Massive student protests force Albanian government on the back foot

In the third major strike by students this year, thousands hit the streets protesting the hike in tuition fee and demanding better amenities and more funding for research

December 08, 2018 by Muhammed Shabeer
Students of all major public universities in Albania hit the streets, protesting the 'reforms' of the government.

Massive protests have broken out in Albania against the significant hike in tuition fees imposed by the government. Over the past four days, students came out on the streets of the Albanian capital, Tirana, as well as in Elbasan, Durres and Korca. The protest brought Albanian universities, including the University of Tirana, to a standstill. The students also blocked the main roads in Tirana and protested in front of the ministry of education.

According to reports, the current annual tuition fees for bachelor courses ranges from 20,000 to 45,000 leks ($180-410) in Albania. The students demanded slashing of fees for Bachelors and Masters degrees, as well as the rolling back of the fee hike imposed in May. The reforms by the government are part of a continuing trend over a decade, with education becoming extremely expensive. The fee increased considerably, as did the cost of textbooks. Many services provided by universities and colleges are no longer free. A large number of students have reportedly been forced to take up part time jobs to pay for their education. Protests had earlier been held in January and October.

In a letter to the Ministry of Education, the students demanded the cancellation of the extra fees charged for those retaking classes, a 50% reduction in university fees, improvement of facilities in dorms and the inclusion of a student representative in the university board.

Insensitive statements from country’s prime minister, Edi Rama, also seem to have escalated the protests. He termed the protesting students as “grade failers” and justified the hike, claiming that tax revenues were not enough to meet the expenditure on education.

Balkan Insight reported that the government went on the back foot following the protests and tried to negotiate with the students. There are also reports that on Wednesday, the government asked the universities to roll back the fee hike.

The Hashtag Initiative (Nisma #Thurje), a collective instrumental in grassroots mobilizations, including the students’ strike, told Peoples Dispatch, “The protests began spontaneously five days ago when the students of engineering refused to pay the fees. They began marching towards the ministry of education and soon, students from other .faculties joined them. The protests are the result of long-pending frustration deriving from the reform of education that the government undertook last year by raising the tariffs for the public universities without improving any conditions. The students are now asking for the tariffs to be cut in half, improvement of the conditions in dormitories, an increase in the budget for scientific research etc. The protest will go on until they achieve what they want. Yesterday, students of all public universities in Albania joined the protests by boycotting classes and marching in their respective cities”.

The Partia Komuniste E Shqiperise (Communist Party of Albania) told Peoples Dispatch that there was a need for a larger struggle to overthrow the bourgeoisie state and called for a greater unified struggle of the masses towards the same end.