Bournemouth University has a long-standing partnership with the University of Prishtina in Kosovo, bringing together staff and students through collaboration on education, research and practice.
Academics from BU’s Centre for Seldom Heard Voices work closely with colleagues at The University Program for Gender Studies and Research at University of Prishtina (UPGSR), with shared goals of challenging marginalisation, misinformation and under-representation. Funded primarily through an Erasmus+ KA107 grant, a steady flow of staff and students in both directions has secured a deep partnership between our two universities that is continuing to grow and evolve.
The partnership is steered by lead academic, BU’s Professor Stephanie Schwandner-Sievers, a social anthropologist and a specialist in the Balkans, with a long research interest in the politics of memory, identity and state-building in post-conflict Kosovo.
Professor Schwandner-Sievers works closely with her counterparts at the University of Prishtina – Associate Professor Nita Luci and Dr Linda Gusia. Together they have connected numerous members of their respective departments and undertaken research together, as well as facilitating staff and student mobility as part of the Erasmus+ programme.
The University of Prishtina (UP) faces unique challenges. Kosovo declared itself an independent state in 2008 but it is still not recognised as such by multiple countries. It is a post-conflict environment with political instability continuing in regions close to the border with Serbia. With over half of the population under 25 years old and relatively high unemployment, the University of Prishtina is committed to developing its academic and pedagogical capacities as well as integrating into the European Higher Education Area. With strong collaborative links with civil society, the UPGSR’s combination of research, education and practice matches strongly with BU’s Fusion approach.
Academics have worked closely on research, including participation in several large projects, under the umbrella of the ‘Kosovo Strand’ of the international AHRC project, ‘Changing the Story: Supporting youth-centred approaches to civil society in five post conflict countries’ (2017-2021). Their mutual guest visits enabled an international guest lecture series for BU’s Centre for Seldom Heard Voices and the co-creation of interactive workshops, both at UP and BU, around relevant and timely topics of mutual research interest.
Beyond research, the Erasmus+ KA107 funding has enabled a steady exchange of staff and students between 2018 and 2023. The benefits of this programme have been numerous, including the advancement of participants’ intercultural knowledge and the integration of practice-based teaching and learning in both institutions. Time spent together during a visit enables academics and professional staff to create synergies and identify opportunities to create, learn and apply theoretical and practical knowledge.
Dr Schwandner-Sievers comments on the value of these staff and student exchanges; “Nothing compares to the real-life experience of international mobility for both staff and students, including mutual visits and an immersion into different educational and working cultures. Much more learning happens than evident at first sight, and this includes, simultaneously, an appreciation of sometimes different ways and different knowledge, and understanding these similarities and differences from within their own context and history, on the one hand. But, on the other, it also enables much heightened, critical reflection on our own conventional ways – are these always the best? International mobility is a practice exercise in decolonising partnerships and equalising knowledge transfer, felt by every individual participant.”
By the end of the Erasmus+ programme in July 2023, 37 staff had travelled, split roughly equal in each direction. Nine UP students completed a semester of study at BU, and one of these students remained with us, to provide research assistance on ‘SOUNDS’; a research project exploring the use of music to engage young people considered at risk in Albania. As teaching at University of Prishtina is not in English, 11 BU students have used the funding to undertake traineeships in NGO’s and civil society organisations aligned to the students’ research interests.
While the Covid-19 pandemic presented a significant challenge, the two universities instead moved their mobility programme online, enabling seven University of Prishtina students to join young people from BU, Ecuador and Nepal in a series of virtual workshops and assignments.
With the end of the Erasmus+ programme, academics and professional staff from both universities have been working hard to explore how to broaden and deepen the partnership. New connections between the two institutions’ Social Work and Material Science departments have been made and new ideas for research activity, teaching and student mobility are being explored.
Together, both BU and the University of Prishtina aim to continue to create positive impact by challenging existing political and power structures and through developing a shared understanding through staff and student collaboration.