Ambassador Delawie’s Remarks at KUSA Higher Education Conference

Ambassador Delawie’s Remarks at KUSA Higher Education Conference, April 26, 2018

Thank you, Mjellma. It is great to be here with you all today. Deputy Minister, colleagues, academics, university officials: good morning everyone. Especially good morning and thanks to the KUSA Alumni who are working so hard to make this happen and make Kosovo a better place for everyone.

The topics you are addressing through this conference are critical to Kosovo’s future.  At ten years, Kosovo has come a long way in its growth as an independent, democratic country with a growing economy.  But if we want to see continued progress, we need to make sure Kosovo’s young people are prepared for the job market and ready to contribute to the economy.

In the last few years I have had the opportunity to travel all over this country, and to meet Kosovo’s bright, talented young people.  Too many of them are underemployed.  Many young people look to Western Europe or to the United States for jobs.  They want to contribute here at home, but aren’t able to find the right jobs to match their skills to the market needs.

You can change that.

Everyone here today has a responsibility to prepare Kosovo’s youth with the soft skills and the technical knowledge they need to be successful.  As professors and university administrators, you have the power to design curriculum that teaches students more than facts and formulas.  You can teach them new ways to tackle problems, and foster the critical thinking skills and creativity required to thrive in today’s economy.

Universities play a major role in developing the next generation of leaders, but they cannot address Kosovo’s education challenges alone.  The government, and particularly the Ministry of Education, has a tremendous responsibility.  The recent ratification of new members of the State Council of Quality and continued work on the new draft law for higher education are moving in the right direction. These steps will improve academic integrity, quality, and inclusivity in Kosovo’s higher education system, and start to bring it in line with international standards.  It is absolutely crucial that you take the next steps to maintain and regain accreditation within Europe. You need to complete this work as soon as possible.  Your students deserve much better than what they have right now – and the only way to give them that is to keep politics out of education, ensure appointments are merit based, and implement Kosovo’s higher education strategy.

Finally, input from the private sector will help ensure that universities and colleges are preparing students for the jobs that await them upon graduation.  You all know the great qualities Kosovo’s youth bring to the table – and you know better than anyone where they need to develop new skills. We need to see an open and honest collaboration between government and academia if you want to achieve your goals for Kosovo’s youth and for their future.  I hope you will take this opportunity to engage in open conversations with your colleagues from higher education, and work together to make sure students have what they need to contribute to the economy and to Kosovo’s society.

I especially want to thank KUSA and our alumni from the Open World program for all of the work they put into this conference. We support exchange programs like Open World, Fulbright, and Transformational Leadership Program because we think U.S. education has a lot to offer young people from Kosovo.  But the long-term impact comes when exchange participants return home, share what they learn with others, and implement new projects that help move Kosovo forward.

The American journalist and education expert Suzie Boss said, “The first step in teaching students to innovate is to make sure that educators have opportunities to innovate themselves.”  I encourage all of you to see yourself as innovators during this conference.  By working together across sectors, you have the power to make a real difference in Kosovo’s education, and Kosovo’s future.

I want to make just a few additional comments. Unfortunately I only saw the last few minutes of Dr. Lane’s presentation, but as a graduate of a liberal arts college myself, I entirely endorse everything he said. My personal view, not my government’s view, is that the pendulum is swinging a little bit too far against a liberal arts education. I think those of us who have had the privilege of having a liberal arts education know how much it has brought to us, to our ability not just to have fruitful lives, but to make contributions to our societies. I believe in a liberal arts education. I do have to admit my arguments have not been so persuasive with either of my children, who both are in technology, engineering and math fields, but nevertheless I am going to keep promoting that.

The final thing I want to say is, many of you know about our Transformational Leadership Program, which has sent about 185 young Kosovo students to the United States for the last three years to get graduate degrees and certificates in the United States. It is a wonderful program, but unfortunately it is scaling down right now and the last group is in their last year in the United States. Over the almost three years that I have been here, I have had the opportunity to speak with most of these young people at one point or another when they were back here in Kosovo, and I can tell you that Kosovo’s students are as smart as students from any other country in the world. These kids do a great job, but they have mostly struggled in learning how we teach in the United States. They are just as smart as anyone else, but they are not as well prepared as anybody else. I think we all need to take on the responsibility to see what we can do. We can’t make them any smarter, they don’t need to be any smarter. But we can prepare them better. We can make sure they are prepared better in Kosovo primary school, in Kosovo secondary school, in public schools, in private schools- I think we all have the opportunity to contribute to the progress of Kosovo and Kosovo’s young people by doing the best we can to improve education within Kosovo.

Thank you very much.