RIT, Kosovo connection helps foster economic development

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A shot of the American University of Kosovo. “It is a privilege to educate the future leaders of this country,” says Christopher Hall, president of American University in Kosovo. “Our alumni are already leaders in the new businesses here and the new government. It is our expectation that we will have future prime ministers and presidents.”

Kosovo is a new country being built step-by-step by its people. Kosovo’s growth has included revitalizing its educational institutions and seeking viable economic opportunities through a strong, grassroots effort since NATO’s intervention to end the civil war in 1999.

The creation and continued success of the American University in Kosovo is a reflection of RIT’s approach to engaging in places where its students, faculty and administrative leadership can have a meaningful impact, says James Myers, director of the RIT Center for Multidisciplinary Studies.

RIT was uniquely positioned to support the fundamental economic and industrial transformation that has taken place in Eastern Europe, Myers says. “The transition from communist/socialist economies to market economies created a need for operational expertise—people who could actually develop businesses and operate them. American University in Kosovo really arose out of the success of RIT’s American College of Management and Technology in Croatia, and its proven success in helping the transition of the tourism industry there.”

American University in Kosovo was established in 2003 to support and foster economic development in the country after the conflict that saw the former Yugoslavia separated into several independent nations. The university’s first class of 57 students met in a temporary building that was made possible through financial donations by Kosova-Albanian émigrés.

“I think one of the most important, and possibly interesting, facts is that the university was funded from the donations of the Albanian diaspora,” Myers explains. “It has actually received very little support from the Kosovo or U.S. governments. Its endowment was really a reflection of the national trust of the Albanian Kosovars who committed over $3 million to establish the university.”

Today, the university is thriving. It is housed in three buildings in a park-like campus in Pristina, the capital city, and there are more than 500 students enrolled in both undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Classes focus on business, economics, management, information technology, media and graphic communication and public policy. The curriculum offered through the Center for Multidisciplinary Studies has afforded the flexibility needed to address specific needs within Kosovo’s fledgling economy and government. RIT’s partnership with the American University in Kosovo Foundation, the organization that oversees the university, is in its eighth year and continues to yield benefits for Kosovo and for RIT.

“American University in Kosovo is different than our Dubai and Croatia campuses because it is more independent,” says Myers. “Our mission in Kosovo is to build the premier national private university of Kosovo and to set the foundation for its success as an independent institution based on an American educational model. It remains the leading research institution among our international campuses because it has focused on scholarship and research from its inception.”

With a population of more than 1.8 million people, in an area the size of Connecticut, Kosovo is a dichotomy. The literacy rate of its people is at nearly 90 percent, yet 45 percent of its labor force is unemployed. However, the majority of American University in Kosovo’s graduates are employed.

“American University in Kosovo has been vital to the economic and political changes taking place in Kosovo. It has educated many of the new political and economic leaders of the country,” says Myers. “RIT should be very proud of helping launch this extraordinary institution.”