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Education Ministry Gives Licenses Arbitrarily

The RS planned to more tightly control a proliferation of private schools by applying a uniform set of rules. A look at the licenses granted and denied this school year shows that personal contacts and politics can change the way those rules are applied.
Foto: CIN

A plan to more tightly regulate private schools in the Republika Srpska (RS) has proved flawed, as some of the six private universities and six colleges that received licenses this school year clearly do not meet all educational requirements.

Three other private schools in the RS were denied licenses, while approval for another school is pending. Whether or not licenses were granted seems to depend as much on who runs or advocates for a school as on its compliance with high standards.

One big draw of private universities is their small class sizes, a feature that enhances learning and the attention given each student.

In early 2006, The Center for Investigative Reporting in Sarajevo (CIN) published “Universities Falling the Grade,”

examining the proliferation of private schools around Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) that charge high tuition for low-grade classes taught in poor facilities with unqualified teachers.

In July 2006, the RS passed a new Law on Higher Education designed to limit the number of private facilities by requiring them to meet stringent conditions. The schools had to pass review by three-member panels set up by the RS Ministry of Education and Culture to verify that the schools had the required numbers of tenured professors and titles in their libraries for their course offerings, and that that they owned an actual location in which to hold classes.

The law also required that a Council for Development of Higher Education and Quality Insurance be set up to oversee the panels and to insure that they properly evaluated the staffing and premises at the new schools.

But that Council was never organized. Ministry officials say they could not find enough qualified people. In addition, the panels set up to judge the performance of 16 private schools specifically excluded inspectors from the ministry who may have been the most qualified judges. Many panels instead included members with conflicts of interest: jobs at the schools they were supposed to be judging.

Anton Kasipović, the RS Minister of Education and Culture, defended the expertise of the panels and the implementation of the law in a recent interview with CIN.

He said the council could be set up later and that he would have considered it a conflict of interest to send out inspectors to evaluate a school that they may have already helped to get licensed.

Arbitrary Application of Rules?

Of the schools denied licenses, the University of Applied Sciencesin Doboj did not meet any of the requirements: a building, books or professors.

But the College for Entrepreneurship and Business in Prijedor, also denied, has been in operation for nearly a dozen years. Its degrees were among the first by private schools in BiH to be internationally recognized.

School officials, including Professor Radmilo Kondić, declined to be interviewed for this story, maintaining that they want to keep a low media profile.

RS officials have tried previously to shut down the facility over an apparent political disagreement. According to Jugoslav Vuk Tepić, the head of Department for Higher Education at the ministry, a review panel ruled that it could not be licensed because ownership of its building was unclear. Records show that the building is titled in part to the college, in part to a junior college that preceded it and in part to Kondić.

IBCollege, also in Prijedor, was denied a license because of what ministry officials described as “territorial jurisdiction.” The facility has premises in Bosanska Krupa, which is in the Federation of BiH and not the RS entity. The commission, according to Kasipović could not visit it.

At the same time, however, the minister did not close down the Srebrenica branch of the Sarajevo School of Law. He called the school “absolutely illegitimate,” but delicacy over any political issue in a town known worldwide for a wartime ethnic massacre prevented interference.

The Gradiška-based junior college Primus has received no reply about its license from the ministry. Tepić said the school’s request for review came in late and is still pending.

That extra time has helped school founder Ranko Bakić, who has been searching for and buying a building. Schools without locations are not supposed to be licensed.

Kasipović said Bakić recently reported that he had bought premises and was completing the real estate transaction. He said the ministry is, therefore, letting him continue operating so that current students can complete their studies and to seek students for the 2008-09 school year.

Ljubiša Mladenović, director of the Banja Luka University for Business Studies and Management, says the school was licensed even though it had no building as required by law. “A building exists, the building is under construction,” he said.

In contrast, the ministry did not delay giving a license to The University for Business and Management in Banja Luka, even though it too has no building.

“In the eighth month of 2006 we started constructing a building with more than 3,000 square meters of useful space,

and this May the Ministry issued a decision on the licensing of colleges,” said the university’s director Ljubiša Mladenović.

“The issue of space was overcome because you cannot construct a building in such a short time. The building is under the roof, we have the ownership,” said Mladenović.

When a panel visited the university it was shown paperwork on the new building, as well as required building and zoning permits and contracts for renting the current building.

Mladenović said he could not remember the members of the panel who recommended licensing.

Records show they were Drago Branković, Miloš Sorak and Jasmin Komić, all employees of his at the Banja Luka school.

How to Secure a License

Wellness College, under Director Ljiljana Tomić, opened Nov. 5 in Bijeljina fully licensed. The law, however, requires that lectures for licensed school begin no later than mid-October.

The school had a powerful advocate in RS Prime Minister Milorad Dodik’s advisor Miladin Dragičević, who made a visit to the minister about the school.

Kasipović said, “Mr. Dragičević, whose first name I don’t know, came but he didn’t, if I shall be totally fair, ask me to give approval for the work of this school. But he did ask me to answer as soon as possible. That document was sitting at my desk…I took another look at the commission’s report and made a decision.”

”I didn’t try to influence the decision,“ Dragičević said, ”I only said that if the commission has finished and if the conclusion was positive, they should be issued a decision instead of waiting for all that procedure. I was called by our people in the party from Bijeljina. I don’t know that woman, but supposedly her husband is a party member, so they called.”

The University for Business Studies in Banja Luka owns a refurbished 1,800-square-meter building filled with state-of-the-art equipment and presided over by 20 tenured professors. But getting a license was far from a breeze.

A panel that visited asked for a bank guarantee, a balance of accounts and financial reports, none of which are required by the law on licensing.

Anton Kasipović, minister of education and culture in the RS government, said that he generally trusts the panel members the ministry has sent to evaluate private universities and make licensing recommendations.

“When the commission presented its report it wrote that we had no premises,” said university Director Radovan Klincov. “Everything we have now, we had back then, but they didn’t even want to take a look. We have loudly protested and we asked the ministry to send another panel. It looked through all the documents and the minister also came to see with his own eyes.”

Kasipović said, “There were some vehement protests from this university about the way, behavior and the way of interviewing conducted by a panel, which was seen by this institution of higher education as tendentious.”

Tepić denied there being any political pressures on his department.

At worse, he said, there is the threat of small favors.

“Small gifts such as a bottle of spirits or some smaller material valuables cannot be seen as an attempt at bribing, but there were such cases and we have, of course, turned that down and this was naturally taken the wrong way by those sending these little gifts,” he said.

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