Speeches & Transcripts

Remarks by Jan-Peter Olters, Kosovo Country Manager, at the Regional Conference on Higher Education and Research

May 4, 2015

Jan-Peter Olters Regional Conference on Higher Education and Research Pristina, Kosovo

As Prepared for Delivery

A good financing plan, an effective budget presupposes clarity on priorities and desired outcomes. There is a solid body of empirical research that shows that it is the quality of education, with “cognitive skills” being measured as outcome, that has powerful effects on an individual’s—and, in the aggregate—on a country’s growth and development potential. The focus on educational attendance, school attainment, and university degrees per se (in itself a function of the relative ease of acquiring the relevant data) does not suffice to generate the desired results, not least by distorting the corresponding analyses and policy discussions.

In short, a country’s distribution of income tends to be correlated to, if not caused by, the distribution of skills. Increasing the quality of education alone will help to improve economic outcomes, with the potential to amplify effects by linking corresponding (higher) education sector reforms with other key ingredients to a successful growth and development strategy—comprising, inter alia, well-functioning institutions and markets, well-established property rights, and the openness to foreign ideas, knowledge, and know-how.

For this reason, it is critically important to develop a solid foundation for assessing student performance continuously, consistently, and comparably. Kosovo’s participation in PISA is a very important step in this direction and, irrespective of initial results, will help to focus on pupils’ skills and the quality of teaching in secondary education. For the same reasons, Kosovo’s focus on increasing schools’ and universities’ financial autonomy and academic accountability is highly welcome and bodes well for the future. The World Bank has been privileged in supporting Kosovo in this endeavour, starting with pre-university education and —with a new project being developed—opening the doors into higher education as well.

The key features of Kosovo’s labour market, ultimately the Achilles’ heel of its economy, are the exceptionally high inactivity rate among the 15–64-year-olds of 60 per cent of the working age population and unemployment rate of 30 per cent of the labour force. Too many Kosovars do not have the right skills to be successful in the labour market, while too many companies cannot find the skills they need to be successful in their particular market. The skills shortage and skills mismatch are challenges that “better” education—in schools, in vocational schools, in colleges, and in universities—can help to address.

Following reforms to increase the quality of pre-university general education in Kosovo, building on ongoing measures to developing new curricula, increasing teacher effectiveness, and addressing the challenge of classroom overcrowding and multiple-shift schools, the time has come to provide higher education with a clear, strategic plan, increased transparency, and increased institutional and academic freedom. Students seem ready, as their recent protests had focused on issues of academic quality before anything else, and they need to be part of the debate. One critical reform anchor, the Bologna process, will help Kosovo to integrate its tertiary education system with those elsewhere in Europe, benefiting from experiences made in countries with a less difficult starting point.

The focus on quality and, with it, on student assessment and examination systems can be frightful to many, as it will unveil weaknesses and imperfections—but it is necessary to leverage reforms where they can have the largest impact on improving pupils’ and students’ skills.

And that is what, in the end, really matters.