The minister, his mentor and the fight against a suspect system in Serbia

Mon Jun 23, 2014 9:02am EDT
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By Matt Robinson

BELGRADE (Reuters) - When a group of British-based Serbian academics dared to question the doctoral thesis of Serbia's interior minister this month, his PhD mentor was quick to defend him.

    The minister, Nebojsa Stefanovic, was a high-flyer in the ruling party, who received his doctorate in 2013 from a private university in two years while serving as speaker of parliament.

    The founder of the Megatrend University was Mica Jovanovic, Stefanovic's mentor. Jovanovic was indignant that the "so-called scientists" could, in alleging plagiarism, question his own credibility, "with all that I have behind me as a scientist."

    Jovanovic's biography listed among his achievements a PhD from the London School of Economics (LSE) and something called the Socrates Award from the University of Oxford. His brusque dismissal of the accusations, however, spurred one Serbian academic to take a closer look.

Dr. Marko Milanovic, a law lecturer at the University of Nottingham, found Jovanovic had never been registered at the LSE, let alone received a doctorate from the university. The Socrates Award, it turned out, is not bestowed by the University of Oxford, but by a private Oxford company whose website offers to "get your business moving".

"It is incredibly galling, the way he did it," Milanovic said.

    Jovanovic resigned his post, becoming the first - but perhaps not the last - head to roll in an affair that has thrown an unflattering light on a corrupt education system used and abused by the political elite.

    Critics say he is just the tip of the iceberg. In Serbia, doubts over their academic qualifications have dogged dozens of senior state officials. Obscure private universities count politicians among their staff, and the state university has been exposed more than once selling exam papers to students.   Continued...