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News 20 Nov 14

Macedonia Students Defy State-Run Exams

Macedonian students say they will stage more mass protests if the education ministry does not scrap plans for graduates to take external state-supervised exams.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic and Meri Jordanovska


Monday's student protests in Skopje | Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic

Students who organized a mass march on Monday against government-proposed “state exams” - a form of state supervised external test conducted by the education ministry - say they are ready to take the streets again if the ministry fails to hear their cry.

“The ministry must reconsider the need for introducing such exams, not discuss different ways to implement them. If not, we will stage more protests,” Darko Malinovski, from the student’s movement Student’s Plenum, which organized Monday’s protest, said.

More than 2,000 students, mainly from the state-run Sts Cyril and Methodius University in Skopje, held a protest march on Monday against announced amendments to the Law on Higher Education. They said the amendments were unconstitutional and threatened the universities' autonomy.

The students were supported by some of their professors who also appeared on the march.

“The massive attendance greatly exceeded our expectations. This shows there is a critical mass among students and young people in general for change. If we continue to be united as we were, the [education] Minister will have to take our stance into account,” Malinovski told BIRN.

Monday's student protests in Skopje | Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic

The proposed amendments to the Law on Higher Education envisage all students enrolled at faculties taking a "state exam" before they complete their studies. 

Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski earlier this month defended the plan, saying it was needed to improve the quality of education.

In addition, the proposed amendments envisage that if the student fails to pass the exam twice, he or she will lose his right to study.

This will “limit the right to education, guaranteed by the constitution under article 44,” the Student’s Plenum wrote in their letter to the Education Minister, Abdulakim Ademi.

This is a “direct breach of university autonomy guaranteed in article 46 of the constitution”, done by “revoking and discrediting the ability of the educational institutions to determine grading methodologies on their own”, they wrote.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Ademi seemed to retreat from his earlier hard-line stance, saying the ministry would reach its final decision in mid-December.

Monday's student protests in Skopje | Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic

“I am more inclined towards external testing but this does not depend solely on me,” Ademi said, adding that the opinions of universities, students as well as government education policies would play a role.

“If we opt for external testing, it must be done without curbing university autonomy, without endangering the Bologna Process and without additionally burdening universities and students,” Ademi told the press conference.

Previously, the Education Minister said the student protests were not authentic and had been stage-managed by political opposition parties.

 “We are a completely authentic student movement that emerged from the passive student organizations that are in political hands. Although we welcome support from all sides, our coordinators must have no political party activities whatsoever,” another activist from the Students Plenum, Vladimir Belov, told BIRN.

The Dean of the Skopje Faculty of Economy,  Ljubomir Drakulevski told BIRN that he knew of no country where such external testing was done.

“We cooperate with many faculties and have never before encountered a country that applies external testing. That’s why I cannot comment on something that objectively speaking, I have no knowledge of,” Drakulevski said.

Monday's student protests in Skopje | Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic

Drakulevski said that “the Education Ministry does not have a clear policy concerning what it wants from higher education”.

The dean of the Skopje Faculty of Philosophy, Goran Ajdinski, said he was awaiting an official letter from the ministry regarding the announced change.

“We are all waiting for a letter in order to resolve this situation. We want to find the best solution that would benefit higher education and the students. We are constantly communicating with the university rectorate and with the students and we want an open debate on this issue,” Ajdinski told BIRN.

BIRN contacted three more deans from the Skopje state university but they declined to give public statements.

“We have decided not to give statements without approval of the rectorate. It would be best if all communication with the media went through the head of Sts Cyril and Methodius University,” these faculty heads replied.


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