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Educating Pristina

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Leaving an area scarred by ethnic conflict and fifty years of communism is a tempting prospect for young Kosovars. However, most of those who leave to study or work abroad decide to return for good

45% unemployment, a pervasive black market, a GDP of 1000 euros per capita per year and widespread corruption: Kosovo’s economic situation is far from ideal. Those who are able to leave may choose not to come back. This brain drain threatens to rot the whole of eastern Europe, and Poland is an example. Despite a flourishing economy, many young qualified Poles (doctors, engineers, architects) have migrated westward without a second thought, seduced by the European dream. The Warsaw government’s current attempts to bring them back have been in vain.

This situation is quite different to what is happening with young Kosovars. ‘Why should I work in Sweden?’ asks Miranda, a young IT technician who was awarded her masters last year in Scandinavia. ‘I was offered a job over there, but I turned it down to come back to Kosovo, so I can work for my country’s future.’

Miranda is part of a new generation who reached adulthood when NATO took action against Serbia in 1999. NATO’s success meant that more young people were able to study, unlike their parents who lived under the cultural repression of the Milosevic era. Between 1986 and 1999, the University of Pristina was completely closed to Albanian speakers despite their majority. Education was only available to Serbian speakers.

Visions of the future

Walking along the city's main Mother Teresa boulevard, in imminent construction (Photo: ©Andrea Decovich)

Miranda considers her experience abroad to be beneficial to Kosovar development. ‘Now that I’m back and I’m working, why not think about a future partnership with research laboratories in Sweden? I learnt a lot about the country and now I have contacts there. We could set up a programme with Pristina and send more young people over to study. This way, my experience could help other people.’

Young Kosovars represent almost half the area’s two million inhabitants, and they believe that, nowadays, it is important to be able to go and study or work abroad. However, most people come back to Kosovo afterwards.

Velmir and Besart are studying international relations at the University of Pristina. They have not yet left Kosovo and already know that they will return there. Velmir wants to go to France and Besart to the United States. ‘If I want to leave, it is primarily so that I can come back,’ explains Besart. ‘To bring everything I learn back with me - new ideas, new ways of doing things.’ Besart explains how this desire to return is partly due to their constitution. ‘It says that we must serve Kosovo,’ he points out, ‘but it is more than a duty. I don’t know how to explain it in words. It’s something you feel inside.’

Grants and visas

The University of Pristina encourages students to go abroad and the international relations office is not shy about its ambitions despite the difficulties it faces. ‘About 200 students go abroad each year but only fifty receive a study grant. The others have to fund themselves,’ comments Jehona Lushaku, office manager.

‘One of the biggest problems is getting a visa. We are not part of the European community and the application process is long and expensive, about 60 euros per student.’ Most students who leave Kosovo go to Europe because many of them have family who emigrated there.

When Miranda, Velmir and Besart say that they want to bring new skills back to Kosovo, they are indirectly following government policy. ‘Students are sometimes sent abroad for very specific reasons. For example, if the Ministry for Energy realises that Kosovo needs two specialists in a particular area, they will put forward two grants for students to go abroad and study that subject, and then employ them on their return,’ underlines Lushaku.

In order to be in line with European practices and allow exchanges to take place, the University of Pristina hopes to work more and more closely with the Bologna Process. ‘Our aim is not only to send our students abroad, but also to encourage others to come here, from all over Europe. A new program called CEEPUS will be set up next year and 100 of our students will go elsewhere and we will receive 100 foreign students in their place.’

Foreign organisations such as the Institut Français, the Goethe Institute and the British Council have also put forward financial incentives to encourage young people to go abroad. ‘Students have to sign a contract with a clause saying that they have to come back when they finish their studies,’ continues Lushaku. ‘These organisations also want young qualified people to settle in Kosovo, the place where they are needed most.’

Post-1999 generation

‘The young people who are leaving today will come back because they know that they have a better chance of finding a good job here than anyone else does,’ states Ilir Hoxha, head of a youth project financed by both the World Bank and the Pristina government. Ilir has himself received a Masters in management of healthcare systems from the prestigious London School of Economics (LSE) in Great Britain.

‘Before the war, people left out of desperation because Kosovo had no future. Today, things are different. Independence is a huge challenge that could bring positive results, but it is difficult to achieve. We need young people for this,’ reiterates Hoxha.

If qualified young people are prepared to come back and live in Kosovo to build a new country, what about those who are less fortunate? Miranda is well aware of the answer. ‘Their only dream is to go and work in America. They would die for the chance. That’s why we have to develop our country, so that they want to live here.’

In-text photo: Walking along the city's main Mother Teresa boulevard, in imminent construction (Andrea Decovich)

Translated from Les jeunes partent pour mieux revenir