Normal Name, Strange University: The Global Network of the European University

After writing about private universities in the Balkans last year and the “Oxford” award that a number of universities in the region have received (here, and here), there is another institution that caught my attention. It did not make it into my top ten list, because its name is less interesting and nothing immediately caught my eye, but eventually it did. There is a university in Belgrade, called European University.

Not only by name, it appears to be a very European institution:

So the founder and rector Milija Zečević, who features prominently on the main website (and most other pages here, and here , it is the university’s version of where is waldo?), has a long list of honors, which give the impression that he is in the elite of European Academia, he is a president, an academician, doctor hc, Grand Doctor of Western Philosophy and a Commander of the World Order Science. Wow. That all sounds very impressive. So let’s look at these honors and achievements:

He has an honorary doctorate from the Albert Schweitzer University in Switzerland. Never heard of it? You should, it’s a truly international institution. Its website is in English and Spanish and its president is in Madrid, its rector in Argentina and other functionaries in Warsaw, Spain and Alabama. Very international, but its seems that neither rector or president or any other leading official is based in Switzerland. As the university points out, “ASIU does not grant academic degrees,” but it does seem eager to grant honorary degrees.

And courses does it teach? Well, it seems to offer no courses of its own (“Traditional academic classes will in fact be but a small part of our activities”), but it does refer to a number of institutions, including the London Diplomatic Academy (which among its publications offers the Royal Book of Diplomacy and Science which “gives biographical data on our members and lists the most important addresses of the diplomatic missions accredited before United Nations. It is a publication of quality and distinction” and some important documents that are hard to obtain elsewhere such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (New in the 2004 edition) and can be purchased for 100 Euros or in the luxury edition for 170 Euros)…. and the European University in Belgrade.

The rector also has a “Grand Doctor of Western Philosophy” and is Commander of the World Order Science from the European Academy of informatization. Now I have never heard of a “grand” doctor, but presumably it is bigger than a regular Doctor. The European Academy of Informatization does not have its own website. There are, however, some sites and online fora  suggest that this might not be an entirely serious institution. According to an article in La Libre, a Belgian publication, this Academy also granted a title to the late dictator of Turkmenistan Saparmurad Niazov for his achievements.

Now, the rector is also President of the European Academy of Science. The European Academy of Science is not to be confused with the European Academy of Sciences, or the European Academy of Sciences and Arts. The European Academy seems at least to have the same webdesigner as the European University and is an NGO based in Vienna. It is an exclusive club of just 16 members, according to the website. As one member helpfully points out, being an academician is a great honor as, “one Academician per million people”. This gentleman also happens to be or have been the Director of the London Diplomatic Academy; President of the Albert Schweitzer International University, Geneva and Vice-President, International Center of Informatization in Brussels which might just have something to do with the European Academy of Informatization. Four other members are from Belgrade. Another member is Eduard Evreinov, who is also responsible for the European Academy of informatization and something called the World Distributed University (aka World Information Distributed University), and has been associated with a number of universities and institutions  that are suspected on internet fora to be diploma mills (see here , here , here).

Now, if you are impressed with this dense network of academicians and scholars, here is something else. According to the Serbian accreditation of the European University, this university has the following “members” abroad (Чланице Европског универзитета из иностранства):

European Academy of Science, Vienna

European Academy of Informatization, Brussels

MIM – The Center for European Master and Doctoral Studies, Budapest

Institut Franco-Americain de Management, Paris

Sales Manager Akademie, Vienna

London Diplomatic Academy – London

Albert Schweitzer International University, Geneva.

It would seem that the European University in Belgrade thus a prestigious network of “members” abroad that have been honoring the rector of the university they are part of with all these outstanding honors.

And now I think I have earned a Grand Doctorate.

Oxford also in Kosovo, Bossi in Albania

Thanks to a colleague, I just found out that not only the Paneuropean University Apeiron, Slobomir University, Euro College and Megatrend, as I  noted  in my previous post, have been honored with an award from Oxford, i.e. the European Business Assembly, but also the Iliria Royal University in Kosovo received a recognition in “a solemn ceremony organized in the European Summit of Leaders in the Oxford University, nominated by the European Club of Rectors, University Iliria won the European Prize for Quality.” This means that of the ten universities I commented on last year, four received this honor.

Another university of list, Crystal University, got some attention in Italy (and here) recently for granting the son of Umberto Bossi, former head of the Lega Nord,  Renzo Bossi a university degree in just one year.

