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The reforms are moving in reverse

Although elected as pro-European and reformist, the government is drawing its first moves in the wrong direction. It is proposing a pension increase, the restriction of work for doctors and university professors. These are all anti-reformist moves.  A pension increase would only trigger the already high inflation and burden the public budget, and the proposals for the two regulations are tragically bad.  This is the problem I will be dealing with here.

The Belgrade state university is preparing a decision which would prohibit the professors of this university from working at private faculties. This will be possible only with the permission of their faculty and the University Senate. This is a wrong move for more than one reason.

Firstly, no one, not even the state or public faculties have the right to tell individuals what they can do in their spare time. Secondly, this is a move which undermines the competition in the realm of higher education. Thirdly, this will weaken or nearly destroy public university while we continue to finance it. Here are a few words on each of those three things.

By prohibiting the public university professors from teaching at private universities is blatantly violating the rights of university professors. The state should implement the laws, not break them. Everyone who sues it will easily win in court, if not here, then in Strasbourg.

An excuse is given for this violation. Additional work at private faculties leads to a drop in the quality of work at the public university. This is a bad excuse. If someone is doing a bad job, they should be let go, but additional work should not be prohibited for those who are doing a good job because of those who are not.

The quality of work can be determined on the basis of multiple evaluations. According to the Bologna Declaration, the students are required to evaluate their professor’s work. This of course is not being practiced.

The professors’ work can also be evaluated on the basis of their published works, just as the work of institute scientists is evaluated. This too is not practiced. And it is not practiced because a great number of professors would get poor marks. But the authorities know that they could not evaluate and fire the bad ones because of the resistance of professors, so to avoid conflict they are taking the easy way out, although it is wrong.

The other thing is the competition. Higher education is Serbia is in a very bad state, and the only thing which would make it better is a stronger competition between the private and public faculties and universities.  This proscription however does the opposite it undermines the competition thereby weakening the private and public faculties, and in doing so it weakens the quality of the product – the graduates.

If it were not for the proscription, the private faculties could additionally buy the services of better professors from the public faculties, which would strengthen the private faculties and in that way force the public faculties to reform and improve (by strengthening the competition for the teaching positions, by buying the services of better professors from private faculties and from abroad etc.) so as not to lose the race with the public faculties. This way each professor will have to make a choice where they want to work, and it will not be possible to use the potential of those better ones outside their original faculty.

Thirdly, it is clear from the aforementioned that this measurement will weaken the public faculties. Further weakening will follow because a number of professors will have to decide where they will teach, at the private or at the public university. It is easy to anticipate that the majority of quality teachers will decide to leave the public faculty and go to the private one. The public faculties will mostly be left with the worst teachers. The better ones will leave because they are better paid and better treated in the private faculties. And we will keep paying for the public faculties which are going worse, as if there is nothing wrong with them.

Therefore, the proscription is obviously a bad option. What would be the right one? It would be to do the complete opposite.

Firstly, to allow everyone to freely decide what they want to do with their spare time, and decide whether they will sell their services and where they will do it.

Secondly, to evaluate and fire the bad professors in the public faculties therefore raise the quality of work of the rest.

Thirdly, students should get vouchers which they could use to enter either public or private faculties. That would further encourage the competition between the faculties.

Fourth, to abolish free higher education, by getting all students to pay for vouchers, and give those of them that pass the exams in time part of their money back, regardless of whether they are studying at the private or at the public faculty. This will boost the other side, the efficiency of schooling, i.e. the students.

The analysis  of the government’s other wrong decision – the work limitation of public health institutions doctors in private health institutions – is completely equivalent, so I will not waste space here. The recommendations are also equivalent. The doctors are free to work wherever they wish, vouchers for patients, the quality control of the doctor’s work, penalties for major breaches etc.

Above all, the private and public health institutions as well as the private and public security funds should be made equal in the eyes of the law. I will use the rest of this article for some general questions of the universal effects of the proscriptions/limitations.

Someone will perhaps notice that the long-term effect of the proscriptions and limitations will be the strengthening of the private sector in healthcare and education. Better experts will go to the private sector, and the public sector will be left with the worse ones. This is correct, but this strengthening will be less then it could be if there was an efficient competition from the public sector.

Secondly, weakening the public sector will not cause its decrease and eventual closedown, we as taxpayers will keep funding the public institutions in healthcare and education even when many years of this kind of policy make their services become very bad.

One of the things which are hidden behind a certain proscription or a certain limitation is the intolerance of the state and state officials towards the private sector. They are not making those moves because those moves are good for the citizens, but because of envy and the intolerance towards the private sector. Those moves are clearly made with a wrong estimation, that this will strengthen the public sector, and weaken the private one.

The analysis, however, shows that the effects will be reverse. The private sector will be strengthened (although less than it could be) while the public sector will be weakened.

This irrationality and short-sightedness on the part of the state and its officials cannot be explained by anything other than the fact that those in power are still the followers of those that came to power in 1945. At one time the state could ban the private sector, so the problem of the low-quality services offered by the state was solved. You simply could not be educated in a private faculty or be treated in a private health clinic, but you had to go to the public institutions.

Those in power today would also love that, but today the circumstances are different. They are no longer the same anywhere in the world, and the country would quickly fall back into further isolation if work in the private sector were to be banned.

And the “problem” is also on the inside – these new ones did not climb down from the mountains carrying guns so they cannot execute and steal. Because they cannot eliminate the private sector, they wanted to spite it. It came out as an encouragement. So much for the competence of some people in the new government.

Did a certain party from this administration used to say how “expertise is above politics?” I think that it is their Minister who is in charge of healthcare. And the other one doesn’t seem to be much better, as if he came from the same party.

Translated by Ivica Pavlović

Peščanik.net, 22.08.2008.