UT, 160 million ALL for a system that does not work. Students, can’t access digital data

Since 2012, the University of Tirana has installed the information system containing data of the students, the academic and administrative staff of the institution. This system was to provide students with a range of online services, such as exam registration, grade publication, registration for old exams or those to improve, average and credits calculation.

The system has enabled the electronic administration of students, the management educational secretaries work, human resources and finance for 6 faculties, the Faculties of Economics, Law, Natural Sciences, Foreign Languages, Social Sciences and the Faculty of History and Philology.

This great progress, which shifted the work from manual registers to the online data system, operated until July 14, 2017 and since that date the work of secretaries has returned to the manual method used before 2012.

For more than three years, the University of Tirana has only had the digital data system on paper and none of the leaders has seen its repair as reasonable. The non-functioning of this system has brought direct consequences for students, as well as for the secretariats of the University of Tirana.

A representative from the school secretary, who did not want to be identified, said that “the influx of students is extraordinary; we have gone back to the old manual working method. We have to look at the records 100 times.”

She says that “the autumn season is the most tiring, because you need to work out who has passed and who has not”.

Despite the problems faced by the secretariats, the workload and the entire volume of work due to the non-functioning of the digital data system for more than three years, the University of Tirana does not see this as a problem that has hindered their work.

The Coordinator for the Right to Information for UT, Erolda Tarelli, states that “the non-functioning of this system has not hindered and slowed down the provision of information to students regarding grades, registration through exams, credits, etc.”

However, the reality is quite different. For university leaders this may not be a primary problem, but for students, yes. Students feel tired from the long waits at the secretary. We contacted many young people, who not only feel penalized, but show various problems, which they are forced to face, at a cost even for grades.

A student, with the initials G. H., indicates that the waiting game accompanies them for any request addressed to the secretaries. “It takes some time, after the grades are announced, for the secretaries to write them in the registers and then, if you need a list of grades, you will have to wait another two weeks. At the beginning of the academic year and at the end of the season, the secretariat is very little functional, due to many commitments they have with the manual passing of grades of hundreds of students”, – he says.

Another student, with whom we spoke, with the initials S.T., told us that in order to get the exam results after the term he has to travel from Elbasan to Tirana and, when he does not make it on time, he goes to the secretaries, where to get answers he has to wait yet again.

“The professors informs us and we have to go to the faculty to get the grade. This penalizes us, especially for students coming from the districts, moreover the professors announce only a few hours in advance. This season, for example (March 2020), I did not manage to get all the grades, because I was in Elbasan. I have to go to the secretary to get the grade. I asked and they told me that the grades are not in the registers yet, so I have to wait. “

Student B. D., shows that the non-functioning of this system causes a lot of stress, as she has to deal very often with the secretariats, when sometimes she is confronted with them. “When the system worked, we easily checked our grade and GPA, we did not have to squorel with the secretaries for a grade. Now we have to meet, either the professors at best, or the secretaries, who may refuse to answer and turn into a stress on their own.”

The students show that after each exam season the results are communicated by the professors and posted on the lists in a visible part of the university, where even reading the result causes a separate confusion for student G.H., who says that “to find your code among those hundreds codes is somewhat difficult. I read the code 100 times to make sure and still have uncertainties. There are cases when I come back 2-3 times, because I am afraid that I misread it”.

One of the reasons why students turn to secretaries is that they ask for a list of grades to see if they are reflected correctly, but due to this manual writing of grades it happens that mistakes can also be made. G. H., tells us the experience that students can encounter. “It can happen that after each season students ask for a list of grades, because they want to see how they are written, because there are those students who have reviewed the grade and have seen that there may have been errors in correction and in this situation they want to see how the grade is cast in the system, whether the corrections they have had are reflected, etc. As it happened to me. They gave me 8 and I got 9 because they did not correctly count many points. They may want to see the grades just for fun, they want to see the grade point average, if they have it within their expectations or they might be students aiming to get a scholarship, that is why grade lists are required and in a way it is very tedious for secretaries. That is, in every season, the secretaries, in addition to writing grades, have to issue the lists of grades, because almost every student asks for them”.

Student G. H., tells us that, although he has never been a user of the digital data system, in 2018 he was provided with a code, which guaranteed access to personal data as a student in the system. “The moment I enrolled in the faculty in September 2018, we were provided with a code that was supposed to be our personal code that would be used to access our data as students, our grades and also the registration for re-issuance of taken exams or for improvements, but, after I tried to log in, I noticed that the system was not working. Concerned about the fact that there might have been an error in my enrollment, I ask some students, who answer me that they too found it impossible to enter the student system. So, not only a personal problem, but for all the students of my faculty “.

It seems like the whole digital system project was built to give students a code, which they never use, except in the secretariat, where they should not be going, if the system would work and for that not a little money was spent, but about one and a half million euros.

Where does the conflict lie with the information system

We addressed a request for the right to information to Ms. Erolda Tarelli, who informed us that the University of Tirana, on February 17, 2011, has purchased the system from BNT Electronics sh. p. k., with a value of 160,769,512 (one hundred and sixty million seven hundred and sixty-nine thousand five hundred and twelve) ALL (including VAT).

The administrator of UT, Skerdi Dafa, explains that in February 2017 the keys of the server room were taken by the Rector of UT. “From the verification of documents related to this issue (documents available from the Administration offices, because due to problems with the Archives Office documents are not available from the archive of the institution, by order of the Rector), results that from the record sheet no. 1, dated 15.02.2017, held between the Chancellor of UT at that time, Robert Skënderi, the Director of IT at that time, Suela Maxhelaku, and Dorina Panariti, Director of Human Resources, “the keys to the server room were at the Rector”, – says Mr. Dafa, a fact that has also been confirmed by Mrs. Maxhelaku.

On 12.04.2019, the Rector of the University of Tirana was suspended from duty by the Minister of Education, Besa Shahini, with the accusation “Due to serious violations of the law during the exercise of duty”, based on the controls exercised at UT. The Rector of the University violated his competencies, wanting to retain, not only the academic competencies, but also the administrative competencies, which by law do not belong to him.

Although the law was violated, three weeks later the President of Albania, Ilir Meta, overturned the suspension of the Ministry of Education, returning the Rector of UT to office. These political clashes between the Government, the Rector and the Presidency should not have affected the students, but, apparently, they have been the reason for the University of Tiranas failure to offer young people, among other things, the most normal facility of student life, especially when we are in the digital age.

According to a report provided by the University of Tirana, it turns out that UT has requested the assistance of the National Agency for Information Society (AKSHI), to conduct the audit of the information system and put it back into operation by specialists. According to the report, the audit was undertaken by AKSHI specialists in 2019 and was unsuccessful, because the Directorate of Scientific Research and IT in the UT Rectorate under the direct supervision of the Rector of UT did not provide the system credentials.

The administrator, Skerdi Dafa, explains that he addressed the maintenance company, which was ready to enable the passwords and credentials of the system and then addressed again AKSHI on 16.04.2020 to return the audit team.

Other public universities in Albania, such as the Agricultural University of Tirana, the University of Elbasan, the University of Vlora, etc., have an online system, from where they can receive services, which until 2017 were offered by the University of Tirana.

The lack of an information system has created a major stalemate in the work progress in the educational secretariats and has turned into an insurmountable stress factor for the students of the faculties at UT. While the University of Tirana expects to open the new academic year, until the moment this article was written students still do not have online access to their data system.