After a scandal sparked by suspicion that the doctoral theses of certain Serbian politicians were plagiarised, about 1,800 Serbian scientists and professors submitted a petition to the Serbian government and called for "the protection of academic honour."
By Igor Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 23/07/14
About 1,800 professors and scientists are asking that the accreditation of Megatrend University be reviewed after its president, Mica Jovanovic, resigned in an academic scandal. [Nikola Barbutov/SETimes]
Serbia's education minister told SETimes that he will work to strengthen the independent bodies tasked with checking the quality of education following a series of scandals that have beset Serbia's higher education system.
Minister of Education Srdjan Verbic said the Commission for Accreditation and Quality Control currently lacks the necessary capacity to do its work and needs improvement, but the ministry will not create additional commissions to do similar work.
"Whatever commission the Ministry creates, someone will be dissatisfied and will say that it was selected in a biased manner for the purpose of making this or that decision," said the minister, adding that an effort to improve education will also be made through the new law on higher education.
Serbia's higher education system came under scrutiny following the publication by a group of scientists on the Pescanik website, which determined that the doctoral thesis of Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic was plagiarised. Stefanovic claimed that his thesis was original and the website that posted the analysis of the thesis was hacked and shut down several times.
Next, it was found that Stefanovic's mentor and president of private Megatrend University in Belgrade, Mica Jovanovic, never got his doctoral degree at the London School of Economics and Political Sciences, as he had said in his biography. Jovanovic stated that the attack on him was aimed at "toppling the leadership of Serbia," but resigned as the president of Megatrend.
Finally, on July 5th, the Pescanik website posted a claim by a group of scientists that the doctoral thesis of the head of Belgrade's Novi Beograd district, Aleksandar Sapic, defended at the private Union University, was also plagiarised. Sapic denied any kind of plagiarism, but added that he may have unintentionally forgotten to cite certain sources. However, Union University announced it would form a commission to deal with suspicion pertaining to Sapic's thesis. "Union University has no interest in protecting plagiarists. On the contrary, it is in the interest of the university and science in general for there to be no plagiarism at all, and to sanction plagiarists in an appropriate manner," the university said in a statement.
After this series of scandals, some 1,800 Serbian scientists and professors from the country and abroad called for an investigation into the alleged abuse in Serbia's high education system. They asked that a commission be formed to look into Stefanovic's doctoral thesis, that the accreditation of Megatrend University be reviewed, and that all similar cases at private and state universities be checked in the future.
"We call on all the institutions and participants in the debate to approach this problem responsibly and to not present it as a political, but rather as an academic issue," reads the petition.
One of the signatories of the petition, law professor Vesna Rakic Vodinelic, told SETimes that the affairs had "shaken up the reputation of high education in Serbia."
"In order to fix the situation, it is necessary to fully clear up all the affairs. In the accreditation of university programs, it is also necessary to take into account compliance with ethical standards and to publicise all master's and doctoral dissertations in Serbia, regardless of whether they were defended at state or private universities, in electronic form, so that they become available to the broader academic public," she said.
The head of the National Council for High Education, Srdjan Stankovic, announced the forming of a commission that would review doctoral studies at universities in the country. He said it would be difficult to expect the results before autumn.
Bojana Stojanovic, who is a student at the University of Belgrade, said that there was also the question of degrees in undergraduate studies at certain faculties.
"It is an open secret that at some private faculties all students graduate within term and they have much lower criteria. However, afterwards, in employment, all degrees are equal. It is also not good for our faculties to get a bad reputation abroad. That cannot be good for us students," she told SETimes.
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