Why is Government’s Agency being strengthened while Council for Higher Education is being weakened?

Centre for Civic Education (CCE) reminds that last amendments to the Law on Higher Education, adopted in June 2017 have significantly and inappropriately reduced authority of Council for Higher Education. It is therefore concerning a fact that MPs of Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), Marta Scepanovic and Branka Tanasijevic, are by proposed amendments additionally seeking to reduce the already limited jurisdiction of this body, due to which it is being completely impeded.

MPs Scepanovic and Tanasijevic submitted to the Parliament of Montenegro amendments to the Law on Higher Education on 19 October 2017. Except for the part of amendment that is of nomotehnical character and proper, some of the amendments seriously jeopardize position of Council for Higher Education.

Namely, proposal of MPs Scepanovic and Tanasijevic deprives the Council of one of the few remaining key competences – determining methodology for ranking of institutions, which is being transferred to the Government’s Agency for Control and Assuring Quality of Higher Education. Determining methodology for ranking higher education institutions must remain within jurisdiction of the Council for Higher Education, otherwise it would exclude expert and academic level of decision making and create a space for manipulation in the conduct of ranking.

Members of the Council are appointed by the Parliament of Montenegro, from the ranks of prominent experts in the field of higher education, science, art, students, economics, etc. and thus legal framework for a pluralistic approach and possibility of discussion of all issues between different sectors is provided. The proposed amendments deny this, and also reduce influence of academic and economic spheres on making such important decisions of importance to education process and labour market.

Council also prescribes standards for evaluation of institutions in accordance with standards in the European Higher Education Area. This precisely reinforces the obligation that provision for determining methodology for ranking of higher education institutions should be within its jurisdiction as an expert body. That is why it is extremely important for the Council to have its clearly positioned and functional and not merely an ornamental role. If the aforementioned amendments of DPS were adopted, the question arises: why does Council for Higher Education exist at all?

Contrary to the standpoint of MPs of DPS, CCE believes that the existing defined role of the Council should be strengthened by giving the Council binding opinion on election of Director of the Agency, thereby limiting the Government’s possibility to appoint party personnel for that position without sufficient professional capacity. Furthermore, CCE estimates that Council should also be restored with responsibility to give its opinion on accreditation and re-accreditation, while the Agency should have duty to technically enable this procedure.

It is also important to remind that original aim of the Agency was to carry out evaluation of higher education institutions, but in addition to that, a range of competences from the part of accreditation and re-accreditation of study programmes were added, thus it has become a body of higher power than Council, and under full control of the Government.

Mira Popović, programme associate