Remarks of Jane Armitage, World Bank Country Director and Regional Coordinator for Southeast Europe during an activity on the quality of higher education and Bologna process

January 15, 2010

Honorable Mr. Prime Minister Berisha,
Honorable Mr. Minister of Education and Science Tafaj,
Distinguished Rectors of Albanian Public Universities, lecturers, and students,
Distinguished guests,

Thank you very much for inviting me to this important event to launch concrete steps in evolving Albanian higher education teaching standards to meet the demands of the Bologna Process.
Higher education is more than the capstone of the traditional education pyramid.  It is a critical pillar of society, providing not only the high-level skills necessary for the labor market but also the training essential for teachers, doctors, nurses, civil servants, engineers, humanists, entrepreneurs, scientists, social scientists, and myriad personnel necessary to meet the needs of Albanian economy and society. 

It is the individuals trained at your universities who will develop the capacity and analytical skills that will drive the Albanian economy, support civil society, teach your children, lead your government effectively, and make important decisions which will affect all Albanians.

Universities are clearly a key part of your higher education system, but your country’s education sector is developing a diverse and growing set of public and private institutions – colleges, technical institutes, research laboratories, centers of excellence, distance learning centers, and many more – to produce the range of higher-order capacity necessary for your country’s development.

Critical to Albania’s economic development is the free flow of students, professors, ideas, and human capital within the country and across its borders.  The Bologna Process seeks to facilitate such mobility by creating a vast academic area in which programs and quality standards are comparable.  While the Process began in Europe, it is a much broader initiative that covers about 50 countries and continues to attract signatories eager to modularize their higher education curricula, develop a uniform degree structures, and adopt international norms for quality.

Albania’s embrace of the Bologna Process and the steps taken today toward the evolution of teaching standards demonstrates a profound commitment to improving higher education, expanding the capacity of human capital, and providing greater access to and opportunity for the Albanian labor market.     

The World Bank has been active since 1963 in supporting the growth and diversification of tertiary education systems and in promoting essential policy reforms to make the sector more efficient, relevant, equitable, transparent, and responsive. 

We are pleased that the Education Excellence and Equity Project (EEE-P) financed by the World Bank, the Council of Europe Development Bank, the European Investment Bank, and the Government of Albania includes support for investment in and innovation of the higher education sector. In addition to initiatives such as the one we are launching today, the Project resources has helped to equip 25 educational and research labs, with 35 more on the way, through a system of competitive grants.
We are very pleased that Government of Albania has adopted a Master Plan for Higher Education and a National Strategy for Science and Technology – both rooted in the National Strategy for Development and European Integration.

Curriculum reform to equip students for the modern world is, however, a much deeper and more complex process than simply changing the syllabus and text books. It implies new and fewer hierarchical management methods, greater openness and accountability within universities, and major retraining of staff in both substantive knowledge and teaching and management methods.
Surveys of Albanian migrants with PhDs indicates that one of the main obstacles to returning to the country and entering the workforce are working conditions and career prospects. In the survey, after economic and political stability, the three most important factors cited that would prompt a migrant’s return to Albania are a reform in universities and research, a reduction in corruption, and investment in education and research – all of these are essentially linked to working conditions in universities.
Curriculum reform, and indeed wider governance reform within the universities, is likely to be the key to creating new generations of students equipped to compete in a knowledge-based economy and capable of raising productivity, as well as forming and retaining new generations of university teachers and researchers.

Therefore we encourage the Ministry of Education and Science to continue its efforts to improve the quality and relevance of public and private tertiary education and strengthen science and technology research and development capacity.

We further encourage the Ministry and Albanian universities to strengthen their management capacities and establish sustainable financing systems to encourage responsiveness and flexibility, which together with improvements in quality will strengthen students’ ability to contribute to society.
We at the World Bank, together with our partners in Council of Europe Development Bank and European Investment Bank, stand committed to supporting you to advance this ambitious agenda to help Albania meet the challenges of the future.

I am going to take advantage of the opportunity to make a few additional remarks. In the media coverage today of the visit of our Regional Vice President and the launch of our new Country Partner Strategy process, there were some negative reporting regarding local staff.   I want to make it very clear, that these reports are totally false.  The World Bank is very proud of the work of our local staff and have complete confidence that each and every one of them have acted and will continue to act professionally and with dedication to achieving the goals of the Bank program and its support to the people of Albania.