Albania has been mired by student protests for the past few days with higher education students from all over the country having taken to the streets with a series of demands. What started as a small protest at University of Tirana Faculty of Architecture has spread to other faculties and public universities in Durres, Elbasan, Vlore, Korce, Shkoder and elsewhere. Klaudjo Kavaja gives us a brief interpretation of why the protests have taken place.
Their main concerns are the high tariffs that every public university student must pay each year, the low quality of education that universities provide, and the economic difficulties that students face. The symbolic place of gathering for these students has been outside the Ministry of Education, while they have refused to negotiate with the Minister of Education or PM Edi Rama until their demands are met.
The main demand that led to such an unprecedented mobilisation was the abrogation of a Council of Ministers’ Decree to impose additional fees on students retaking exams. December 8th, the fourth day of protests, coincides with date that student demonstrations in 1990 brought the Communist regime led by Ramiz Alia to its knees. This led many to dub these protests as the second most important December in the student movement, like the one almost thirty years ago, with students chanting and demanding for Albania to be like rest of Europe in term so of education rights and facilities. As the momentum of the protests have grown, students have added additional demands to their initial four of abrogating the exam fees, the lowering of yearly fees, improving the student housing conditions, and the higher involvement of student bodies in the decision-making structures within their universities.
Education has become one of the most contentious issues for the Albanian government. with the higher education reform, enacted by the Socialist Party, after it came in power in 2013, not producing the expected fruits. Public spending for education has remained low, somewhere around three percent of GDP. Universities lack funds for research, use antiquated literature, do not have quality labs or libraries or access to scientific journals and the infrastructure remains sub-par. At the same time, students are forced to pay something between 200 – 2000 euros as fees, not including accommodation, food, transportation and other living costs. With a minimum salary of around 160 euros, paying for higher education has become a burden for young people and their families. Most of them are forced to work in call centres to pay for their education and living costs. Furthermore, a university degree does not automatically lead into a secure path to the job market. Unemployment, underemployment, nepotism, and low salaries have forced many of these young graduates to migrate abroad in search of employment opportunities or to take-up odd jobs in sectors unrelated to their academic background.