On 2 and 3 June, SCiDEV implemented for the first time the Youth Debaters Forum: “The future of Higher Education in Albania: Coo-creation of sustainable policies”. The activity was implemented in the framework of Civil Society Week 2023. The European Union provided part of the funding in the framework of the project “National Resource Centre for Civil Society,” implemented by Partners Albania for Change and Development in partnership with the Albanian Center for Population and Development (ACPD) and the European Movement in Albania (EMA).
Youth Debators Forum aimed to foster open discussion and collaboration between students and young activists with policymakers, representatives of academia, business, and civil society. For this purpose, on two consecutive days, 30 debate alumni and representatives from student organizations worked in groups under the direction of “From Word to Action” activists. The participants were divided into four working groups focused on:
- Linking higher education with the labor market
- Student participation in Higher Education Institution decision-making processes
- Digitalization of higher education
- Brain circulation, diaspora, and youth
Each working group drafted a specific proposal addressing the main challenges identified in the sectors mentioned above based on research and data collection. The proposals were presented to representatives from the Ministry of Education and Sport, the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, the Municipality of Tirana, and experts in digital transformation and higher education, which provided the participants with valuable input and resources about their proposals. A brief description of the youth proposals can be found in the sections below.
Linking higher education with the labor market
The working group, emphasizing the need to bridge higher education with the job market, sought to address the conspicuous absence of information and visibility regarding Career Offices within universities. They proposed several measures to bolster the awareness and efficiency of Career Offices in universities, which are summarized below:
- Establishing career offices in universities where this service is not currently available.
- Launching an awareness campaign highlighting the significance of career offices within universities.
- Involving students from the Master Programme of Career Orientation in the Faculty of Social Sciences to enrich the human resources of university career offices.
- Boosting the visibility of career offices through monthly newsletters, organization of study visits, and personalized counseling for students.
These proposals garnered an endorsement from the invited stakeholders, who offered further suggestions and recommendations. Ms. Joniada Hito, from the Career Office of the Municipality of Tirana, recommended the working group concentrate on proposing the establishment of a central career focal point within universities. This would facilitate easier contact between third parties and the career offices in each faculty, in addition to advocating for career offices in each faculty.
Student participation in Higher Education Institution decision-making processes
The working group identified the main issues affecting student participation in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) as the percentage of student votes in academic elections and the lack of collaboration among student representation bodies. To tackle these problems, the working group proposed a legal amendment to the Law for Higher Education System, which can be summarized as follows:
- Increasing the weight of student votes from 10% to 25%.
- Advocating for the organization of a Student Parliament at universities in Albania.
In response to these proposals, Dr. Ermelinda Durmishi, Head of the Directorate of Higher Education Policies at the Ministry of Education and Sports, agreed that increasing the weight of student votes has been a recurring request from students. However, she emphasized that the key challenge for students lies in the effective functioning of student representation bodies. In her view, students should strive to make existing representation bodies more proactive to ensure their voices are heard in the decision-making processes within HEIs.
Associate Professor Dr. Nevila Xhindi, ProRector of the Mediterranean University of Albania, endorsed the participants’ proposals and expanded on the potential to establish a Student Parliament without the need for institutional intervention, purely through student collaboration and goodwill.
Digitalization of higher education
The working group centered their proposal on addressing the current challenges public university students face when accessing basic administrative services from their faculties. To improve this situation, the group proposed the development of an online registration platform. This platform would allow students to apply for a variety of documents that are currently only available on-site. Furthermore, this platform could serve as a medium where students and professors can engage in hybrid learning and teaching.
However, Associate Professor Dr. Nevila Xhindi highlighted the lack of legal provisions supporting online and blended learning in the current Law for Higher Education in Albania as a challenge to the proposal. Moreover, Dr. Erjon Curraj encouraged the group to investigate the potential costs of implementing the proposal, bearing in mind that public universities are typically more complex than private ones due to their larger student population. He also urged the group to explore the possible effects of digitalizing education in their research papers.
Brain circulation, diaspora, and youth
The working group proposed a solution to address the limited interaction between young Albanians living abroad and those residing in the country. Their proposal involved the creation of a government-sponsored platform dedicated to young Albanian professionals in the country and the diaspora. This platform would facilitate the offering of online courses by young professionals from the Albanian diaspora worldwide. It would allow them to participate in Albanian language courses implemented and designed by their peers in Albania. Additionally, the platform would serve as a networking and opportunity-sharing medium for its registered users.
Mr. Albano Roçi, an expert at the Directorate of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora in the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, praised the group’s idea and stressed the substantial need for fostering connections between the dynamic young Albanians from the diaspora and their counterparts in Albania.
The stakeholders advised that additional work is required to ensure the platform’s sustainability and recommended further research to identify the benefits it would bring to its users correctly.
Throughout June, the twelve activists involved in the “From Words to Action” campaign will proceed with the mentoring program to refine the four policy documents based on the feedback received during the forum. Under the guidance of their mentors, these documents will be finalized and promoted by SCiDEV, which will facilitate advocacy meetings between young individuals and decision-makers to present final recommendations.
The forum demonstrated a significant interest among young people to collaboratively devise practical solutions for the issues they encounter within higher education. It also enhanced their skills in public presentation and discussing, disputing, and substantiating their ideas with decision-makers or experts in the field. In addition to these, the event encouraged networking and knowledge sharing among young participants of the debate program, activists, students, and former debate alumni who are now established, young professionals.
The Youth Debaters Forum: “The Future of Higher Education in Albania: Co-Creation of Sustainable Policies and Practices” was a two-day discussion forum conducted by the “Science and Innovation for Development” Center (SCiDEV). This event was part of the Civil Society Week 2023, financially supported by the National Resource Centre for Civil Society in Albania, and the “From Words to Action” campaign, funded by the Open Society Foundation for Albania.
This event was organized as a continuation of SCiDEV’s efforts to empower young people by including them in data-driven advocacy programs like the “From Words to Action” campaign and the Regional Youth Leadership Mobility Program. These initiatives offer mentoring, financial support, linkage with decision-makers, and promotion of their outcomes. SCiDEV aims to continue this practice and organize the Youth Debaters Forum again next year.