Universities, meeting the challenge launched by their national governments - while abiding by their functions of order, meaning, well-being and truth - are indeed developing “Europe as reality” for their citizens by trying to give birth to European Higher Education and Research Areas by 2010.
The transformation of higher education in the Republic of Macedonia indeed presumes creating through the Bologna Process a system of higher education that will be more flexible and competitive. Transformed institutions of higher education, that is universities, become key players in the integration of the Republic of Macedonia into the European Union. Transformation of higher education is part of transformation processes in the economy, politics, culture, etc, in order to become part of a joint European Higher Education Area and part of scientific research.
Reforms in higher education nowadays should be regarded not only as part of the Bologna Process, but as a result of societal changes in the Republic of Macedonia and in the world as a whole. Contemporary societies are led by knowledge: more and more people seek education for a brighter future and a successful career. The complexity of the globalized world, the impact of technology, and insecure job positions have forced all sectors of society to identify education in general and higher education in particular as a key for the future. “Yet, in the midst of this growing importance, indeed, perhaps because of it, higher education has become the focus of increasing concerns and criticism”.
In the past, only state universities, or higher education institutions that were financed from the budget of the Republic of Macedonia were the ones fulfilling the needs of the labour market with highly educated workers.Among other country’s weaknesses assessed in the Commission Report, population’s relatively low level of education, is a reason more for the competent institutions and bodies to focus their efforts in establishing and developing a sustainable education system.
Nowadays the labour market is creating other relations and new relationships which exceed the narrow national frames but rather exist in the international plane, requiring new, more suitable and flexible offers from higher education. Thanks to the affirmation of private property in Republic of Macedonia as a base for economic development in the country, the process of establishing private higher education institutions was started. The competition had one early effect: institutions were able to overcome inert and non-flexible conditions and start developing organizational structures compatible with all the changes in the labour market.
The Bologna Process
While in the twentieth century, science and democracy in the greater part of the world were the main forces defining higher education, universities nowadays are transformed under the influence of the “knowledge society” and sometimes “knowledge economy”, so now the university is not only the creator of knowledge, trainer of new minds, transmitter of culture but at the same time an agent of economic development.
The Bologna Processes in Europe and in the Republic of Macedonia are important for the transformation of institutions of higher education in the “knowledge society” and their integration into the joint European Higher Education Area. In order to reflect the transformation of higher education we will concentrate on the Bologna Process in the Republic of Macedonia. There are ten action lines introduced in the Bologna Process: six were introduced in the Bologna Declaration itself, three in the Prague Communiqué and the tenth line was introduced in the Berlin Communiqué.
The first six action lines were introduced in the Bologna Declaration:
1. Adoption of a system of easily readable and comparable degrees;
2. Adoption of a of a system essentially based on two cycles;
3. Establishment of a system of credits;
4. Promotion of mobility;
5. Promotion of European co-operation in quality assurance;
6. Promotion of the European dimensions in higher education.
Three more were introduced in the Prague Communiqué:
7. Lifelong learning;
8. Higher education institutions and students;
9. Promoting the attractiveness of the European Education Area.
A tenth line was introduced in the Berlin Communiqué:
10. Doctoral studies and the synergy between the EHEA and the ERA
Signing a memorandum of understanding in June 2003, the Republic of Macedonia declared its strong support for higher educational reform. Starting from the Law on Higher Education (2000, amended 2003) which provided a new legal framework for tertiary education and established new institutional structures, a series of changes to this Law aim to adjust the legal basis for the reforms foreseen within the Bologna Process. Looking back, some things have already been achieved; but many things remain to be done. It is the responsibility of the Ministry of Education and Science together with the higher education institutions to establish a new framework for higher education and to modernize the system of higher education in Macedonia.
Macedonian higher education is faced with several important challenges: how to be a relevant part of the Europe whose knowledge is based on research and how to strengthen its intellectual, cultural, social, scientific and technological range. Teaching and research in higher education are undergoing transformations today, but this is incomplete process and at the same time one becoming increasingly complex, taking into account significant cuts in public financial support to higher education.
The proposed new Law on Higher Education which is in its preparation phase and which will be approved in 2007, certainly will exceed and fulfil the existing one from 2000, amended 2003. Thus, new possibilities should be created in order to implement the Bologna Declaration and present the legal framework for further transformation, although it is important to note that the necessary flexibility and potential for innovation described above cannot be achieved alongside an over-prescriptive law. Higher education institutions need to be given as much autonomy as possible consistent with compliance with national quality standards and accountability for the use of public funds in an efficient and economic way. Whatever the legal framework, institutions of higher education in Macedonia are undergoing a system of reforms in different ways, and they are really concerned to go beyond the theory and laws. Seven years have passed since the decision to establish the European Higher Education Area. Macedonia is one of the signatory partners of the memorandum. The question is at what level have the main ideas of the Bologna Declaration been implemented?
