EC urges BiH to participate in education programme

13/01/2014

Although BiH will not sign an agreement on the Eramus+ programme, the European Commission wants the country to participate on another level.

By Drazen Remikovic for Southeast European Times in Banja Luka -- 13/01/14

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Bosnian students gathered on December 21st 2013 in Sarajevo to protest the government's decision to refuse participation in the EU scholarship and exchange project Erasmus+. [AFP]

Despite the controversy that is surrounding the EU's Erasmus+ programme for exchanges and scholarships in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), the European Commission is urging the country's officials to at least partially participate.

To take part in all aspects of the new 2014-2020 programme, which is a replacement for the Eramus Mundus programme that was in force between 2004 and 2013, the country needed to pay an annual fee of 115,000 euros and sign an agreement with the European Commission.

Approval by the two entity education ministries was required because BiH does not have a state education ministry, but the Republika Srpska (RS) Education Ministry rejected the programme, sparking nationwide protests in December.

RS officials emphasised that they do not oppose the opportunities being given to the students, but they said that they are against transferring the jurisdiction over education issues from the entities to the state.

"We need to remind the public that education in BiH is the exclusive competence of the entity, and that there was a requirement to form the agency at the state level in order to participate in the Erasmus+, which would represent another transfer of jurisdiction. It is unacceptable for this ministry," the ministry said in a statement to SETimes.

However, the EC said, it is very important for BiH to participate, at least partially, in Erasmus+.

The country could, without the agreement, participate in the basic part of the programme, which includes EU funding for capacity-building education projects like training for staff in administrations, and opportunities for students and staff to spend some time in EU universities.

The basic programme also includes master's level scholarships that were previously available under the Erasmus Mundus programme, and support for measures to encourage higher education reform.

''Students young and old, as well as teachers and other educators and, ultimately, the public at large stand to lose out if BiH does not sign up to participate in Erasmus+ and fails to take advantage of partnership opportunities with the EU and its neighbours to tackle shared issues such as improving skills and qualifications and increasing employability in a globalised labour market,'' Dennis Abbott, spokesman for the EC commissioner for education, culture, multilingualism and youth, told SETimes.

Many officials in the country expressed their disappointment.

"Students are the ones who directly lose," Denisa Sarajlic-Maglic, BiH deputy minister of civic affairs, told SETimes. "Longer term, the country is the one who loses the most because it is not creating an educated staff. This was an opportunity for students to integrate into the EU before the state itself integrated as a member. We are now in some kind of a scientific and educational isolation, which is the result solely of political intransigence and retrograde policy."

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With the help of the EU's Erasmus Mundus programme, Samir Beharic, a journalism student at Sarajevo University, is spending a year in Berlin at the Frei Institute for media and communications. He is one of 31 students from BiH that were granted a scholarship through the programme.

"Participation in the Erasmus+ programme is of extreme importance to all. The absence of this programme will result in a general social deterioration because young people will be disabled to gather knowledge in Europe and apply it in BiH," Beharic told SETimes.

"Universities in Europe are better equipped and have a better staff. Europe offers us free knowledge. And our politicians now have degenerated the whole story with their 'who is in charge here' talk.''

Should programmes like Erasmus+ be subject to political divisions? Why or why not? Tell us what you think below.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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