University of Pittsburgh
August 13, 2008

Building in the Balkans: Pitt's School of Information Sciences to Help Create Telecommunications Program at Kosovo University

Graduate-level track would help supply fledgling nation with ideas and experts needed to construct strong, modern economy
Contact:  412-624-4147

PITTSBURGH-The University of Pittsburgh's School of Information Sciences (SIS) won a U.S. government-sponsored competition to help launch a telecommunications graduate program at Kosovo's University of Pristina and provide the recovering Balkan nation with the ideas and experts needed to rebuild its infrastructure following years of war and unrest. The three-year, $450,000 partnership was announced Aug.13 by the Washington-based organization Higher Education for Development (HED), which will oversee the $250,000 award Pitt received from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and coordinate communication between the universities and USAID. Pitt will provide additional funds.

Since Kosovo's ethnic-Albanian majority first pushed for independence from Serbia, the nation and University of Pristina have lacked the time and funds needed to invest in the technology that is essential in a modern economy. Local academic and political leaders seem to support the Pitt-Pristina partnership and acknowledge its potential to help close the fledgling nation's technology gap and foster economic independence, explained project codirector Martin Weiss, an SIS professor and associate dean.

"It is fair to say that modern technology has been inconsistently deployed across campus," said Weiss, who traveled to Pristina to evaluate the university's existing facilities. "There were pockets of relatively up-to-date technology, and Internet access was often available, but outages are not uncommon and bandwidth is somewhat limited. But if they want to be competitive in today's world, there is no other choice, and they understand that."

The program begins this semester with SIS faculty members training one Pristina professor each year in Pitt's SIS telecommunications lab and helping the visiting professors shape the experience into a curriculum for the new program. SIS also will help oversee the construction of a similar lab in Pristina next summer. Plans call for the first Kosovar students to enroll in the two-year program in fall 2009. The third year will be spent evaluating and fine-tuning the program.

Although Kosovo is mending, SIS enters a country with an uncertain future where multiple international missions hold sway, said project codirector Robert Hayden, a Pitt anthropology professor and chair of Pitt's Center for Russian and East European Studies (REES). REES proposes projects in Eastern Europe to Pitt schools and faculty and provides much-needed guidance should they accept. SIS joins a long list of Pitt schools to lend expertise to universities in Eastern Europe and is the third school-along with Pitt's Schools of Education and Law-to help build a program in Kosovo, Hayden said.

Regional experts in REES will help SIS navigate Kosovo's complex cultural, linguistic, and political channels. Since Kosovo declared independence in February, the United States and nearly four-dozen other nations-including France and Britain-recognize its sovereignty, but Serbia and such nations as China and Russia do not. Nonetheless, Hayden said, the University of Pristina remains a prominent institution in the fledgling nation and affords the program the best chance to flourish and benefit Kosovo.

"The schools in Kosovo have been in shambles for a decade, and they have to be rebuilt," he said. "But the University of Pristina is-and will remain-the major and most important university in the country."