Higher education system forgotten by decision-makers

Centre for Civic Education (CCE) points out that higher education should be one of the priorities of any accountable government, but that it is chronically lacking in Montenegro. In addition to the neglect of this system, today we are also witnessing the blocking of the adoption of a new legislative and strategic framework of higher education in Montenegro, and the responsibility for this lies entirely with the decision-makers who neglected this part of the public interest.

CCE reminds that during 2020/2021 certain activities in this area were launched, with the announcement and opening of the process of passing the Law on Higher Education, which was supposed to be adopted in the first half of 2021. However, this issue is not important even for the caretaker Government, which put it in this annual plan for the 4th quarter, but the working group for its preparation has not yet been appointed. This means that the Ministry of Education continuously demonstrates that it does not have the capacity to fulfill this obligation, which was part of the work programme of the 42nd and 43rd Governments, and because of this many actors are bearing the consequences. For example, the University of Montenegro (UoM), as a state university, was supposed to enter mandatory accreditation in 2021 according to the new legal text. Since that law has not been adopted, UoM is accredited according to the old, that is, the current law. Everything indicates that this part of the work will be transferred to the competence of a new Government, elected after the extraordinary parliamentary elections in June, while it already seems certain that we will not get this important law before 2024.

Additionally, the Ministry of Education has not shown as proactive even when it comes to the adoption of the Higher Education Strategy for the period 2021 – 2025.

For both documents – the Law and the Strategy – the Directorate for Higher Education has prepared draft versions, in which the time and effort of members of the working groups were invested in the previous two years, and which were completely ignored.

The CCE believes that those responsible in the Ministry of Education must show commitment to such important issues as there is no justification for the delays that resulted in the blockade of the system. Namely, for the Strategy and the Law to be adopted, an opinion on their text must be issued by the Council for Higher Education, which is not functioning, since the term of office of most of the members of that body has expired. Given that the Council is appointed and dismissed by the Parliament of Montenegro, at the proposal of the Government, it is clear that we will wait for the election of new members of the Council until the formation of new convocations of both the Government and the Assembly.

For the note, the work on improving and developing higher education is carried out by the Council for Higher Education, and therefore there is a clear reason for the urgency of electing new members of this body, especially bearing in mind its major competencies, such as issuing opinions on regulations in the field of higher education, prescribing conditions and criteria for selection into academic titles, giving opinions on the number of students and the amount of funding for students on study programs of public interest at private institutions of higher education for each study year, etc.

Also, some issues of the competencies of the Council for Higher Education and the Agency for Quality Control and Assurance remained undefined, and to define these issues in detail, a new Law on Higher Education is necessary.

CCE points to the large and harmful consequences of the lack of a new strategic and legal framework in the field of higher education in accordance with the requirements of the European area of higher education, all due to the lack of political will of decision makers. This is, for example, especially important in the part of the model of studies that significantly determines the labour market, employment, then academic integrity, methods of financing, but also other open issues that require constant and effective focus.

The CCE notes that responsibility for this lies with the Government, then the Assembly and the Council for Higher Education, and that currently none of these bodies have legitimacy and full capacity. This does not mean that some tasks cannot be completed on a technical level so that later the system will function quickly, but this is also missing due to the lack of recognition of the importance of this topic.

Snežana Kaluđerović, Senior Legal Advisor