Prof. Dr. Pavle Sekeruš is currently the Vice-Rector for International Relations and Science at University of Novi Sad. Also, he is a distinguished full-time professor at the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Novi Sad, the Department of Romance Studies.
- What is the current situation in our educational system in view of adapting our standards to EU standards?
Speaking about our educational system and adoption of the measures of EU, it is going relatively well. Our country has signed the Bologna Charter and all the following documents since then. We participate in most European programs concerning Higher Education, Secondary and Primary education. So, there is no major problem in following European directives and standards. There is, however, a different problem – the level of financing of science. For example, recommendations are not to go under 3% of the national budget when financing science, but our country finances science with only 0.3%. Not only is the whole budget small, in comparison with budgets of most of European countries, but the percentage of the budget is dramatically smaller. So, this is the main problem.
- How will European integration contribute to our Educational system?
European integration should help our Educational system as it should help the whole of society. Speaking firstly about the economy, EU has important funds for helping the economical development of countries that are under the average level of EU countries. So, the development of the economy should reflect itself on the development of education, as well. Serbia already participates in most of the programs in the educational sphere offered by Europe. But, once we become a member it will be on an even a larger scale.
- What is the direction in which education should go in Serbia?
The direction in which education in Serbia should go is not that different than the direction of most European countries. We have advanced societies in front of us which show us how they manage to achieve the changes in the economy and society thanks to education. So, we should follow them in that sense. What I could presume is that, when we speak about higher education, we should have a research oriented University, and research not just for research’s sake, but the research should be there in order to help the changes to the economy and society. It means also that the University should be an entrepreneurial University. What is happening at the University should influence all the spheres of the economy and society on the whole. Transfer of knowledge should be constant. Of course, more and better research should help better teaching and education. Also, we should be able to perform as educational system in different forms of rankings, where our University should take a prominent place and represent its achievements.
- Which are currently the largest projects and of greatest importance for the development of Higher education?
There are several types of projects actually. It is difficult to say which ones have the greatest importance, but I could name a few. In the sphere of education and structural changes, there are several projects going on, such as the Tempus projects. Two of them, SIPUS and FUSE, are dealing with internationalization with the goal of boosting internationalization of our Universities. There is RODOS Tempus project also, which deals with the organization of doctoral studies in Serbia. Of course, it is very important to mention projects in the frame of HORIZON 2020 – the calls are opening regularly and we hope that we will soon have an announcement of the projects accepted for financing. There are also several IPA projects, important for the changes in infrastructure on the level of our cities and regions. Aside from that, there are other smaller projects, but I would say that these mentioned are of the greatest importance.
- What does internationalization of HE mean?
Internationalization is introduction of international elements in teaching research and services, and creation of conditions for those elements in our educational system. Why it is important to have institutionalized Higher Education? This is not an idealistic goal, but it is a clear response to the needs of the economy of the globalized world. Multinational and other companies and enterprises today need students who have multicultural competences and who are able to function in Novi Sad as well as in Budapest, Bangkok or Shanghai. Therefore, internationalization is supposed to bring them that type of experience and students should be ready for that international and multicultural work afterwards.
In comparison with other Central and Western European Universities our achievements are modest. But, we are trying to do better. The indicators relevant for institutionalization are numbers of incoming and outgoing students, capacity of our professors to create programs and teach in English, number of courses in English, capacity of our administration to help incoming students (University staff, police and other services).
- Which are the main problems in the process of internationalization at the University of Novi Sad?
At this very moment we have two Tempus projects: FUSE and SIPUS, which will try to pave the way for better and easier internationalization at the level of Higher education. For the University of Novi Sad, for example, what does that mean? We have 2400 students that have foreign passports. But, out of those 2400, about 2000 students are Serbian speaking foreigners. That means that they have passports of Bosnia, Croatia and Montenegro. The rest, only a few hundred, are real foreign students that don’t speak Serbian. They are usually degree seeking students and coming from Libya, Greece, etc. We also have mobility students who come to our University for one or two semesters. They are also called ‘ECTS accumulating students’, because they come to our University to collect ECTS credits and go back home to get their diploma at their home institution. The number of those students is also smaller than in other Central and Western European Universities. For example, at the University of Novi Sad there are around 70 incoming students and about 130 outgoing. The optimal situation is balance between incoming and outgoing exchange students. We have more students interested in going abroad. It is important to say that 50% of all incoming students study on one of three departments of the Faculty of Philosophy, with so called ‘identitarian sciences’: Serbian language, Serbian Literature and Serbian History. Those are fields of excellence that nobody develops as we do. It is a pity that our achievements in the fields of sciences and engineering are not yet recognized. Foreign students are coming to Serbia via different programs, such as: Erasmus Mundus, Campus Europae, bilateral agreements between the countries, etc. There are many other exchange programs and scholarships for outgoing students, such as Forecast for United Stated, different DAAD programs for Germany, scholarships for France, etc. All those programs are supposed to help internationalization of HE in our country.
