Introduction According to Zgaga, the concept of academic

Introduction

The concept of
academic autonomy has changed significantly during the last decades and Weiler
(2005) considers that the relative importance of the autonomy of the individual
scholar and the autonomy of the institution is one of the ambivalences that
universities have in the new context. Referring to the general developments of
education in Europe after 1980, Henkel (2007) talks about two challenges that
academic autonomy is facing: one is that governments preside over ‘knowledge
societies’ in which they see knowledge as the main driver of economic and
social prosperity, and the second one is that of redefinition of the relation
of the state and market. It implies that the
traditional concept of academic autonomy with clear boundaries and no state intrusion
is not possible in today’s context. Moreover, Zgaga (2012) considers that “the
concept of university autonomy would be seriously simplified and endangered if
it were put together on a continuum with ‘full state control and no autonomy on
one end’ and ‘full autonomy and no more state control’ on the other hand” (p.
5). According to Zgaga, the concept of academic autonomy is referred to a
constantly changing relationship between the state and higher education
institutions which depends on national contexts, circumstances, academic and
political cultures.

 

Considering these circumstances, it
is very difficult to define the concept of academic autonomy and analyze it in
isolation without taking into consideration the context. Esterman and Nokkala
(2009) claim that there is no ‘ideal
model of autonomy’, suggesting that there are “a set of principles that
constitute crucial elements of autonomy, and that, when implemented in the
context of a given system, support universities in carrying out ever more
complex missions”  (p. 7). These
principles are included in the EUA’s
Lisbon declaration (2007) within four dimensions that define autonomy:
organizational, financial, staffing and academic autonomy and were the basis
for the study of academic autonomy conducted with the representatives of public
universities of 34 European countries (Estermann & Nokkala, 2009).

 

These four dimensions
that look at the ability of universities to decide on organizational structures
and institutional governance, financial issues, staffing matters and academic
matters will also be used as a framework of this study in the Kosovo context. Academic autonomy has been subject of radical
interrogations from the civil society in Kosovo since the end of the conflict
in 1999. The international reports also highlight the need for Kosovo to ensure
the autonomy and
independent operation of higher education institutions, in addition to the need
to improve the
quality of education significantly
and to strengthen research and
innovation (European
Commission Report for Kosovo, 2016).

Thus, the aim of this study is to understand how the
educational stakeholders assess the institutional autonomy and academic freedom
in the Kosovo context and how do they address the issues and challenges related
to the academic autonomy and accountability.

 

Academic
autonomy and accountability in the new context

The globalization and
neoliberalism had a significant impact to the social and economical context of
the states in the last decades and it was inevitably reflected to the higher
education as well. Becker and Trowler (2002) illustrate the relation of the
university and new context claiming that “a scientific discovery in a
university in one country will be exploited to make a technical advance by a
company based in another and put into production in yet another country, chosen
for its low labour costs and offered for sale by that company’s subsidiaries
throughout the world” (p. 3). The new circumstances made the governments focus more
on creating the ‘knowledgeable society’ resulting in the transition from
‘elite’ to ‘mass’ higher education, which begun in ’80s mainly in USA and UK, followed
by the other developed countries. These developments, the theory of knowledge, conceptualization
of knowledge and the rapid developments of the technology changed the mission
of the higher education, and inevitably they undermined “…the idea of academe
as well defined territory dedicated to its own specialized goals” (Henkel,
2007, p. 91). 

 

In order to
understand the academic autonomy in the new context, Zgaga (2012) makes a
difference between ‘philosophical’ and ‘managerial’ discourses of academic
autonomy by addressing them as academic individual freedom and institutional
autonomy. According to Zgaga, while academic freedom prevailed all debates
during ’60s to ’80s, following the transformation from ‘elite’ to ‘mass’
system, academic freedom seems to be a serious issue only in certain countries
where democracy is not a self-understandable condition of public life. Henkel
(2005) also highlights that although most higher education institution continue
to control internally process of preparing and controlling academics, the
freedom to determine curriculum content, degree standards and allocation of
funds are not universally agreed. In addition, Apple (2016) argues that the education
institutions have become a subject of performance objectives, standards,
national testing, and national curriculum. It implies that in the new context,
the quality of education is not only the concern of higher education
institutions, since the “…reliance on independent institutions or individual
professional to ensure their own quality and standards has been replaced by
national standardization” (Henkel, 2007, p. 93). However, Warnock
(1992) highlights the importance of the academic autonomy of an institution and
reminds that the concept of autonomy means that institutions are self-governing
considering that “an institution that is self-governing can govern itself well
or ill, despotically or democratically but the principles it adopts and the
decisions it makes shall not be dictated from outside and this is much is
central to the concept of autonomy.” (p. xx).

