Pitt’s School of Information Sciences Helps Kosovo University Build Telecommunications

Issue Date: 
August 19, 2008


Martin Weiss

Pitt’s School of Information Sciences (SIS) will lend its telecommunications expertise to the world’s newest nation to help launch a graduate program at Kosovo’s University of Pristina, the recovering Balkan nation’s primary university.The hope for the three-year, $450,000 project (supported by the U.S. Department of State) is for the program to serve as a source of ideas and experts that the beleaguered country needs to rebuild its infrastructure following years of war and unrest from the ethnic-Albanian majority’s push for independence from Serbia.

The program begins this semester with SIS faculty members training one Pristina professor each year in Pitt’s SIS telecommunications lab and also 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.

Though the University of Pristina suffered during the war, it remains a prominent institution in the fledgling nation and affords the program the best chance to flourish and benefit Kosovo, said Pitt anthropology professor Robert Hayden, the project’s codirector and chair of Pitt’s Center for Russian and East European Studies (REES). Regional experts in REES will help SIS navigate Kosovo’s complex cultural, linguistic, and political channels.The breakaway republic’s past strife could prove both formidable and beneficial, explained project codirector Martin Weiss, a SIS professor and associate dean.

On one hand, the Pristina university has not had a lot of time or money to invest in essential technology. Yet, because of the fledgling nation’s technology gap, local academic and political leaders seem to support the program and acknowledge its potential to help foster economic independence, Weiss said.“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 are pockets of relatively up-to-date technology and Internet access is often available, but outages are not uncommon and bandwidth is somewhat limited. “If they want to be competitive in today’s world, there is no other choice, and they understand that,” Weiss continued. “The government has rebuilt a lot, but the damage is still extensive; if I were a leader I wouldn’t know where to start. They are going to need a lot of help to restore their infrastructure, and motivated students know that. They also know that other jobs are scarce."

In constructing the Pristina program, SIS has the advantage of working with a blank slate on which it can incorporate the lessons learned from building and nurturing its own 20-year-old telecommunications graduate program, Weiss said.

SIS joins a long list of Pitt schools that are lending their expertise to universities in Eastern Europe, and it is the third school—along with Pitt’s Schools of Education and Law—to help build a program in Kosovo, Hayden said. REES proposes projects in Eastern Europe to Pitt schools and faculty and provides much-needed guidance should they accept.

Although Kosovo is mending, SIS enters a country with an uncertain future.Since Kosovo declared independence in February, the United States and nearly four dozen other nations—including France and Britain—have recognized its sovereignty, but Serbia and such nations as China and Russia have not. “We have expertise in administering programs in this region, which is not always easy,” Hayden said. “In Kosovo especially there is a very complex political situation. Often no one knows what to do or who’s in charge: There is Kosovo’s government, but there are also a United Nations mission and a European Union mission. We can support SIS in this environment.“I don’t expect any political barriers,” Hayden said, “but this project will require a certain amount of diplomacy.”