Friday, June 9, 2023

After the USAID Private Sector Partnerships for Strengthening Higher Education (PSPSHE) officially launched, the Iowa Consortium team visited partner businesses. The field visits were aimed at cultivating opportunities for businesses and public universities to collaborate, particularly in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and Agriculture Sectors.

These university-business partnerships will address four key areas: universities accessing and utilizing relevant labor market data; revising curricula to better address industry needs; enriching experiential learning opportunities for students; and facilitating demand-driven applied research.

We will work together to connect students to knowledge, knowledge to industry, and industry to economic productivity. We believe that this collaboration will not only benefit the students and the industry, but also the society as a whole.”
Russell Ganim, technical advisor and University of Iowa associate provost and dean of International Programs 

The activity has established partnership agreements with nine of the leading businesses in the ICT and agriculture sectors within Kosovo. This initial set of private sector partners is the foundation of collaboration with businesses. As the project progresses, partnerships are expected to grow exponentially as more companies seek to benefit from the improved ways universities are preparing students for the agriculture and ICT professions. 

During the kick-off visits in Prizren and Peja, visits to partner businesses included Stone Castle (Rahovec), Birra Peja (Peja), and partners from the Innovation and Training Park (ITP) in Prizren. The site visits gave the team a first-hand look at the private sector’s capabilities and operations, as well as insight into their ambitions for the future.  The Iowa Consortium team’s conversations provided valuable insights into their private sector partners’ current level of engagement with higher education institutions, the challenges they encounter when collaborating, and their visions for and commitment to partnering more closely with universities in the future. All partners demonstrated great enthusiasm to support the activity and to collaborate with universities, offering opportunities such as training, field visits, in-class lectures, internships, and mentorships for students.

“One of the biggest challenges we face currently is the loss of our workforce. Young people are leaving the country in search of better work opportunities abroad, making it increasingly difficult for us to find and retain skilled staff. Therefore, our company would greatly benefit from providing internship and mentorship opportunities to university students. We are committed to developing strong, long-lasting relationships with young agricultural talent, enabling them to grow with us and become essential contributors to our production. Whether it be working on the land, monitoring vineyards, collaborating with laboratory technicians, assessing quality, or participating in sales, we are happy to accommodate as many students as possible.” 

Fejzullah Berisha, winery manager at Stone Castle

A group tours a brewery bottling plant in Kosovo.
A PSPSHE team explores the stunning Stone Castle Winery in Rahovec, while receiving a briefing on wine storage techniques.

One of the team's visits was at the Makerspace Innovation Center in Prizren, an organization dedicated to developing and promoting digital ecosystems in Prizren. As evidence of their enthusiasm for this activity, Makerspace has offered their expertise and facilities to support the project over the next five years. Makerspace’s mission perfectly aligns with the goals of the activity, as they seek to bridge the gap between science, education, and the industrial and business sectors. The center has already assumed a leadership role in fostering stronger partnerships between higher education and the private sector in Prizren, as they currently hold the chair position on the Industrial Board for ICT at the University of Prizren.

“Our objective is to attract a wide range of businesses to join the ICT Industrial Board of the University of Prizren and, most importantly, help them comprehend the benefits of collaboration. To this end, we have successfully established research groups comprising members from both the university and businesses. We are confident that we are steadily progressing toward fruitful collaborations and innovation. Our goal is to serve as the catalyst that strengthens the bond between these two communities, keeping them informed about collaborative opportunities and the latest trends in the ICT market. Over the next couple of years, we aim to ensure that these businesses grasp how to leverage the capacities of the university, eventually taking the lead in initiating partnerships with university research teams and students for their future business ventures.”

Enis Qafëleshi, executive director, Makerspace Innovation Center Prizren

Team members stand in front of a building in Kosovo.
The team members hosted by the founders and directors of the Makerspace Innovation Center in Prizren.

The private sector partners who have committed their support to the activity have shown exceptional readiness and willingness to closely collaborate with universities and the activity team, according to  PSPSHE experts. The kick-off meetings with partnering businesses have infused the team with hope and provided valuable insights on how to organize the planned activities and workshops for the project. The team is delighted to witness the passion and professionalism demonstrated by both universities and businesses, as they believe this collaboration is a vital step towards enhancing market systems in Kosovo's Agriculture and ICT sectors.