One of the biggest problems in internationalization is accommodation of incoming students. At the University of Novi Sad there are about 50.000 students and only 3.000 beds in dorms. Out of this number, the Ministry tries to reserve most of the beds for national students and leaves only a small number of places for foreign ones. On the other hand, the Ministry should make an effort to equally treat all the Universities in Serbia, because we have a program called ‘World in Serbia’ which is supposed to give scholarships to foreign students to study in Serbia. But, when you go through the program you realize this is reserved only for the University of Belgrade. The question is when we will have this program for the University of Niš or University of Novi Sad. Therefore, the Ministry should treat all the Universities in the same way.
- How far did we get with the implementation of the Erasmus+ program in Serbia? When can we expect institutions to sign bilateral agreements for cooperation, and hence, the students to start using the benefits of same?
The new European program which changes the structure of existing programs (before 2014), is called Erasmus+. This new scheme is supposed to last till 2020 and should concern youth, education, training and sport. It should allow young people to gain experience and skills by studying, training or volunteering abroad. Therefore, HE is only one part of this program. A year ago we had discussions on what Erasmus+ is going to look like, how the names of the former exchange programs are going to be changed, what Tempus is going to look like, what Erasmus Mundus is going to look like, etc. Our
national Tempus office is transformed into Erasmus+ office, but we still haven’t seen the forms of contracts we are supposed to sign with the partner countries within the EU. Serbia will participate in most of the programs. There are certain restrictions which are result of our position of non member country and in certain programs we will not be able to be coordinators, just partners. But, we should participate in roughly 90% of all the activities that will be available, as other member countries.
We are still waiting to see the form of the contracts. Depending on how quickly we sign the agreements, the applications for students will start. We know, more or less, the programs we are going to participate in and we are going to see how are they are going to function. But, I am not afraid for the University of Novi Sad, since it is one of the most successful in Serbia when it comes to European programs.
- What is the current position of students from marginalized groups and ethnic minorities at the University of Novi Sad and will their position be improved in the following period?
When we speak about marginalized groups, the groups that need special support or positive action, we could speak about women and gender balance on all levels, Roma people and the position of the minorities, sexual minorities, etc.
When speaking about Roma students, it is important to say that University of Novi Sad has developed Roma studies. Roma studies should create consciousness among this population about certain elements of Roma identity and culture. The idea is to create Roma elite at the University and in the society which will be able to help the rest of this group to change its position within society. We also have ‘positive action’ through reservation of certain number of places exclusively for Roma population at the University.
Aside from that, there are gender studies at the University of Novi Sad which should create the awareness of different questions and problems concerning gender issues. When it comes to sexual minorities, we are more discreet. For example, some foreign Universities have gay or lesbian clubs, but we are still far from that. Although we did not have problems linked with that population, there is a lot of work yet to be done in this field.
At the end, it is worth mentioning that the University of Novi Sad is taking care of the position of ethnic minorities in Vojvodina. It is trying very hard to offer an education for Hungarians, Slovaks, Ruthenians and Romanians in their mother tongue. We have departments for these languages where they can learn language and literature as their mother tongue, not as a foreign language. At the same time, those departments at the Faculty of Philosophy are the most important cultural centers of those minorities and are working on preservation of their cultural identity.
- How are exchange programs for students affecting the better understanding of other cultures and on overcoming prejudice?
Exchange programs as a part of EU policies definitely help a lot of students gain multicultural competences. Getting an insight info on the functioning of foreign societies definitely helps them to develop the capacities for critical thinking. Traveling as a way of learning is an ancient story. When you travel – you learn. For example in the 18th century we had ’le grand et le petit tour’, the program of traveling through Italy, mostly for English aristocracy which promoted traveling as a way of learning. EU policy of exchange programs has an idea only a little bit different. That is the creation of European identity. Moving around Europe should create sense of belonging to Europe, not belonging to one little country, but Europe as a whole and possessing European culture as one unique culture.
In relation to overcoming prejudices, exchange programs are contributing largely. For instance, if you say that the French are elegant, by going to France you will see that not all the French are elegant, only certain French. I would like to finish the story with what is stereotype and what is generalization. Stereotype is abusive generalization. When we draw conclusions we have to generalize certain observations and simplify the complexity of the world. But, when those generalizations become caricatures, they turn into stereotypes. Like: French people drink wine, English people drink tea, and German people drink beer. This is the caricature of all of those nations. But there are much more dangerous stereotypes: Balkan people are violent and backwards, Germans are Nazis and similar ones. When you travel you go through and over the borders of those stereotypes. In that way exchanges are affecting prejudices.
- How exchange programs contribute to the prevention of conflicts?
Conflicts do not start as a result of insufficient knowledge about other people. Conflicts are the result of an effort to realize the interests of one side on the expense of the other. It is not very rare that in conflict you have sides that know each other the best. For example, you had Serbs and Croats fighting, Ukrainians and Russians fighting – and nobody knows Russians better than Ukrainians and vice versa. Knowing each other does not prevent conflicts. Conflicts are results of different interests. So, exchange programs cannot stop conflicts. This is a very nice idealistic idea, but it does not function that way. You can use the knowledge about the other in order to exploit and colonize them. There is a whole science in the 19th century, called Orientalism by Edward Said, knowledge about the Orient. Orientalism is knowledge collected in order to colonize and use the Orient for the profit of the observer.
But I will keep on repeating that exchange and traveling develop critical thinking which could help an individual think without being influenced by some criminal, religious or political leader and in that sense it can influence the prevention of conflicts.