Several hundred students blocked the entrances of the Ministry of Education in Albania’s capital on Thursday in the third day of protests against rises in fees and economic difficulties.
The protests have brought Albanian universities to a standstill while the government struggles to deal with their demands.
Organized by “For the University Movement”, the students demand the cancellation of another fee hike approved by the government last May.
They also want current tuition fees for master degree studies, now as high as 1,500 euros a year, to be cut in half.
The protest started at the Department of Urban Planning in Tirana on Tuesday but quickly spread to other departments of the University of Tirana, the country’s biggest.ž
On Thursday, students protested also in Elbasan, Durres and Korca, making the movement the widest protest that the country had seen in years.
Deputy Education Minnister Besa Shahini attempted to negotiate with the students on Wednesday, offering to meet their representatives. They rebuffed her request, claiming the negotiators would face pressures if they accepted a meeting.
Prime Minister Edi Rama at first dismissed protesters as grade failers, adding that tax money could not cover the cost of cutting the students’ fees.
However, on Wednesday, he appeared to take a step back, claiming that the Minister of Education had in fact called on universities to revise the latest fee hikes.
“The government decision on [raising] fees was requested by the universities,” Rama wrote on Twitter. “Minister [of Education] has suggested to the universities to revise the decision,” he added.
Albania has made major changes to the financing of higher education, and fees have risen about tenfold over the last decade.
Even public universities have turned to businesslike practices, charging fees for former free services. Costly books produced by professors that students are required to read are also a major concern.
The latest change obliges students to pay a new fee if they choose to take a test for a second time, for a grade improvement.
Responding to Rama’s initial attack on the students, one told BIRN on Wednesday: “I am a grade failer because I have to work 12 hours a day to pay for the tuition fees and books.”
She added: “Being a grade failer is much better than being a thief.”