This article discusses the politics of international administration and ownership in Kosovo, examining the case of the rebuilding of the higher education system in the period 1999–2007. It looks at the practice of international administration, analysing both the efforts of international actors to rebuild the Kosovar university system and the responses of local actors resisting and deeply influencing this process. A fine-grained reconstruction of the role of the UN administration in the process of building a new inter-ethnic university system in Kosovo reveals that local and international actors negotiated and dealt with each other, creating in the process an institutional structure that reflects the fundamental tensions and lack of consensus between the different stakeholders. The paper also argues that a mechanical view of the concept of ownership is not helpful, and that even in cases of international administration local actors are ‘co-owners’, who have a great influence on international plans and projects. It concludes that although the UN played an intrusive role in the process, the mission did not manage to achieve its goals.