Educational and Vocational Training in Kosovo: Presentation.

We are here to meet with the Kosovan education committee regarding the development of a qualifications framework for educational and vocational training in Kosovo. On behalf of the members of the Joint Committee on Education and Science, I welcome the delegation representing the Kosovan committee. It is always a pleasure and privilege to have the opportunity to exchange views with fellow parliamentarians.

Before we begin, I draw the representatives' attention to the fact that members of the joint committee have absolute privilege, but the same privilege does not apply to witnesses appearing before it. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses, or an official by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I call the chairperson of the committee, Dr. Enver Hoxhaj, to commence his presentation.

Dr. Enver Hoxhaj

In the name of our committee and the Kosovan Parliament, I thank the joint committee for this meeting. We must translate because a number of my colleagues do not speak English. I am sure that the Irish Parliament has a busy schedule. We followed yesterday's budget debate. Our budget was debated two weeks ago.

The main purpose of our visit is to learn as much as possible from Ireland's experience in education. We are one of the smallest countries in the Balkans, with a population of approximately 2 million. I do not want to make political comments here, but the final status of Kosovo will be solved in coming months. Following that, it is important that we use education as a tool in terms of economic development.

We have learned that Ireland has been able to bring education and training into line in recent decades. In that sense, some of my colleagues attended a meeting in this building last year. We even have a so-called Dublin group composed of a parliamentary committee, the Ministry of Education and other Ministries. Its role is to develop a national qualification framework and a qualification Act.

The main purpose of our visit is to meet all of the bodies established by the Qualifications Act, to determine how the Act has been implemented and how the bodies work. What we heard and saw has inspired us to take Ireland's national qualification framework as a model for reforming the education and training system. After Kosovo's status is decided, it is crucial to have only one agenda on this issue of European integration. We are trying to learn from the Irish experience how to comprehend the law in the EU. I will conclude shortly because the idea of the meeting is to share opinions on different issues.

I wish to raise three matters for questions and comments. As a parliamentary committee on education, we are interested to learn from the experience of this committee, how it has worked with the Government and how it has held the Government accountable. As a post-communist society, we are taking the first steps in that direction.

The last two questions are more pragmatic in nature. We wish to have a stronger Irish presence in Kosovo. Ireland, together with the international community, helped us a lot to rebuild Kosovo from scratch. After Kosovo's status is resolved, it will be crucial to have political representations and institutions that will pursue the economic interests of Ireland.

During months of talks on Kosovo's status in Vienna, many countries were interested to see how the privatisation of public companies is going. I welcome a future possible interest in that direction from Ireland. Some 70% of our society is younger than me, at 36 years of age. Many of the them were born in the last phase of the ethnic conflict of Yugoslavian disintegration. They share a confident belief in a secure future. In the near future, we will be interested in co-operation at government level. In the past days of our visit, we raised the prospect of training programmes with universities and education institutes. Perhaps young Kosovans could get a scholarship to travel to Ireland for postgraduate or doctoral studies. At the same time, we could have support from Ireland to fight high unemployment in our society. This could be addressed at governmental level. I am aware of the job description of the committee although there may be some questions on this area. I am aware that the members belong to political parties, some of which are in Government and others in Opposition, and these may have a crucial role in the future to address this matter. I thank the committee for this meeting.

Do any other members of the delegation wish to contribute? We can take questions from our members and then revert to the delegation.

I welcome the delegation, both those who were here before and those who are here for the first time. Our numbers are quite small this morning. Perhaps it is because it is the week of the budget. Those of us who are here represent the three largest parties in the Irish Parliament. I am pleased to see the good gender balance in the delegation. Perhaps we can learn from it in that regard. The delegation visited a variety of organisations which will help it achieve its aims.

The most useful work done is on the diagram indicating how we attempt to have all courses at all levels fit into a framework. It indicates to a person where the course he or she studied and the qualification he or she achieved fit into the framework and how he or she can proceed to higher qualifications. The framework seems simple but took a great deal of work and negotiations with various educational bodies to achieve. This committee also had meetings with the national qualifications authority and further and higher education institutions. We participated in the work done to achieve the framework.

