On (In)equal Educational Opportunities for Migrants in Slovenia
Education is the third most common reason that migrants come to Slovenia, after finding employment and reunification with family members. Stimulation of mobility and migration of students is one of the strategic goals written in the Strategy of Economic Migrations for the Period 2010–2020. Recent changes in Slovenian legislation, however, are not completely harmonized with that goal, declaratively stated in the Strategy. The most controversial change in the new Law for Asserting Rights from Public Funding (ZUJPS) is the provision that Slovene citizenship is a precondition for acquiring a scholarship.
According to Uršula Lipovec Čebron, Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana, this legal provision is a direct contradiction to declarative openness of Slovenian universities toward foreign students. Traditionally, students from the republic of the former Yugoslavia have been an integral part of the student population in Slovenia. They continued to represent a majority of the foreign students studying at Slovenian universities even after Slovenia gained its independence in the early 1990s.
Lipovec Čebron said, “In contrast to the short-term students’ exchange, such as in the case of the programs ERASMUS and CEEPUS, the students from the ex-Yugoslav republic usually decided to undertake full-time studies in Slovenia. As a result and due to its longitudinal presence, this population of students has significantly contributed to plurality and multiculturality of the university environment, to a long-term international cooperation, as well as internationalization of Slovene research achievements.”. She believes that the cancellation of the right to obtain a Slovenian scholarship will have many negative long-term consequences, not only for migrants but also for international collaboration between Slovenian universities.
Dejan Plantak, who came from neighboring Croatia to study at the University of Ljubljana, agreed with Čebron’s assessment in a statement he presented at the public discussion “Education – Study – Migrations.” This forum took place on 17th of December 2013 in Ljubljana as a part of the “Migration to the Centre” project. He spoke about a series of protest actions organized in December 2011 by students coming from abroad to study at Slovenian universities. They demanded an alteration of the discriminatory legal provision of the new law (ZUJPS) and a restitution of scholarships. Although they received support from a number of their colleagues – Slovenian students and professors – they didn’t succeed in accomplishing their requests. “The only positive thing to come out of these campaigns was the assistance of Rector of the University of Ljubljana, who held a campaign to collect money for all students who lost their scholarships. On the one hand we were happy that he helped us, but on the other it was horrible to feel like we were going round asking for a handout,” says Plantak. Although this action of the former Rector was an attempt to express solidarity with students who did not have a scholarship, it was just a one-time contribution in the amount of €500, not a true systemic solution to the problem.
Irena Kuntarič Hribar, a representative of the Ministry of Labor, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, was another speaker at the public discussion. She tried to convince other panel participants and the audience that there is also a positive side: “It is true that [with the recent changes in Slovenian legislation] the condition is set that only citizens of the Republic of Slovenia can receive a scholarship. All other rights are under certain conditions intended also for migrants and their families.” As she explained, all the rights (except scholarships) that came with a student status remained the same: possibility of student work, reduced prices of student meals, subsidized tickets for public transport, etc. However, she was reminded by the audience that scholarships are of immense importance to all students, whether they are labeled by the Ministry as ‘domestic’ or ‘foreign,’ and now, some of them will suffer hardships as a result of the change in legislation.
Plantak’s views and Lipovec Čebron’s expert assessment were enhanced with personal stories (as written texts or oral narration in a video-interview) contributed by migrant students from Bosnia and Herzegovina (Davor Knežiček and Slobodan Maksimović) and Kyrgyzstan (Aigul Hakimova). They talked about positive experiences they had with administrative procedures and reflected that obtaining the student visa was not a difficult task. However, they also provided other examples that showed a completely different picture: officials in Slovenian embassies requesting a lot of documentation, a long wait to obtain visas, difficult economic conditions during their study, etc. In general, they had good experiences with officials, especially from Student Affairs offices with Slovenian faculty members who gave important advice. Furthermore, the three migrant students expressed their appreciation for the solidarity of their Slovenian and foreign colleagues, who helped them find a way through some bureaucracy traps and integrate into daily life and the student community in Slovenia.
Migrants also face problems at primary and secondary levels of education. Mojca Pajnik, who led a research project on migrants’ (in)equality in the Slovenian educational system, is an Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ljubljana, and she also wrote an article for the discussion. She talked about problems with enrollment in schools of children from migrant families because parents were not able to obtain all requested documents. In some cases migrant families may also lack proper information, live in a difficult situation, or cannot afford the school requisites needed for their children to be integrated into the educational process. Thanks to interviews she conducted with migrants in Slovenia, she learned about various instances in which migrants were discriminated in Slovenian schools. Pajnik described a case of a child born outside Slovenia receiving a lower mark for producing the same work as her Slovenian peers.
“We find that the discrimination against migrants as foreigners often leads to the reproduction of inequalities. The main obstacles are systemic inequalities and the hierarchical relationships that reproduce the invisibility of migrants and their exclusion from any deliberation about the subject matter and policies that pertain to their lives,” says Pajnik.
As we heard at the public discussion from a representative of the Ministry of Education (Živko Banjac), it is a general rule – stipulated in the Elementary School Act – that the children of immigrant parents have the right to be educated under the same conditions as citizens of Slovenia. According to him, immigrant pupils in their first year of elementary school are allowed to advance to a higher class even if they fail to achieve certain standards and goals outlined in the elementary school program guidelines. He emphasizes that the Slovenian educational system encourages certain methods to instruct those children in their first language, based on bilateral agreements.
Admir Baltić, a representative of the Bosniak Cultural Association of Slovenia and the moderator of the public discussion, was rather skeptical about the efficiency in using bilateral agreements. In the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina, he explains, the country has a lot of problems in even the most basic areas, let alone accepting obligations derived from bilateral agreements: “Slovenia supports and also subsidizes instruction in Slovene in the republic of the former Yugoslavia and these republic finance instruction in their native languages in Slovenia, even though there is a huge difference in the number of children of Slovenian ancestry who live in Bosnia and the number of children with Bosnian roots who live in Slovenia. Clearly these bilateral agreements, at least when we are talking about the republics of the former Yugoslavia, are not the best solution.” On the other hand, in the case that a country doesn’t have a bilateral agreement with Slovenia, migrants coming from that country might face huge problems with the official recognition of certificates.
Thanks to experts’ texts, migrants’ personal stories, and the public discussion organized as a part of the “Migration to the Centre” project, we can have now a more realistic picture of education opportunities for migrants in Slovenia. Our conclusion is that there are inequalities that immigrants face at all levels of the country’s education system, and it is necessary that when the state deliberates on a new educational policy pertaining to equality, it also improves its strategy to involve migrants as well.
Aldo Milohnić has a PhD in sociology of culture. He is a researcher at the Peace Institute Ljubljana – Institute for Contemporary Social and Political Studies, editor of the Politike book series, and author and co-author of several books and anthologies of texts.