The objective of higher education in Bulgaria is to train specialists of high qualifications above the secondary school level and to develop science and culture. Currently the tertiary education system includes 51 higher schools which under the Higher Education Act are state owned and private, including universities, specialized higher schools and self-contained colleges. There are 37 public (25 universities, 11 specialized higher schools and 1 self-contained college) and 14 private higher schools (5 universities, 2 specialized higher schools and 7 self-contained colleges). The academic year is divided into two semesters and typically includes 32 academic weeks. The exact date of the academic year beginning and end is set by the respective higher school.
The management of the system is implemented at state/public administration level and at institutional level. The state is responsible for elaboration and implementation of long-term national policy and establishment of an environment guaranteeing academic autonomy of the higher schools, quality of training, and scientific research. The higher schools management is implemented in accordance with their right of academic self-governance. The state assists to the process through resource allocation on a competitive basis.
The main document in this area is the Higher Education Act (since 1995). Other important documents are:
- Academic Staff Development Act (since 2010);
- Granting Loans to Student and Doctoral Candidate Loans Act (since 2008);
- Ordinance on the state requirements for the admission of students in the Bulgarian higher schools;
- Ordinance on the state requirements for acquisition of higher education at Bachelor, Master and “Specialist in..” educational and qualification degree;
- Ordinance on the state requirements for recognition of the acquired educational degree and completed certain periods of studies in foreign higher schools;
- Ordinances on the state requirements for the contents of all principal documents issued by higher schools and attached European diploma appendix under the model developed by the European Commission, Council of Europe and UNESCO- European Centre for Higher Education (CEPES);
- Ordinances on applying of a system for accumulation and transfer credit points within higher schools (since 2004), which introduces the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS);
- Rules on the state requirements for the organization of distance learning form at higher schools (since 2004).
As a result of the active participation in the Bologna process the following key characteristics have been introduced in Bulgaria:
- 3-degree higher education system:
- Bachelor – comprises two levels – “professional bachelor in ….” (ISCED 5B) and “bachelor” (ISCED 5A);
- Master (ISCED 5A);
- Doctor (ISCED 6);
- A credit accumulation and transfer system;
- European diploma supplement.
Bulgaria is actively working on building up appropriate environment for modernizing the higher education system, taking into account the demands of society and the businesses. Good practices are examined and disseminated. Possibilities for introduction of new managerial models have been investigated targeted to better financial consolidation/strengthening of higher education institutions.
Priority areas for intervention are as follows:
Elaboration and application of a new funding model which stimulates competition and the development of higher education institutions: The new model aims at increasing the total size of public funds spent on higher education, including the state subsidy. This funding model should lead to competition between higher schools not only in the process of attracting students, but when determining tuition fees and enrolment conditions;
Ensuring efficient and transparent management: Higher schools in Bulgaria are public institutions enjoying academic autonomy. The necessity for strengthening the autonomy in the financial area is recognized and so is the need for establishment of additional mechanisms for publicity and transparency of management. To this end a Board of Trustees shall be established within each public higher school, under Article 35a of the Higher Education Act. The Board consists of seven members who are donors to the higher school (personalities of active public stance, representatives of employers, professional, sectoral and trade union organizations, representatives of the Student Council and of the Minister of Education, Youth and Science);
Ensuring a reliable system of quality assurance: Its objective is endorsement of efficient quality criteria for external evaluation and accreditation, including post-accreditation monitoring and control, as well as efficient criteria used by the quality assurance systems at institutional level. Currently the criteria for external evaluation and accreditation are endorsed by the National Agency for Evaluation and Accreditation which is also responsible for post-accreditation monitoring and control. The internal evaluation of the quality of education is ensured by internal systems for evaluation and maintenance of the quality of education and of the academic staff. The Ministry of Education, Youth and Science exercises indirect control (monitoring formal parameters – procedures, number of students, teacher/students ratio etc.);
Development of higher schools as scientific research centers. The focus here should be on the establishment of research infrastructure, ensuring state support for participation in major international projects, encouragement the participation of scientists from different institutions in joint projects. Another essential moment is the increase in expenditures for scientific research and concentration of resources in government priority areas.