Dozens of students from the former University “Vitrina,” who graduated between 2011 and 2013, are facing a difficult situation where their diplomas are not recognized on the grounds that they were obtained from an unaccredited study program. The Ministry of Education and Sports has consistently failed to monitor the activities of private universities regarding curriculum and the issuance of diplomas in violation of the law, leaving the students as the sole victims of this phenomenon. Moreover, the absurdity goes further when these unrecognized diplomas by the Ministry of Education and state institutions are accepted by public higher education institutions for further studies at higher levels.
Matilda Xhixha, 30 years old, dreamed of becoming a teacher since she was a child. To pursue this goal, she focused her studies in that direction.
“I completed the pedagogical high school “Sadik Stavileci”, a vocational school,” she says, adding that she later pursued her professional practice at the “Kamëz e Re” school. After finishing high school, she continued her studies at the private university “Vitrina”.
“For three years, I pursued studies for elementary teaching, and after graduating from the non-public university “Vitrina”, I pursued my master’s studies at the University of Durrës,” Matilda expresses.
After completing her master’s degree in “elementary education” and finishing her internship at the “Kamëz e Re” school, she mentions that she also completed internships in the first and second years, holding a letter from the University and the Ministry of Education confirming this. However, Matilda was shocked when she was told that she could not be accepted for the internship registration due to having a diploma from the former non-public university “Vitrina”.
“I have contacted the Ministry of Education for the recognition of my diploma, but I received a negative response. After the ministry, I turned to the court, and in the initial court ruling, I received a negative response as well. However, the case is now in the appeals process,” she says.
In the initial court decision regarding Matilda’s case, it was stated that the recognition of her diploma is impossible because the study program she pursued was not accredited by the responsible institution.
When asked about this matter, the Ministry of Education states, “There is no legal provision that determines that the Ministry of Education and Sports has the functional competence to recognize diplomas issued by higher education institutions, both public and private.”
The situation is even more severe for M.GJ, who was working as an elementary teacher in a private school before starting her bachelor’s and master’s studies at “Vitrina” University.
“I started my bachelor’s degree in 2011 and completed my master’s in 2016 at “Vitrina” university. After finishing school, where I was also working as a teacher during my studies at a public school, I submitted the documentation to the Education Directorate. However, later I was informed that the school was not recognized, and as a result, I was not qualified to hold the job position,” she says. Currently, M.GJ is working outside her profession.
In a similar situation are L.M and R.V, who have completed their bachelor’s studies at “Vitrina” University and master’s studies at “Aleksandër Moisiu” University. According to the information obtained from “Aleksandër Moisiu” University, 40 students have graduated from their master’s program who had completed their bachelor’s studies at “Vitrina” University.
ACQJ, during its investigation, has managed to identify more than 15 individuals who are in the same situation, where the diploma from the “Vitrina” school is not recognized.
Meanwhile, in the archive of the Administrative Court of First Instance in Tirana, the cases brought for non-recognition of diplomas issued by non-public higher education institutions, such as “Vitrina” and “Kristal,” are not few and indicate a broader issue that extends well beyond the cases identified by ACQJ.
From 2016, when the first lawsuit was filed with this court, until 2023, there have been a total of 51 cases, out of which 44 have undergone judgment, and one case is currently in the trial process.
Institutions shift responsibility away from themselves.
“In the judgment, it was proven that the Bachelor’s program “primary school teaching” at the “Vitrina” Higher Education Institution, Faculty of Education Sciences, was not licensed at the time of the plaintiff’s registration,” stated the Administrative Court of First Instance in our subject’s case.
However, what contradicts this part of the decision is the response received from the University of Durrës, where our subject of our story obtained their Master’s degree. In a response to ACQJ, “Aleksandër Moisiu” University states that there is no specific Council of Ministers (CMD) or Order for the recognition of non-public higher education diplomas for UDAM.