It is worth mentioning that in many European states as well as in the Republic of Macedonia, although progress has been made in implementing the main objectives of the Bologna Process, better quality of education, modern curricula and systematic skills developments are processes not yet completed. The key “problem areas” still lie in the area of quality assurance, including the modernization of the curricula, the need for learner-focused teaching and of systematic skills development. Traditionally designed modules and curricula, favouritism of encyclopaedia and dominant role of teachers are still present in the universities of the Republic of Macedonia; if fact, these tendencies start with the content of the course. Lecturers decide and plan the content of their lectures. This focused approach on the input of the lecturer and on the control of how successfully the students have absorbed the lectured content are considered as typical of a “teacher-centred” approach. In the literature, the weakness of such an approach is that it might be difficult to identify in a precise way what students have to do to pass the module or the programme.
Curricula, beside modernization and the need for learner-focused teaching, should also include an employability approach component. This understands optimization of curricula with professional elements and transferable skills instead of theoretical and academic studies. Particularly in the first cycle of studies international trends in education are shifting from this “teacher-centred” approach to a more “learner focused” or “student centred” approach, from what has been called the “sage on the stage” methodology to the “guide on the side”. This alternative is focused on what the student is able to do at the end of the module or programme. This approach is often mentioned as an “outcome based approach”.
It is important for the transformation process of higher education in the Republic of Macedonia in future to engage institutions of higher education and to shift to the approach of skills development and career guidance: these should be crucial aspects for the employment of graduated students. In educational systems that are focused on skills development, students will not only be able to find jobs more easily by showing their skills, but they will have better performances in their jobs; they will be more mobile in the labour market and will be more prepared to learn during their lives. The skills of graduated students in the traditional higher education systems have always been a weak point. These graduates meight be divided into two categories. In the first category are “practical skills” of a certain profession forming an obligatory part of study programmes, while in the second category are those skills that are called “transferable skills” (intellectual skills, communication skills, organisational skills, interpersonal skills, intercultural skills, research skills, IT skills, foreign language skills, etc).
Programme for the Development of the Education in the Republic of Macedonia 2006-201
Based on the Programme for the Development of Higher Education 20062015, for the successful realisation of the mission and vision of higher education, the Ministry of Education and Science will in the coming period and in line with its public responsibilities, in collaboration with the universities, endeavour to create conditions for unimpeded implementation of the principles and recommendations emanating from the Bologna Process of higher education, though the achievement of the following main objectives:
- Increase in the number of university graduates in the Republic of Macedonia. The increase in the number of universities and other higher education institutions resulted in a significant increase in the number of the students in the Republic of Macedonian.
In addition to the three state universities, the private “non profit” SEEU was established in (2001), the private European University (2005) and private higher education institutions as departments of universities from abroad etc. This situation has had a positive impact on the access of students from all non-majority communities. In 2001/2002 only 6.68% of Albanians were present in the total number of students enrolled in Universities in Macedonia, but with the impact of SEEU this number increased to 15.50% by the 2004/2005 academic year. Achieving equity in representation of all groups in higher education is an important political and social goal, but must be driven by academic considerations and long-term sustainability, not short-term political factors. This strategic priority, the increased number of graduates from different study fields, which is in the interest of economic development, decreasing unemployment and cultivating the life of citizens in the Republic of Macedonia, is in the process of realization. This objective can only be realised with an increase in the access to higher education by younger generations, whether this be done through different offers of the existing institutions or through establishment of the new public or private institutions of higher education.
- Structural adoption of the higher education system to the Bologna Process is an important part of the reforms in higher education. The main goals of this process are: adoption of a system based on three cycles (National Qualification Framework); transformation of the state universities into integrated universities (consistent with the point made earlier about efficiency, economy and accountability); the application of a system for transfer and accumulation of credits; the introduction of a diploma supplement; mobility in the European Higher Education Area; promotion of the European dimension in higher education; employability; modernisation of teaching practice; and, application of information-communication technologies in higher education. Fulfilment of the existing law will create clear bases for the parallel study system, i.e., three cycles, which is an application in the national frame of qualification, practiced by the higher educations systems that are currently functioning in the structure of the universities. A clear law will enable the ECTS system (European Credit Transfer System) to be implemented more practically and applied to all study programmes, rather than having it partially or sometimes formally implemented into higher education programmes in the Republic of Macedonia.
