Why are the laws on education being changed quickly and without involvement of the public?

Centre for Civic Education (CCE) considers that the adoption of amendments to the set of laws on education at the Government session, without public discussion on a large number of them, and with the changes that have not been previously published on the website of the Ministry of Education, are unacceptable and unprofessional.In addition, this raises the question of non-compliance with provisions that regulate the manner and process of law amending.

Namely, these are the amendments to the Law on High School, the Law on Vocational Education, the Law on Primary Education, the General Law on Education and the new proposal of the Law on Higher Education.The public has not been given the opportunity to be informed what sort of amendments to these laws existand therefore, except tothe limited extent for the Law Proposal on Higher Education, nor the chance, through the public discussion, tocontribute to improving the previously mentioned set of laws that are of undeniable public interest.

Although Montenegro has temporarily closed the Chapter 26 – Education and Culture, the very situation in education has not improved at all since the opening of negotiations. This situation is alarming and instead to intervene precisely through the legal framework in order to create conditions for our educational system to reach a respectable level, another completely contrary practice has been applied: overnight, and in extremely non-transparent manner, the »laconic« solutions that are not good neither temporarily nor for long-term were introduced, thus creating a further damage to the system, which should be one of the pillars of Montenegrin society’s development. Also, it seems that the Montenegrin authorities forget that until the end of the entire negotiation process, no chapter is closed forever. That means that temporarily closed chapters are also subject to monitoring and if things within this area start to deteriorate they can always be reopened. In short, this kind of irresponsible conduct of the Ministry of Education can be a bad message also for the process of European integration, and the rhetorical commitment of government to this process.

In addition, the laws passed by the Government lead to further deterioration of the already questionable quality of the education system. A striking example of such poor legislative solution lies in the rule that the quality of higher education can only be assessed through evaluation and self-evaluation, which was introduced by the controversial Law Proposal on Higher Education.Also, the text of this law is inconsistent, poor, provides wide-ranging standards, namely the procedures and the rules of entry and study, as well as the manner of implementation of certain actions, which are the norms that are being regulated by the special acts, namely, by statutes of educational institutions.The proponent wants to abolish the independence of the Council for Higher Education, the institution that performs accreditation and re-accreditation and it now requires involvement of foreign private agencies that conduct accreditation and re-accreditation, which essentially is not beneficial for Montenegrin universities. Instead of having the Council for Higher Education which is appointed by the Parliament, thus creating an independent body, the proponent has entrusted the appointment of the Council, and the criteria for enrollment in the first year of the study, to the Government, which again threatens the autonomy of the university.Allowing the possibility of foreign agency that is licensed to carry out the accreditation and re-accreditation of their own choice within their budget in Montenegro, is nothing but creating opportunities for a variety of uncontrollable actions that enable the private faculties or universities to be accredited easier, irrespective of their compliance with the criteria.

Because of the systematiclegal and normative setting and regulation of the Law on Higher Education,it was primarily necessary that the working group has dominantlymembers who are lawyers.Also, the Regulation on the procedure and manner of conducting the public consultation in the preparation of law had to be respected and applied, so that we would be enabledto contribute, during the public debate on the proposed text which we had in Podgorica on 17 May 2013, with our proposals and suggestions to to the quality of the working version of the Draft, if the same was made publicly available, ie., published in one of the printed media.CCE already emphasized that the proposed text, without complying with the Regulation, should be withdrawn from the procedure, which unfortunately did not happen, because the same was adopted this week by the Government.

CCE has the same point of viewregarding the bad norm-setting of provisions related to free textbooks, considering that we advocate, for years already, that these books should be free of chargefor elementaryschooling, and given the poor economic situation in which a significant number of our citizens is, this should have been differently resolved.

In the end, all of this raises the question of motives which trigger to, through one, as regards to the importance of the laws, fast and extremely non-transparent manner, and without truly engaging the public, but also with the complete ignorance and a limited number of comments of the concerned public that has invested considerable efforts to try to influence the proposed texts in these circumstances, rush with passing of such legal texts.

CCE invitesthemembers of the Parliament of Montenegro not to pass these legislation without serious intervention, or to return them as a whole, so the same could be the subject of the quality public debate and inclusion of the comments and suggestions of the interested public in accordance with the public interest.

Snežana Kaluđerović, Programme Coordinator