Additionally, the University of Durrës states that the committees established each year review the applications of candidates, verify the documentation submitted by the candidates. “One of the documents is the Bachelor’s diploma or equivalent, which should be issued by a higher education institution in the Republic of Albania, for a program licensed at the time of the student’s registration as the diploma holder and accredited at the time of diploma issuance.”
“Universiteti ‘Aleksandër Moisiu’ emphasizes that it verifies the validity of the candidates’ diploma for admission as a Master’s student in Science and Professional Master’s programs in compliance with the Higher Education Law, without being influenced by the status of the institution that issued it.” This means that for UDAM, a Bachelor’s diploma issued by the former private university ‘Vitrina’ is recognized for pursuing Master’s studies, while for institutions under the Ministry of Education, they are not recognized for employment.
In the past 10 years, 323 students from former private universities have graduated in the second cycle of studies at the University of Durrës, of which 240 hold a Bachelor’s degree issued by the former non-public university “Kristal”, and 40 hold a Bachelor’s degree from the former non-public university “Vitrina”.
19,798 Names in the State Archive: Is this an Isolated case or hundreds of unidentified individuals?
Dhurata Gjozi registered at “Vitrina” higher education institution in 2010, where she completed her bachelor’s studies in the “primary school teaching” program from 2010 to 2013. In the same educational institution, Ms. Gjozi decided to continue her master’s studies, but she had to leave them unfinished due to the institution’s closure.
“The master’s program, as known, was closed for reasons unrelated to the students,” says Dhurata, who adds that after the closure of the master’s program, the enrollment numbers and exam grades, along with all the subjects, were taken by the Ministry of Education.
“With the half-completed master’s program that I had left, I went, with Ministry of Education reference letters, to “Aleksander Moisiu” University in Durrës, and they told us that an order had been issued not to accept students who have completed or left the school halfway through at “Vitrina”. An order was given once, and then it was revoked,” she explains, adding that she didn’t pursue the matter further as she didn’t have the means to do so.
“I ended up unemployed in my field,” says Dhurata, who now works as a saleswoman.
From Ms. Gjozi’s account, it is clear that the Ministry of Education did not implement the Decision of the Council of Ministers No. 539, dated August 6, 2014, which aimed to give students who had unfinished studies the opportunity to complete them at another educational institution.
When asked by ACQJ about this issue, the Ministry of Education states: “A private higher education institution starts its activity only after obtaining a license. The licensing process is carried out when the institution meets the state standards and criteria approved by the Council of Ministers, based on the proposal of the Ministry of Education and Science.” However, on the other hand, the Ministry of Education is an institution that existed during the time when former private universities like “Vitrina” operated in the higher education market, and the question is: why were they allowed to function without having the required permits?
ACQJ asked the Ministry of Education what actions it has taken regarding this situation, which could potentially affect hundreds of citizens, but did not receive a response. The ministry chose to quote only a few clauses.
ACQJ has verified 15 cases affected by this problem from a shortlist of former students of Vitrina University it had at its disposal. Meanwhile, according to the Albanian State Archive, there are 85 files stored with it, with personal identification numbers (AMZA) for former students of Vitrina University, totaling 19,798 names. The number of former students whose diplomas are not recognized may be several times larger than what ACQJ has been able to confirm.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education and Sports states that it oversees the legality of higher education institutions’ activities but has not taken any action regarding the students’ diplomas. “Diplomas are a result of the direct relationship between the higher education institution that provides the service and the student who completes the studies and graduates,” says the Ministry of Education and Sports.
Experts Unanimously Agree: “It Doesn’t Make Sense”
“I don’t find this situation sensible,” says education expert Valbona Nathanaili, when confronted with the case of our story who, despite completing a bachelor’s degree at the former Vitrina University, was accepted and successfully completed a master’s program at the University of Durrës. However, her bachelor’s diploma is not recognized by state institutions.
Education expert Albano Zhapaj shares the same view, stating that this lacks legal coherence. He further questions, “If you have passed more than 20, even 24 exams in a master’s program, meaning you have been evaluated by 24 professors, how could none of them realize that you don’t have a bachelor’s degree?”
