An unlikely journey and a new standard of university education

An unlikely journey and a new standard of university education 

Tirana Times -


TIRANA, Feb 16 - Over the past few years, Albanian media have begun to comment and question the incredible boom in universities witnessed in the private university system. Indeed, with over 40 private universities currently operating in the tiny Balkan country, the supply and demand balance could be dubious. Yet, not all in the private university system is questionable. In an interview with Tirana Times, Deputy Rector of the University of New York Tirana (UNYT), Dr. Konstantinos Giakoumis, discussed the role of the university in the Albanian education system as well as his own personal journey that led him to Albania. 

Born and raised in Greece, it wasn’t until his second year of studies at the University of Athens that Dr. Giakoumis came into contact with Albania. As a student of education philosophy in the early 1990s, the deputy rector earned a spot with a research group heading to Albania with the aim of studying the country’s historic monuments and monasteries. 

“The Albania of that time had a sort of primitive charm,” Dr. Giakoumis recalls. “It was primitive because I saw ways of life that I had never seen before. For example, I had read about plows in books, but it wasn’t until I visited Albania that I actually saw people who still used them. Yet, in spite of their extreme poverty, the people still opened their homes to friends and guests in a generous way; and I realized that in the so-called developed world we take things for granted. Witnessing such different ways of life is good, because we become thankful for what we have and are happier for it.” 

This experience in the country just entering its post-communist transition, coupled with its rich historical artifacts, left such an impression on UNYT’s deputy rector that he went on to pursue his PhD in Byzantine and Ottoman studies at the University of Birmingham—after which he decided to explore his continued interest in Albania. 

“Since the first research trip to Albania, I was able to go on many more expeditions to the country under the leadership of Archbishop Anastasios. When I completed my PhD, I wanted to return to Albania and provide my services to the Archbishop and the country,” added Dr. Giakoumis. 

Though he at first planned to stay in Albania for a year or two, his discovery of UNYT—the only university in Albania that offers an American university degree— has extended that time frame indefinitely. Dr. Giakoumis heard about the newly established university from a student at the time, and after meeting the school’s co-founder, Dr. Gramoz Pashko, he began working as a lecturer. Within a brief period of time, Dr. Pashko asked the now-deputy rector to join the administration. Now, several years later Dr. Giakoumis has become a veteran of the university’s operations. 

“We are privileged to have had the expertise and collaboration of our partner university in New York, which helped us become established and accustomed to the U.S. model and programs,” he commented when asked about the work that went into making UNYT the successful model of private education it has become. 

Indeed, the university is hoping to expand the opportunity to earn an internationally recognized degree already provided to Albanian and foreign students by establishing a PhD program in collaboration with the University of Bolton in the United Kingdom. 

As for the university’s deputy rector himself, he is unsure as to how his future plans will unfold. 

“I said I would leave Albania when my circle was completed. As of yet, I don’t consider it to be finished. In fact, my wife [who is Albanian] and our family have given me many more reasons to stay. I only hope to find more time for research in the midst of the demands of my work. I am very happy here at the university and in Albania,” Dr. Giakoumis concluded.