Oxford in Banja Luka…

Since I wrote a post last year about private universities in the Balkans, I have kept coming across some oddities in the region and beyond associated with private universities. Here is the latest:

I was surprised to see that Paneuropean University Apeiron in Banja Luka won an award from Oxford (“Oxford in Banja Luka”), but this is what its ad proclaimed (see below) on the website of B92. Imagine my surprise that this “Pan-EUropean University for Multidiscipline & Virtual Studies” achieved such recognition.

Of course, it is not quiet so simple. The award was granted by the European Business Assembly (http://www.apeiron-uni.info/). The EBA is “an independent corporation for development and management of economic, social and humanitarian collaboration.” The only connection to the University of Oxford is the location. The organisation seems mostly specialised in organising “high profile” events and handing out awards (the Socrates Awards are given out twice a year). The list of recipients strangely enough requires log in.

The organisation is interestingly linked to the following

- ICL (the International Club of Leaders, President – , UK. ICL – is the association of top-managers of the world’s leading enterprises in the middle category).

- CRE (The Club of the Rectors of Europe, President – Wil Goodheer, Austria. CRE – is an association of rectors, professors and academics from the major university and academic centres of Europe, Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa).

- OGMV (Knight Order of Grand Master La Valette, Grand Master пїЅ Professor John W.A. Netting, UK. OGMV – is a chapter of leaders from different spheres of public life that advocate for the triumph of universal human values, humanism and patronage).

- ISC (The International Socrates Committee)

The Club of the Rectors of Europe, is chaired by the rector of the International University of Vienna. This university has no website or rather its domain expired (http://www.iuvienna.edu) and is not listed among the recognized private universities in Austria (http://www.bmwf.gv.at/startseite/hochschulen/privatuniversitaeten/). However, it seems to have now become the Megatrend International University Vienna (MIUV) (http://www.megatrendvienna.at/), as the street address of the old international University and the new Megatrend are identical (http://www.efors.eu/vienna-universities-en/id/1101).  However, as disclaimer on the website states ” Megatrend University owns the operations of former IU including its website only since May 7, 2011. Megatrend is in no way the legal successor of former IU or its owner, the “Verein zur Errichtung und Förderung der “The International University” and is not responsible or liable for any action or omission of them. Should you find any statements or promises of former IU on this website, this is only due to the transition process and will be changed very soon.” Nevertheless, also the Megatrend International University is not listed as a university recognised by the Austrian ministry. The new rector is a different one than the president of the “Club of Rectors of Europe”. The Club of Rectors seems to be also offering its own awards, one recently handed to Slobomir University for Quality in Higher Education (European Quality Award): http://www.spu.ba/eng/european.html

Interestingly, the International Socraties Committee (http://www.ebaoxford.co.uk/International%20Socrates%20Committee/) in charge of”determining the International EBA Award-winning nominations” includes few academics, except of the Afa Bablola University in Nigeria (which also recently got an award in Oxford: http://www.abuad.edu.ng/en), the Euro University in Estonia, a university in Armeina, Nargono-Karabakh and Georgia and Vietnam and Megatrend Universtiy in Serbia.

Of course, we don’t have the list of Socratest Award winners, as the list is not public on the European Business Assembly website. Googeling for the award, we find out that the winners around the globe,  including

Forest Research Institute Malaysia

SHABAVIZ PUBLISHING COMPANY

INTERNATIONAL MARBLE CO. LLC, OMAN (highly recommended viewing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B75CahcNk_o)

Micro Technologies India

Baku State University

Henry Herbert Lartey, Chairman of the Great Consolidated Popular Party (GCPP), Ghana

Euro College, Macedonia (http://www.eurocollege.edu.mk/vienna/index.htm)

and Megatrend University (http://www.megatrend.edu.rs/fps/str.php?bs=Istorijat&language=1)

and many many others

I recommend also viewing this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5eH8JXvNOFo&list=UUe8Tt1HLzgCdCdltjeLrp8g&index=1&feature=plcp

I leave the judgement of what this award means for the Paneuropean University in Banja Luka up to the reader.