We agree education is an extremely important tool to give people opportunities. We have a good employment record now. However, in the past, we had high unemployment. We consider one of the main factors which helped us reach the stage we are at now was investment in education, particularly making it available to everybody. We still face challenges to include all young people. The dropout rate in secondary schools is approximately 18%. Keeping those young people in the education system and providing them with opportunities is one of our main challenges.

As Kosovo was formerly under a communist regime, I imagine the system is more coherent and straightforward than ours. In Ireland, the education system developed in anad hoc manner, particularly the vocational education committees which developed models that did not necessarily fit into a neat framework. In some ways that is good. I am interested in the difference between how the system in Kosovo and our system evolved.

We can all learn from each other. I hope the delegation learned a great deal this week and that we will be able to co-operate in the future.

I welcome the delegation. It is important that we establish links at an early stage with countries such as Kosovo to provide it with the positive aspects of Irish education. I see the delegation had a busy schedule with visits to educational institutions and universities. I am particularly glad the delegation visited FÁS, a training centre which was the focus of development and training for so many people.

As Deputy O'Sullivan stated, 20 years ago our unemployment rate was 18% or 19%. Like in Kosovo, mainly young people were affected. Mr. Hoxhaj stated 70% of the population is under 36 years of age. In the past, many young Irish people had to emigrate to get work abroad. The establishment of bodies such as FÁS and the commitment and support of industries saw links created between training centres and industry. Jobs were created and we are down to 4% unemployment. It is a great achievement in such a short period of time.

How is the Kosovan education system structured in terms of age groups? Given that Kosovo is undergoing a period of transition, what supports can still be utilised from the former regime? What percentage of the population has been educated to primary, secondary and tertiary level, respectively, and have any training bodies been established? I hope the Chairman will consider a visit to Kosovo as part of this committee's agenda of foreign travel and that the delegation enjoys the remainder of its visit to Ireland.

I join my colleagues in welcoming the delegation from the Kosovan education committee to Ireland. It is encouraging to learn that its members are enjoying an exchange of views with our educational partners.

As a country which experienced high illiteracy rates at the beginning of the last century, Ireland is proud of the emphasis that successive Governments have put on education. The development of education has until recently been somewhat fragmented across sectors and levels but we have now accepted that education is a lifelong process. Our greatest success in education has been the elimination of fragmentation within the system. Until recently, adult and further education in Ireland was on the margins, but it is now being brought centre stage.

It would be interesting for this committee to compare Kosovo's education system with ours. With regard to the demographic profile, I understand that most of Kosovo's population is under the age of 36. In Ireland, however, many of the people we are trying to bring into the education system are even older than me. The contrast between our two countries could form a useful basis for discussion. I look forward to ongoing exchanges of views with the Kosovan education committee and warmly endorse my colleague's suggestion that we visit Kosovo to study its education system.

We have often been commended on our success in attracting foreign investment, but some of our brightest and best have told us that education has been as important to this success as the incentives we offer to multinational corporations. I look forward to the opportunity in the near future, if it is presented to us, to return a visit to Kosovo and share its experiences past and present and its vision for the future. I hope the witnesses enjoy the remainder of their stay.

I thank the members of the committee. I get a strong hint from them that we will be taking a trip to eastern Europe. With such a young population, with 70% under the age of 36 years, we have achieved much through focusing on education, not just standard but lifelong learning. Knowledge based economies are the way forward for communities across the world. There must be lifelong learning rather than the standard education that countries have been used to heretofore. I again thank the witnesses for attending. We are delighted to have met them and hope this will form the basis of further exchanges between the two countries, parliaments and committees.

The joint committee went into private session at 10.15 a.m. and adjourned at 10.25 a.m. until 11.30 a.m. on Thursday, 14 December 2006.