Application of the transfer system and accumulation of the credits first of all needs be applied within the higher education system of the Republic of Macedonia. For the moment the implementation process is functioning better among members of the Interuniversity Conference in Macedonia in relation with European universities. In a more energetic manner, the Ministry of Education and Science should insist on and create conditions to award the diploma supplement. State universities need to be more pragmatic and start the transformation process to become integrated. On a considerable scale, this weakens the efficiency, complicates the procedures and creates legal and responsibility vagueness.
- Aligning the legal regulation to the principles and recommendations of the Bologna Process and standards for higher education. The complexity of the reforms in higher education requires continuous updating of the legal framework. The Republic of Macedonia recognises higher education as a public good and a public responsibility. Up-dating of the Law on Higher Education, of by laws and other legal instruments in the field of higher education as well as legislation in the areas influencing its developments will necessarily continue in the coming period. The Republic of Macedonia is devoted to realizing of quality assurance processes (Bergen Communiqué 2005). Advancement of the situation in this part of the implantation of the Bologna Process will be achieved with the clear definition of the University responsibilities and evaluation and accreditation teams and more active student participation in the quality assurance control, business community and by strengthening international component of quality assurance at the national level. In the Republic of Macedonia, there is still no substantial implementation of quality assurance procedures. This needs to be established as automotive and capable, without allowing interference of the different structures, outside the university, in its activity, but by ensuring cooperation with the European net of quality assurance.
- Promotion of European cooperation in ensuring quality, through development of comparable criteria and application of standard methodologies. The central issue to the process of building the European Higher Education Area is quality in higher education. Quality assurance has to be realised at institutional, national and international level by strengthening the international component and by implementation of the standards for quality in the European Higher Education Area.
- Development of an efficient system of financing higher education and allocation of financial resources. The financial status of higher education in the Republic of Macedonia, from the begining of the transition process, has undergone no conceptual changes beyond the political system, economical, social conditions and some other circumstances in the country. Especially with the transformation of the economic system into a full market economy, where values are valorised through the mechanisms of competition in the market, certainly it is necessary to design a sustainable financial system in higher education.
Public higher education, consisting of three state universities, with a public cost of 18,5 million Euro, self-generated incomes of 24,5 million Euro and income from donations of 1,8 million Euro, is not financially consolidated. The relative structure of financial resources of public education in R. Macedonia signifies that 41,4% of the public expenses come from the public budget, 54,5% come from students’ participation and other forms of the commercial incomes, and 4,1% come from different donation, mainly foreign.
Besides the long-term insustainability of the manner of budgeting resources and allocating public funds, does not ensure an efficient system of allocation of public cost for financing this programme which does not ensures a fair allocation and non of the less an efficient allocation of the public funds. Lack of transparency in the procedures and criteria in allocation, discretionary rights of the management of public funds, political and bureaucratic which impact on the decision making processes make fair and efficient allocation of public funds difficult. The principles of efficiency and fairness in allocation still have not found an optimal, sustainable balance in financing issues of public interest for creating public values like that of higher education.
During compilation of the new Law on Higher Education, which is still in procedure, more efforts and engagements should be made for a sustainable solution in financing higher education. It is proposed, pursuant to “the Programme on Higher Education, the Council for financing higher education to define the criteria, normative and standards for determining financing issues on public interest of the country in creating worthy public goods in Republic of Macedonia” . The Council for financing higher education should determine the minimal amount of public funds per student (registered or graduated) in the respective study programme, for which is determined the public interest of the country. The Council also should identify and finance Institutions of higher education that are offering study programmes which are of public interest for the country, pursuant to criteria and standards of quality assurance, no matter the property status of the Institution, whether or not it is public or private. This will open possibility for competition for quality assurance in higher education and at the same time will ensure sustainable allocation and financing of higher education institutions based on programme efficiency and productivity.
Progress has been made in the Republic of Macedonia in transformation of higher education since 2003, following the main objectives of the Bologna Process and as a result of societal changes. Institutions should put more effort into building aspects on practical implementation of the goals and determinations of Bologna. The new Law on higher education with a series of needed changes will adjust the legal basis for the reforms foreseen within the Bologna Process. Many things are remaining to be implemented in the future. However, commitment of Macedonia towards reforming the higher education system in compliance with the pledges declared in Bologna Declaration is very strong. Macedonia has already endorsed the concept that fully corresponds to the needs of joining the European integration processes.