Who and why urged to adoption of Law on Higher Education?

Centre for Civic Education (CCE) express its surprise by speed that the Law on Higher Education was adopted by the Government of Montenegro and forwarded to the Parliament, where it also has undergone an equally express procedure in the competent Committee for Education, Science, Culture and Sports, especially having in mind that it was not planned by the Government Programme of Work for 2014, and that it has been drafted in a rather non-transparent procedure.

Although the negotiation chapter 26 (Education and Science) has temporarily been closed, such an approach in adopting one of key legal texts in this field may open new issues. It remains unclear who and why was in such a haste to adopt this legal text as soon as possible, and at the cost of violating the entire formal legal scope starting from an omitted public debate, to the violation of Article 7 of the Decree on the procedure and manner of conducting public debate in preparing laws which prescribes that the deadline for submission of initiatives, proposals, suggestions and comments in written and electronic form, cannot be shorter than 20 days from the date of publication of the call, and that it naturally can be extended.

As a reminder, the Law on Higher Education was adopted by the Government on 10 October 2014, and on 14 October 2014 in the Parliament of Montenegro. It should be noted that this is, with minimal changes, the same text that last year in July, due to a number of amendments, was returned from the Parliament procedure in order to be revised. This indicates that the same was adopted in the Parliament due to the new political arrangement, which did not exist last year, and not on the basis of a quality assessment of this important legal document.

The CCE has submitted to the Parliament of Montenegro a detailed commentary on this Proposal last year, assessing that such a text of the law, in addition to the introduction of good institutes such as plagiarism, quality assessment through self-evaluation, ranking of universities, labor market research, exemption from payment of tuition fees for students with disabilities, and etc, still has crucial deficiencies.

A part of the weaknesses of the new Law on Higher Education refers to the existing norm in current law and the Government policy on financing students at private institutions for study programmes of public interest, whereas the criteria for determining study programmes of public interest at private institutions shall be prescribed and adopted by the Government. This solution weakens the autonomy and sustainability of the state University, whose founder is the Government, and also leads directly to its financial collapse. There is no dispute in wanting to provide financial strengthening of stability of private higher education institutions, but a reason for concern is a tendency that this is becoming detrimental to the state University, which raises the question of motives standing behind it.

Furthermore, in the time of studying under the Bologna system, it is unclear how the provision of distance learning will come to life, having in mind that this requires daily attendance for lectures, which in Montenegro has not been properly applied even in the direct form, leading to a significant reduction of the quality of higher education.

Incomprehensible is also the Government policy, which on the one hand, through the funding of students in private institutions for study programmess of public interest, financially helps and strengthens private higher education institutions. However, simultaneously on the other hand, in addition to general requirements for founding and performance of activities of higher education institutions, it requires through one rigid norm also the financial guarantee of the same founders, where this may be the Government itself, namely, that they already have provided funds in their bank accounts to the amount of funds needed for the implementation of the study programme. Therefore, it was important to find a solution with the exact percentage of the minimum guarantee in the legal part of determination of the required financial guarantees, and not to determine the full amount per study programme, because this does not motivate diversity in the establishment of study programmes of a priority importance.

Also, provisions for appointment to academic title and employment should have been more clearly defined. Persons with academic titles are also employed according to contract of employment under the Labour Law, and not under the Law on Higher Education. They are appointed to the title on the basis of the Law on Higher Education. Law on Higher Education is not lex specialis in relation to the Labour Law when it comes to employment, since full professors and associate professors, as well as assistants, have been concluding and still conclude a contract of employment, which may be for a fixed time of two years and for an indefinite time. Due to unclear regulations and interpretations of the appointment to the title of professors for five years, the Labour Law and the institute of employment contract have often been violated while the new Law does not give an answer to this issue.

The new Law has also deleted the category of associates, especially at universities where there are no doctorates (drama, art and music), and it remains unclear what kind/type of contract with associates did the legislator have in mind in the provisions which define associates and why the category of teaching assistants is not among other categories with academic titles.

It is unclear how did the provisions of the Statute of the University of Montenegro regarding who consists the academic staff and associates were put in the Law on Higher Education, if they are irrelevant to private universities. It is also unclear why this law, as a general act, prescribes detailed procedures when they are being prescribed or have been prescribed by statutes of higher education institutions. Thereby the autonomy of higher education institutions is significantly being intruded.

CCE notes that this Law should have been assessed by those whom it was intended for, and these are primarily students and employees at the higher education institutions, but it should have passed the judgment of court experts, citizens, civil society. This would certainly contribute that the new text has a more appropriate response to identified problems, and less ambiguities with which it now abounds.

Snežana Kaluđerović, Programme Coordinator