In the 1990s, the number of institutions providing formal adult education significantly decreased, with only a small number of schools for primary education of adults left. According to the Eurostat data from 2008, only 3% of adults in Serbia participated in adult education programmes. In the past decade, the status of adult education has started to change, especially in terms of the legislative framework and the number of providers of both formal and non-formal adult education. According to the data gathered in 2016 by the Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia (the second adult education survey), 19.8% of adults participated in adult education in 2016, which is a slight increase in comparison with 16.5% of participating adults in 2011 (the first adult education survey carried out by the Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia). However, institutions providing adult education are still dominant in cities, while rural areas lack such programmes.
According to the Continuing Vocational Training Survey (CVTS) carried out in the Republic of Serbia in 2021 for the first time, almost half of the enterprises in the Republic of Serbia (49.2%) provide some form of continuing vocational training programmes for its employees, while 40.8% of enterprises participate in CVTS courses. The data published by the Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia show that women are more represented than men (40% and 35% respectively).
On the strategic level, adult education has been incorporated in a broader education strategy – the Strategy for the Development of Education in Serbia. The Strategy for the Development of Education in Serbia by 2020 set a target of at least 7% of adults in Serbia to be included in some sort of adult education and training programmes, regardless of their socio-economic and other characteristics. In 2021, the Government of the Republic of Serbia adopted the Strategy for Education Development in Serbia by 2030. It refers to all education levels from ISCED 0 to ISCED 8, adult education, teacher education and horizontal aspects of the educational system. One of the general objectives defined in the document refers to the quality of teaching and learning, fairness and accessibility of education and a strengthened educational role of all educational institutions including adult education providers. The Strategy defines several relevant indicators, for example:
- Increasing participation of adults in education and training;
- Decreasing the percentage of adult learners who drop out of primary adult education;
- Improving the network of publicly accredited providers of adult education and increasing the number of providers.
In terms of legislation, adult education is regulated by the Law on Education System Foundations and Law on Adult Education. The Law on Adult Education regards adult education in a lifelong learning context and it introduces the possibility of lifelong acquisition of qualifications.
According to the Law on Adult Education, activities within adult education and training are carried out in line with the Adult Education Annual Plan. This is the first time non-formal education has been regulated by law.
The Adult Education Annual Plan 2022 defines two main priority areas:
- Increasing coverage/involvement of adults in education and training programmes. This priority area includes different aspects of adult participation in formal education (functional elementary education, secondary education, retraining, further training and specialisation) and non-formal adult education (programmes provided by publicly accredited providers of adult education, national employment services, other state bodies and institutions, associations and chambers).
- Improving conditions for lifelong learning and quality assurance in adult education. This priority area includes the following: improvement of legislative and policy frameworks for the development of the formal and non-formal adult education system, further development and improvement of sub-registers of the National Qualifications Framework, development of the recognition of prior learning (RPL) system, promotion of lifelong learning, further development of the career guidance and counselling system and improvement of competencies of adult education staff.
Another important document is the Bylaw on Detailed Conditions in Terms of the Programme, Staff, Premises, Equipment and Teaching Materials for Acquiring the Status of Publicly Accredited Adult Education Providers. The Bylaw specifies that primary schools, secondary schools and other institutions can acquire the status of publicly accredited adult education providers. Conditions as defined in this document concern the programme, staff competencies and qualifications, teaching methods, materials and premises. All institutions which provide any adult education programmes can acquire this status. This refers not only to formal education or retraining programmes, but also to those which entail competence improvement, personal and professional development, improvement of everyday life and career guidance and counselling). According to the Law on National Qualifications Framework, such institutions are accredited by the Qualification Agency.
The Law on the National Qualifications Framework is also important for establishing a list of qualifications in the Republic of Serbia and the recognition of prior learning, but also in terms of the relation between labour market policies and education policies. The List of Qualifications describes qualifications that could be acquired through formal, non-formal or informal learning and contains more than 4 000 qualifications for all levels of education. This is one of the basic instruments for monitoring the harmonisation of the labour market and education system. The process of referencing the National Qualifications Framework to the European Qualifications Framework was finished in 2021. The implementation of this process in the education system and on the labour market will enable the recognition of qualifications and comparability of those acquired in Serbia with the ones acquired in other countries.
The process of recognition of prior learning (RPL) is regulated by the Law on the Education System Foundations. In accordance with the Bylaw on Standards and Implementation of the Recognition of Prior Learning Process, a school with the status of publicly accredited provider of adult education is in charge of the RPL process, which means that this institution can carry out the process of recognition of full qualifications or learning outcomes and competencies defined in the qualification standards, at least at the level of one occupation. This Bylaw defines the process of information provision to candidates, counselling process, guidance and support in self-assessment, assessment methods and approaches for institutions, certificate issuance, quality assurance of the RPL process and other relevant aspects. The piloting of the RPL process started in 2021. RPL will enable adults who have acquired knowledge and skills outside the education system through informal or non-formal learning to obtain a qualification.
The Bylaw on Standards in Career Guidance and Counselling Services is another relevant cross-sectoral document which offers guidelines for planning and coordinating career guidance activities at all educational levels, including adult education. The document defines four areas of standards: standards in career management skills, competence standards for career guidance practitioners, organisational standards and programme standards.
As regards achievement standards, the Bylaw on General Achievement Standards for Adult Learners in Primary Education defines general competences of adults in areas such as the Serbian language, English, mathematics, digital literacy, basic life skills etc.