Meanwhile, Rigels Xhemollari from the organization “Qëndresa Qytetare” expresses that a public university such as the University of Durrës has recognized the individual’s diploma obtained from these closed private universities as valid, legitimate, and relevant diplomas, certifying it for further level of study. He emphasizes that it is not possible for a university to issue a second-level diploma like a master’s degree without acknowledging and certifying the bachelor’s diploma. He believes that the Ministry of Education has worked with two standards: on one hand, it has not licensed or recognized these diplomas, denying them legitimacy, and on the other hand, it has not issued a directive to prevent these universities from accepting such diplomas during this period.
While the Ministry of Education considers the issue with former private universities closed, education experts hold a different opinion. Expert Nathanaili states that all diplomas issued by “Vitrina” until the year it was closed are valid. She argues, “They cannot be invalid because, in the case of teaching, as you mentioned, it was opened without accreditation. Either the former owner should return all the money or the ministry should take a look before allowing it.” She emphasizes that the ministry’s inspections for this matter are why it sends inspectors, its own work groups, for accreditation.
“There are two paths,” says expert Albano Zhapaj, “either compensate the harmed individual and let them continue in another school, or recognize the diploma because if this program has never been accredited, it is a problem that they issued diplomas.”
“The responsibility falls on the Ministry of Education,” adds Rigels Xhemollari, where according to him, this institution should take measures to recognize and certify all those who have obtained diplomas from these universities. He suggests that their knowledge should be reevaluated, even to assess if they are capable of holding that diploma or not, but not in this manner. Xhemollari concludes by stating that we cannot exclude them from the system just because they completed their diploma in these private universities that have been closed or have legal issues.
The Government turns a blind eye to legal violations
Only after some time in power did the “Rama 1” Government issue a Council of Ministers Decision to close several non-public schools, including the former non-public universities “Vitrina” and “Kristal”, for not meeting the legal requirements.
“It’s a disappointment for thousands of families who have invested their savings to provide education for their children, but have poured their money into these pyramid schemes,” said Prime Minister Rama at the time. He added, “We have managed to establish a national register where it is stated that the chief has revoked 10 diplomas.”
On the other hand, the Berisha government, which preceded the Rama government, couldn’t have been unaware of the problems regarding the fulfillment of legal conditions by these universities.
On January 11, 2012, a meeting was held at the premises of the “Vitrina” University campus with Deputy Minister of Education Nora Malaj, accompanied by representatives of the Ministry of Education, namely the Director of Private Education at the time, Arjan Shahini, and Higher Education Specialist Dhimitër Bako. In her speech, Mrs. Malaj expressed gratitude for the hospitality and highlighted the correctness of the “Vitrina” University during its successful years. According to the video published on the “Vitrina University” YouTube channel, Mrs. Nora Malaj’s speech focused on fulfilling the criteria as important elements in the accreditation process.
Although governments changed, the Albanian Ministry of Education remained the same in its role and responsibilities since its establishment, which include ensuring the quality and improvement of education. However, this institution failed to fulfill its function for the former non-public universities, having a significant impact on the lives of tens or hundreds of students. Even though the responsibility for allowing the operation of non-public universities in violation of the law falls precisely on the Ministry of Education, the only thing this institution says when asked about the reason for not recognizing diplomas issued by former private universities is that “according to the current legislation, the recognition and evaluation process is not carried out for diplomas issued within the country.”
While educational institutions at all levels “wash their hands” when faced with such situations, tens or hundreds of citizens have lost hundreds of thousands of euros and several years studying to obtain a bachelor’s degree, which the Albanian state does not recognize today, even though the former higher education institutions operated under the nose of state institutions responsible for enforcing the law.
This article is part of the project Investigative Journalism Lab that is financially supported by the Public Relations Office of the US Embassy in Tirana. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent those of the Department of State.