New Universities in the Balkans: European visions, UFOs and Megatrends

It’s a stale (and wrong) cliché that the Balkans produce more history than they can consume (quote from Churchill). More recently, it seems like the Balkans are producing more universities than anybody could (or should) consume. Throughout most countries of the region, there has been a boom of new private (and state-run) universities. In Serbia, there are some 17 universities, plus a number of independent “faculties”, i.e. departments. With only a quarter of the population, Macedonia has approximately the same number of universities. Bosnia beats both Serbia and Macedonia with the number of state (or rather entity and cantonal) universities: nine (including two in Sarajevo, Mostar) and around the same number of private universities. Kosovo is lagging behind with just two public universities (and the second one in Prizren is still pretty new) and less than ten private universities. The regional winner seems to be Albania with over 10 public and over 30 private universities.

There is no doubt that advancing higher education is  a good idea, esp. in a region where the ratio of university graduates is below the European average. It is also not bad in principle to have private universities. However, considering that there are approximately as many private universities in the region than in the entire European Union (minus Romania which also has dozens of private universities) together (around 100, mostly very small institutions: Austria 13, Germany 83, UK 1, Hungary 1, Netherlands 1, Portugal less than 10, most other countries none or single digits), there might be a bit of an oversupply. Thus, considering the limited resources, both in terms of funding for students to pay tuition and in terms of potential teachers, the number in the Balkans is striking.

Some of the institutions are certainly on their way to establish themselves as serious places of higher education. Many others have a distinctly dubious ring. Here is my list of my favorite ten private universities in the Western Balkans (this is not to suggest that these are not fine institutions, but presentation and names leave a bit to be desired):

Runners-Up

European Vision University (Prishtina, Kosovo). Basic website, but European vision.

International University of Travnik (Bosnia). Best picture of library

Top Ten:

10.  Pan-European University “APEIRON” (Banja Luka, BiH). Here the name is pretty good. Apeiron means infinite or limitless in Greek, so this is the infinite Pan European University. In addition to its name, it also wins a mention for its cryptic English text “How strong are you to win yourself?  During its development, human society has managed to overpower and strengthen its capabilities acting by the influence of its will, by the strength of its body and mind, achieving the best results in different life activities…”

9. Crystal University (Highway Tirana-Durres, Albania). Once more, the name makes this university worth a mention, as well as the address (Highway Tirana-Durres, kilometer 3) and the motto: Crystallize Your Future!

8. Synergy University (Bijelina, BiH). This university also deserve recognition for its name and the picture with the current president of the RS (and his predecessor below) on the main page, a prominent scholar and promoter of academia.

7. UFO University (Tirana, Albania). No, there is no department for extraterrestrial studies here. UFO stands for “Universitas Fabrefacta Optime”, which means as much a university to forge the good. So it’s the University to Forge the Good University. Their motto, 3000 students cannot be wrong (in the Albanian version of the website, it is 4000 students can’t be wrong). To quote the president: “Welcome to UFO University!  Many of you have just started the university studies, the others are deeply engaged to reach their best, as you are living some of the most intensive years of live. I say convincingly that you should feel lucky that this intensity of taking and treating of the knowledge you experiment in lecture rooms of UFO University. We give our belief, so that each element that must have “a good university” ….

6. International University of Struga (Macedonia).According to the website, the uni boasts many African-American and Asian-American students, palm trees. The university, in the words of the rector “is one of the most significant historical events for this city as well as for Republic of Macedonia and the region of Balkan.This University will accomplish the dreams of the citizens of Struga, Macedonia and the wider region and it will contribute to develop the city of Struga into “Balkan Strasbourg”.” According to the mission of the university “International University of Struga is a highly qualifiedUniversity which is fullydevotedtothe education and successfulness of its students” 

5. International University of Novi Pazar (Serbia). Another international university in the region. The president is “Da Mufty” Zukorlic. He notes in his message to the world that “we wait for long for the sun of university to shine from the piece of the sky above us…and now we will enjoy this sun.” (no translation can do justice to the Bosnian original)

4. Megatrend University (Belgrade, Serbia). This university earned its place in this ranking through its mega-creative name and of course, for making the leader of the people’s Jamahiriya a Doctor honoris causa (see here for the universities justification). To quote the university: “This once again proves the readiness of Megatrend University to follow the world trends of international business and educational cooperation.”

3. University of Donja Gorica (UDG) (Montenegro). This uni is a bit more modest about its name , even if it aims to be the Oxford of Montengro and in the process earn Milo Djukanovic, one of its owners (together with liberitarian economist Veselin Vukotic), a bit of extra cash. Oh yes, it is also very orange.

2. Iliria Royal University (Prishtina, Kosovo). A royal university, and Iliriya? What more can one ask for? This university is under the patronage of the King of Albania. Of course the academic (and for that matter royal) credentials of Leka, “King of Albanians” are well established. The university also seems to engage in a good amount of flag-waving, American that is.

