The GI-TOC co-organized a colloquium in Athens to address the lack of topics on organized crime in Western Balkans higher education.

It is often said that there is a need for evidence-based policies and greater analysis of organized crime and cooperation. Nevertheless, these topics are difficult to research, owing to the covert nature of organized crime. To address this dilemma, the GI-TOC, the European Public Law Organization and Panteion University’s European Centre for Criminal Justice co-organized a scientific colloquium in partnership with Balkan Criminology and the South Eastern Europe Academic Anti-Corruption Network on 21–22 October 2022 in Athens. The event brought together over 80 individuals, including academics from the region, international organizations, Greek university students and representatives from the Greek justice department and government entities (such as the National Transparency Authority) to create a forum for the exchange of knowledge and to further develop learning opportunities.

As documented in a forthcoming GI-TOC report, ‘Gap analysis of research on illicit economies in the Western Balkans’, ‘criminological research capacity in the field of organized crime is generally weak’ in the Western Balkans. The gap analysis shows that between 2017 and 2021, 514 research works on illicit economies were published by researchers from academia, civil society, governments and international and regional organizations. Academic journals make up just 36% of the total number of publications. However, PhD theses account for less than 5% of the total, showing the lack of young researcher interest in topics related to corruption and organized crime. Furthermore, research is predominantly donor-driven. According to one researcher, ‘if it were not for donors, there would be no research into organized crime and corruption’ in the Western Balkans.1

Constantine Palicarsky, Ugljesa Zvekic, Dimitris Ziouvas and John Collins take part in a colloquium in Athens in October 2022 designed to enhance collaborative research on organized crime.

Constantine Palicarsky, Ugljesa Zvekic, Dimitris Ziouvas and John Collins take part in a colloquium in Athens in October 2022 designed to enhance collaborative research on organized crime.

Photo: supplied

One reason for limited research on organized crime and corruption in the region is the general lack of educational programmes focused on teaching courses on organized crime and corruption at all levels of academia in the region. This could be attributed to the absence of state support for studying these topics, limited information exchange and lack of cooperation between academics in the region, insufficient development of methodology in specialized faculties over the past 30 years, shortage of attractive programmes of study or the perception of a lack of viable career paths after graduation. Furthermore, academics from the region tend to publish in their native languages, which limits access by peers from other countries of the region or by internationally recognized journals.

To address these shortcomings, the symposium in Athens enabled scholars to showcase their work and discuss how to expand research on organized crime and corruption. Over the course of the two-day event, academics teaching at universities in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia had the opportunity to present to both an in-person and online audience the specialized organized crime and anti-corruption masters and PhD courses offered at their respective universities. Examples include the University of Milan’s three-year doctoral programme in Studies on Organized Crime. They also shared experiences and good practices on research methodologies, skills and knowledge and were able to strengthen their networks.

In addition, participants learned about resources offered by international organizations. For example, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime presented their Global Resource for Anti-Corruption Education and Youth Empowerment initiative, which features organized crime, corruption and integrity teaching modules and manuals available for academics, educators, anti-corruption authorities and youth. Transparency International Greece spoke about the use of grand corruption cases for teaching purposes, and presented their Corruption Perception Index.2 The Regional Anti-Corruption Initiative delved into the role of education in enhancing regional cooperation against corruption, while the International Anti-Corruption Academy presented their specialized anti-corruption master’s degree courses. The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit spoke about its broad youth-engagement efforts, and contributed to a thought-provoking panel on the potential effects on organized crime of cannabis legalization in the region. Last, but not least, the GI-TOC presented its flagship report, the Global Organized Crime Index,3 as well as the main findings of its forthcoming Balkans gap analysis report and recent anti-corruption publications, namely, the ‘Infrastructure of integrity’ series.4

One of the recurring themes of the symposium was the need for greater education on corruption and organized crime to strengthen the knowledge base on these topics and to enhance prevention and a culture of integrity. This point was also made at the May 2022 Šibenik Conference on a ‘Culture of Integrity’, which brought together justice ministers, specialized anti-corruption agencies, international organizations, academia, law enforcement and civil society from the Western Balkans and the surrounding region. The earlier students and public servants are exposed to and learn about the harms and consequences of organized crime and corruption, the more likely it is that we can successfully bridge the disconnect between the education system and the job market on these issues.

Another reason to improve higher education on organized crime and corruption is to increase the pool of potential experts who could find employment in relevant criminal justice and law enforcement jobs, as well as more specialized fields such as financial intelligence, cybersecurity and criminology. That said, the challenge is to shape the curricula in ways that provide students in tertiary education with the skillset that they need to analyze and combat crime in the real world.

Increasing the knowledge base on organized crime and corruption can also improve evidence-based policy and contribute to more effective strategic responses. A challenge in this respect is to break down the barriers between academia, civil society and law enforcement in order to encourage more cross-fertilization between the respective fields – to their mutual benefit.

Among the ideas for follow up include specialized organized crime and corruption summer schools, and the development of tailored curriculum development. The colloquium model tested in south-eastern Europe could also be replicated in other parts of the world to promote the regional and global exchange of knowledge between academia, international organizations and students.


  1. See Gap analysis of research on illicit economies in the Western Balkans, GI-TOC, forthcoming. 

  2. See

  3. See

  4. See, for example, Uglješa Ugi Zvekić and Sunčana Roksandić Vidlička, Corruption and anti-corruption pledges in the Western Balkans, GI-TOC, October 2020,