The increasing recognition of the fundamental value of sport for the individual and society, well beyond competition and as a powerful tool for the promotion of health and socioeconomic development, is reflected in the expansion of Physical Education into modern Sport Science, accounting for basic and applied research progress and for a wide range of new implications, needs and professional outcomes: from teaching or coaching to child development and education, health promotion (prevention, aging, sport therapy), management (sport centres, events, wellness industry, tourism and leisure), social work (disabled, minorities, easing tensions and dialogue).
Many countries are becoming aware of these new prospects, but have to fill a gap in higher education. This applies to Western Balkan countries, particularly in view of their growing economies and investments in tourism and social development, and as they aim at the European Union’s accession policies and the Bologna Process.
Two previous Tempus projects were conducted by the EU Partners in Albania, upgrading the previous Academy of Physical Education and Sport into the modern Sports University of Tirana, with scientific and curricular transformations, in an attempt (in which the Universities of Prishtina and Tetovo later joined) to implement the Bologna Process, promoting new attitude, mobility, reorganisation and the three-tier system, with a new Bachelor and the introduction of European-oriented Master level as a tool to implement research and future doctoral studies.
This attracted other Universities in Albania (Elbasan, Shkodra) and in Serbia (Belgrade, Novi Sad, Niš), willing to harmonize their curricula and share a strategy to link the competencies and qualifications of Sport Science graduates to the changing socioeconomic needs. In fact, however valuable current curricula may be, vocationally oriented Master programs are a priority for both the European Union and all Western Balkan countries, particularly as they face a general process of Westernisation, in lifestyle, increased life expectancy and related health and social problems. Promoting sport events and a sustainable tourism and wellness industry, is a priority for Western Balkan countries’ development plans, while sport is also a recognized tool in promoting personal and social development (UN, 2003), contributing to universal education, social inclusion, prevention and reduction of violence, gender equality, environmental sustainability. Motivated, expert sport professionals are needed, able to address these diverse needs and foster a transfer of skills into everyday life situations.
Indeed, while as in other European countries the job market in Western Balkan countries shows a decrease in the demand of traditional Physical Education teachers or coaches, new skills and expertise are required by the expanding fields of health-related physical activity, the leisure and wellness industry, tourism, sport events, management, etc., which are creating a job market of their own. Although Physical Education graduates should be the most obvious candidates for such positions, their current qualifications do not match the actual needs, also on account of a lack of flexibility and permeability in the curricula. In all the Western Balkan institutions involved, where the Bologna process was already implemented with the adoption of a 3+2 (Albania) or 4+1 (Serbia, Kosovo under UNSC Resoultion 1244/99) system, academic Bachelors and Masters, as well as strictly distinct professional Bachelors (Serbia) or Masters (Albania), are available at graduate or postgraduate level for coaching or Physical Education, with very limited space for new qualifications.
This 3-year project aims at filling the gap with a common Sport Science higher education system in Albania, Kosovo under UNSC Resoultion 1244/99 and Serbia, introducing vocationally oriented Masters and Lifelong Learning Programme based on a learning outcomes and competencies approach, targeting new and old graduates, with flexible learning pathways and permeability among the different Sport Science/ Physical Education programs, while fostering partnership between universities and stakeholders, and practical training in real working environment to provide a better match between job market needs and the qualifications offered.
The benefits of this project will reach all parties, offering educational, cultural and social perspectives. For the Partner Countries, the benefits will extend from the University system to education and employability. For the European Partners, the project will strengthen mutual links, further promoting the attractiveness of the European educational system. More generally, the project will considerably contribute to intercultural dialogue and exchanges, easing tensions and fostering harmonisation in the region and with the rest of Europe, in line with the European Union accession policies.