1. Slobomir P University (Slobomir, Bosnia). This is a university for a (virtual) city. The project of a certain couple known as Slobodan and Mira, no, not what you think, Pavlovic (thus the P. in the name). It’s a part of a grandiose plan for a city of freedom in peace, a just down the road from Bijelina. A city of the future has all one needs from a city of peace, a university, a TV station and an aqua park (Palma, eat your heart out). And Dodik is also shaking some hands in the city of peace.

‘Quality control’ is the problem, not the solution

The article below was just published online with the THE. It’s a reaction to a report from a House of Commons committee recommending more standardization and control of professors and universities by the state. In fact, I have been wanting to write this type of article since being in the US in the spring, but this was a good opportunity.

3 August 2009

More of the same won’t allow us to reform the British system effectively, writes Florian Bieber

//

No research assessment exercise, research excellence framework, external examiners, double marking or moderation. What may sound like a dream to many academics (myself included) is the worst nightmare for higher education administrators and the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee, to judge from its report on the state of universities that was published on 2 August.

The report recommends more quality controls, more standardisation and a greater role for external examiners and the Quality Assurance Agency. However, one might ask how America’s Ivy League universities manage without much of this? The reality is that rather than boosting the quality of university education, the logic of quality control is a major source of the problems that bedevil the UK sector.

Part of this lies in the apparent confusion between quality control and standardisation. While standards can secure a minimum of quality, they can also stifle the variation, creativity and maximum quality so essential to higher education.

There are four dynamics at work here:

a) standardisation runs contrary to the logic of quality-based differentiation

b) quality control often leads to increased workloads with few benefits

c) the discussion about widening participation is not linked with quality

d) and finally, the debate is insular.

The select committee’s report – indicative of much thinking about higher education – laments the lack of uniform standards across the sector. The authors appear infuriated that the vice-chancellors of the universities of Oxford and Oxford Brookes cannot answer the “simple question of whether students obtaining first-class honours degrees at different universities had attained the same intellectual standards”.

Herein lies standardisation’s fundamental logical flaw: you cannot have better universities without worse ones.

In brief, not every university can be Oxford or Harvard. It will always be difficult to compare a graduate from a lower-rated university programme with one from a top institution, even if the degree has the same name. However, there is nothing wrong with that. Some universities will always be better, meaning that their degrees cannot be identical to others. Trying to impose a uniform standard is likely to result in a drive towards the lowest common denominator rather than the highest level of quality.

In addition, the system of external examiners, double marking and moderation is more often than not a time-consuming waste of academics’ time. These standardisation tools have in-built disincentives that often result in everybody involved going through the motions of upholding standards, spending valuable time that might otherwise be used to increase the number of contact hours with students, the low number of which the report laments. More effective complaints mechanisms, as seen in the better US universities, are likely to be fairer than a bureaucratised system based on a fundamental distrust of the judgment of teaching staff.

Another key tension that is not sufficiently acknowledged in the report is the conflict between widening participation (that is, bringing students from disadvantaged backgrounds into the university system) and quality. Many such students will excel and enrich the sector; but at the same time many will pose a challenge to maintaining certain standards of education. This is not to say it is not worthwhile, but it is potentially a trade-off that must be confronted, something best done at a much earlier stage of the education process.

Finally, the select committee report draws on a visit to the US – but not a single European country – and recommends the community college model for the UK (clearly the authors did not visit many community colleges).

The report, in common with much of the debate on higher education reform, is very insular. For instance, the Bologna reform process, which is among the key tools for creating a European higher education space, is mentioned only in the footnotes. Indeed, this reflects the lack of debate on how the UK can integrate and maybe even learn from the experience of other European countries. No doubt the challenges that the often very hierarchical university systems in the rest of Europe face are greater than those in the UK, but this does not mean that nothing can be learnt from them.

More importantly, we are already part of a European academic space through research and exchange programmes such as Erasmus and the European Union’s Framework programmes, and it is time to stop ignoring this when it comes to reform. Although the US higher education sector is often even less aware of the world beyond its doors than ours, the fact that its universities are very diverse (from Deep Springs College in the Californian desert with 26 students to Harvard with about 20,000) allows for more creative learning.

In short, to improve the UK’s universities, we must stop recommending more of the same. Instead, thinking outside the box and looking harder beyond our shores might be a good starting point.

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