Huge growth in HE access but too few industry links

Kosovo’s higher education system has been undergoing a tremendous change in the last decade. With access to higher education currently at over 60% of the school-leaving cohort, from a mere 15% in 1999, the government has opted for mass higher education.

Five new public universities have been established in the last five years and there are approximately 30 private accredited colleges in the country.

While there has been a tremendous effort to increase access, expanding student numbers were not complemented by an increase in resources and the biggest criticism has been of the shortage of qualified faculty to maintain such expansion.

All public universities have a research mission, but extremely limited research outputs and outdated teaching materials and methods. Private colleges also have limited resources and a lack of understanding of their mission – most have concentrated on their quest to survive in such a competitive market.

Weak academia-industry links

There is currently weak collaboration between academia and industry, mostly concentrated around career services and student placements.

Several universities, such as the faculty of engineering at the University of Prishtina and Universum College, have established industry advisory boards with the aim of bridging the gap between academia and the business community and meeting the requirements of the labour market.

The only notable example of collaboration in research is the ICT-KOSEU project, which brings together business associations, academia and businesses and is financed by the FP7 framework of the European Union Commission – Europe’s Seventh Framework Programme for the funding of research and technological development.

Business associations such as the American Chamber of Commerce in Kosovo or AmCham, the Kosovo Chamber of Commerce, the Kosovo Business Alliance and the Kosovo ICT Association or STIKK, are currently playing a very important role in strengthening collaboration and have initiated important initiatives in this respect.

It is worth mentioning the decision of STIKK and the education committee at AmCham to include representatives from academia in every important project and initiative, such as Kosovo’s ICT strategy.

Universum College has established a co-op project which allow companies to develop and deliver customised courses for students with the aim of increasing the interaction between students and future employers while reducing the skills gap and increasing work preparedness.

Another notable project worth mentioning is the KEDS Academy – created by the Kosovo Energy Distribution System or KEDS, with the aim of preparing final year engineering students to embark on a career at KEDS.

Challenges and opportunities

What are the main challenges for academia-business collaboration?

First of all, there is mistrust on both sides due to lack of communication and interaction, and also lack of capacity on both sides to sustain collaboration.

There are no heavy industries in Kosovo that need the continued support and collaboration of academia and this is exacerbated by the lack of clusters and technology parks.

Entrepreneurship education is still in its infancy and, most importantly, there is a lack of funding for (commercialised) research and development as well as startups and new ventures.

But what are the options and opportunities for Kosovo to have a well functioning triple helix involving industry, academia and government?

Prioritising key fields for research funding is a very important element in increasing collaboration.

Research processes and outputs should be linked to the prevalent industries in Kosovo and should assist the business community to increase competitiveness and productivity, complemented by the provision of better technical assistance in obtaining Horizon 2020 funding.

Every study programme should establish an industry advisory board and link its teaching programmes with industry placements.

Entrepreneurship education should be offered across the campus in contrast to what is being offered now – mostly in business schools only – and university-business joint study programmes should be offered based on best practices in other parts of the world.

A stronger focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics education, technology transfer, research commercialisation and university based incubators or accelerators will be key steps to strengthening the ties between academia and industry.

Finally, different events and community projects will serve to bring the two sectors together and lower the mistrust that currently hinders collaborations.

* Alejtin Berisha is the executive director of Universum College in Kosovo, a fellow of the Steinhardt Institute at New York University and executive committee member of the European Higher Education Society, EAIR. He can be contacted at alejtin@universum-ks.org.