judge gave them 500 ha. Do you know of any case where a lady has asked to divorce from her husband, and the court has given her 5 husbands? Or, when somebody has asked to receive the courtyard, and the court has told him or her: not only this courtyard is yours, but you’ll have also the courtyards of 10 of your neighbours.
Of course, it doesn’t take any science to understand why this happens. This is because, being it a large property, part of which the great-grandchildren are claiming, the judge thinks: why don’t take it all. He makes an agreement with these great-grandchildren. You ask 50, but I’ll give you 500, so we can share it between us: 250 to you and 250 to me, and we all become joint-successors.
There is an infinite number of such stories. Does Albania have another second to wait in order to overthrow this justice system? Can Albania, can the state, can the government, can politics say that we’ll wait a little bit longer, although meanwhile, even now as we speak, there is some “crime” going on in some court? A crime will be committed tomorrow, and another one the day after tomorrow.
Can Albania, or can we say that we’ll wait a little bit longer in order to clean the system of these judges and prosecutors, while some of them are probably releasing right now a rapist who is going to rape another young women tomorrow?
If we start cleaning up today, hence the vetting, the bastard in question will be expelled from the system.
Can we wait another second, while in some court across the country not only a property is being stolen, but maybe a rapist is being released, or maybe a killer who could kill somebody else, as we wait?
Do you know what the number of the cases of repeat offenders is? The cases when our State Police has arrested killers, rapists, robbers, the evidence for which has been considered insufficient, and therefore they have been released. Those who have returned in the streets and have repeated the same offence a hundred times. There are hundreds of crimes of this nature that could have been avoided, had the judges left in prison the criminals instead of releasing them in the court rooms, and it’s clear that the only reason why they have released them is corruption.
The matter here is not whether we will access the EU or not, whether the integration will be blocked or not. The matter here is pretty simple and tangible. The integration path is not about us showing off to the others, but it’s about doing the best for ourselves.
I believe we don’t have any minute to wait. Who says the contrary has a very strong reason to side with those who must be expelled from the justice system right now. There is no other reason.
I understand it all, but there can be no major reason to deal with politics today than contributing against injustice in order to clean up the Albanian palace of justice. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in government or in the opposition, whether you’re in parliament or not. Today, those who can do something, must do it.