“We Want Albania to Be Like the Rest of Europe”

Disclaimer: The following blog post is not a reflection of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s opinion on the below topics.

By Anna Basha

“We want Albania to be like the rest of Europe” exclaimed Albanian university students whilst discussing their frustration in the governments’ treatment of education as Albania is already experiencing persistent poverty that is exacerbated by a corrupt government. Violent Protests are not foreign to Albanians. However, while there were also armed forms of protests, students — specifically University students — took a huge initiative to protest issues in the education system in non-violent ways. Since the early twentieth century, there have been a plethora of issues in Albanian education systems. These included but were not just reserved to; corporations in academia; (such as being able to purchase a higher grade for a course), high tuition fees, overall poor-quality facilities and resources, and more.

One of the primary issues was the fact that Albania had a high wealth disparity between rural and urban citizens, partially from a lack of education and resources, meaning these high tuition rates and wealthier students being able to essentially buy their education furthered that gap. In the last fifty years, there has been a series of non-violent student protests to combat these issues and raise awareness, which included sit-ins, rallies, and social media campaigns.

One of the more recent protests occurred in May of 2018. Student fees were increased greatly for students who had to retake standardized exams. Another reason was because the government was allowing private universities to accept government funding. This created contention as students “were claiming the government was attempting to privatize public education and that the higher education system had been corrupted, the student movement released eight demands for comprehensive reform.”[1] For the 2018 protest, the students’ eight demands were the increase of the education budget to five percent so that it would be equal to the standard in the European Union, improved facility conditions, tuition-free enrollment for marginalized groups such as people with disabilities, increased access to resources, a corruption free institute, the increase of students to represent on administrative boards, careful examination of academic staff, as well as increased funds overall but especially in scientific research. One of the biggest ways Albanian government officials were able to bureaucratize the universities was by cutting students in representative positions and encompassing only Albanian elites on administrative boards.[2] This furthered the corruption that was already brewing.

Group of young adults holding up Albanian flags in the street.
University Students in Tiranë, Albania Protesting Raised Tuition Fees December 11th, 2018.[3]

The government’s response has been to ignore the protesters and act as if they are not of value. However, students are protesting about inequities in education, but the students are pointing out how these new education reforms further the inequities in society particularly between the urban educated and wealthier citizens versus the less educated rural Albanians. Corruption, the students point out as well, is not unique to education, but in all aspects of life. Corruption is what is the barrier making it impossible for poor Albanians to receive education and be able to be in these positions of power. The photo attached below is an image of one of the many protests occurring across all of Albania from December 2018 until February 2019. While protests were all over the country the majority and the largest were held in the capital city of Tiranë. Tirana was not only one of the most densely populated cities, but it was where all governmental buildings resided.

While the government failed to meet the majority of the demands students made for education reform, they were successful at getting the high fees revoked. That simple change was able to bridge the gap more between the impoverished and elites in Albania. It also enforced a sort of community and working-class solidarity throughout the country as they strive to have the same quality of life as other countries in the European Union get the privilege of having. Some might say that these students did not accomplish much, but being able to criticize the government’s reforms as well as treatment of impoverished communities is a privilege that post-Communist Albanians now have. Even though protesters were able to get the higher fees waived which was one of their biggest concerns, that did not stop them in being vocal and still present in ongoing debates on education reform and how education reform is a mirror into inequities in disparities in everyday Albanian society as well as politics.

[1] Heather Marshal and Stiv Mucollari, “Our Work,” Democratic Erosion, March 10, 2019.

[2] Révolution Permanente, “Albania: Students Protest against Neoliberal Education Reform,” Left Voice, February 16, 2019.

[3] Hektor Pustina, Univeristy and School Students Wave Albanian Flags as They Protest in Tirana, Photograph, Tiranë, Albania, December 11, 2018.