 

A crucial part of a
self-governing institution is accountability and the new circumstances have
imposed creation of the accountability mechanisms related to higher education. Although
it has become a significant topic in the last few decades, the need for
accountability of higher education has been highlighted even before, in
different context. Upon establishing the Berlin Universitat back in 1811,
Wilhelm von Humbold claimed that the state must not intrude the university but
at the same time, he reminded that the intellectual freedom “can be threatened
not only by the state, but also by intellectual institutions which tend to
develop, at their birth, a certain outlook and which will therefore readily
resist the emergence of another outlook.” (Humbold, 1970, as cited by Zgaga,
pp. 224, 246). It is asserted also by Weiler (2005) who claims that the
ambivalence that exists related to academic autonomy in the new context can
serve as a great mechanism of defense for a university that tries to avoid
accountability for its results and accomplishment. Therefore, the state must
seek to avoid the harm, which can possibly arise from this source as “autonomy
cannot be an excuse to exclude abuses of autonomy (e.g. corruption within
institutions) from a critical discussion as well as prosecution (Zgaga, 2012).

 

These issues
highlight the need for an increased cooperation between the higher education
institutions and the relevant stakeholders in order to respond effectively to
the demands of the new environment as academic autonomy can also function
outside the ‘traditional borders’. Zgaga (2012) suggests that the academic
freedom is a matter of continues negotiation since “the university cannot live
in its thoughts only and society needs knowledge to survive”. Further, Zgaga considers
that the countries shall focus on a set of recognized principles of values
which should direct the actions of different actors rather than search for an
“ideal” to move close to. Neave, as cited by Henkel (2007) also highlights that
the outcomes of negotiations are not entirely predictable and thus the autonomy
can be enhanced or reduced. It implies that it depends on the parties that are
part of the negotiations, and if the parties are week, the decision will be
week. It becomes a process, which comprises by setting limits and continuing
the negotiation, since “academic freedom is not something given as a right; it
is won and not once and for all” (Henkel, 2007, p. 96).

 

Assessing
academic autonomy

Given the fact that
higher education institutions in European countries have different approaches
toward the assessment academic autonomy, the European University Association
(EUA) sets out general principles of institutional autonomy which consists of
academic, financial, organizational and staffing autonomy (Lisbon Declaration,
2007). These principles have been used as basis point by Estermann and Nokkala
to analyze and assess the academic autonomy in 34 countries of Europe. Their
study has been focused on the ability to introduce or terminate degree
programs, to define the structure and content of degree programs, roles and
responsibilities with regard to the quality assurance of programs and degrees,
the extent of control over students admission (academic autonomy); the ability
to establish structures and governing bodies, university leadership and who is
accountable to whom (organizational autonomy); the ability to charge tuition
fees, to accumulate surplus, to borrow and raise money from different sources,
the ability to own land and buildings, reporting procedures as accountability
tools (financial autonomy); and the capacity to recruit staff, the
responsibility for terms of employment (staffing autonomy).

 

Academic
autonomy in Kosovo higher education

Academic autonomy remains one of the challenges,
which is addressed by both civil society in Kosovo as well as by international
reports. The public University of Prishtina (UP) is the most referred source to
the public discourses related to the academic autonomy. Gashi (2013) claims
that since it has been founded, the UP played a key role in political
developments in Kosovo and it was, at the same time, a victim of political
interferences. Thus, influenced by political developments, the issue of
academic autonomy is mainly addressed within the ‘political interferences’
context, thus undermining discussions about academic autonomy and
accountability as matter of negotiation between the state, society and
universities. In addition, the concepts of academic freedom and institutional
autonomy are still remaining vague terms. Thus, the purpose of this article is
to understand how the main education stakeholders assess academic autonomy and
accountability in higher education within the Kosovo context and how are the
issues and challenges addressed. The four dimensions that define autonomy as
set out in EUA’s Lisbon declaration (2007) will be used as a framework of this
study.

 

Methodology,
participants, data collection and analysis

As Gay, Mills and Airasian (2006) claim that
“qualitative research seeks … to obtain in-depth understanding about the way
things are, why they are that way, and how participants in the context perceive
it” (p. 14), this study employs the qualitative approach. A purposive sample
will be applied and the participants will be representatives of different local
educational actors: a vice rector of UP, a professor of UP, a representative of
the Ministry of Education (Department of Higher Education), a representative of
the Agency of Accreditation, a representative of civil society, and a
representative of an international organization. The data are gathered through
semi-structured interviews and document analysis. The interview questions will
be basically compiled based on the academic autonomy principles set out in the
Lisbon Declaration (2007). The data collected will be transcribed and analyzed
and compared with the documents analysis and notes, such as the statute of the
University of Prishtina, and the Law on Higher Education.