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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Early childhood and school education funding


3.Funding in education

3.1Early childhood and school education funding

Last update: 27 November 2023



Early Childhood Education and Care

The model of financing of these institutions is divided between:

  • the Republic;
  • local level and
  • the institution users, i.e. parents.

Institutions can also generate their own income based on expanded activity.

The financing of institutions within the first level of education, which is not obligatory (6 months - 5.5 years), depends on their legal status, namely whether they are public or privately owned. Funding model of public institutions is decentralised and most of the funding for such institutions comes from local governments (up to 80%). In the latter case, full funding comes from users’ parents. 

At the next level - the preparatory school programme - like in the previous case, financing depends on the legal status of the institution (public or private).

For public institutions that carry out the preparatory programme, funds are provided from the national budget and transferred to local governments to distribute them to respective preschool institutions. Private institutions that offer preparatory classes are funded by their users’ parents. However, there were some more recent local government policy measures to support families who have children enrolled in the preparatory school program. Namely, local government can, by the special decision, establish the right to the refund of part of costs for ECEC program in private preschool institutions establish in the certain municipality. The monthly amount of support can be up to the economic price determined by special rescript. Parents provide funding up to 80% of the economic price.

Children deprived of parental care, children with disabilities and those living in financially disadvantaged families are exempt from paying in public institutions.

From the budget of the Republic of Serbia, funds are provided for the following:

  • realisation of preparatory preschool programme in the year before school enrolment for a period of four hours;
  • work with children with disabilities;
  • work with children in hospitals;
  • salaries, benefits and allowances of employees in elementary and secondary schools, social contributions and retirement benefits;
  • developmental programmes and projects of institutions, professional development of staff and student competitions at national and international levels;
  • work of unique schools;
  • support to especially talented students. (Law on the Education System Foundations, Article 187)

From the budget of local self-government units, funds are provided for the following:

  1. realisation of activities of preschool education and care up to 80% share of the economic price per child, including full funding for salaries, wages and other remuneration, social contributions borne by the employer, redundancy pay-offs, as well as support to the preschool institution staff and other current expenditures;
  2. providing additional support to the child and the student in accordance with the opinion of the Interdepartmental Commission;
  3. professional training of the employees;
  4. jubilee awards and assistance to employees in elementary and secondary schools;
  5. transport of the following: children and their escorts for the purpose of attending the preparatory preschool programme at distances above two kilometres; primary school students at distances above four kilometres from the school; transport, accommodation and meals for children and students with disabilities, regardless of distance between their residence and the school; the transport of children and pupils who are resident in the territory of a local self-government at a distance above four kilometres from the school, and in cases where primary school pupils attend school in the territory of another local self-government - if the school they attend is the closest to the place of residence of the students; transport of students to national and international competitions.
  6. transport of employees;
  7. capital expenditure;
  8. protection and safety of children and pupils, in accordance with the prescribed measures;
  9. other current expenditures, except those for which funds are provided in the budget of the Republic of Serbia;
  10. payments based on enforceable judgments rendered before the competent courts in disputes regarding this article (Law on the Education System Foundations, Article 189)

One-year enrolment fee for a child in a full-day programme is around 1,500 € (covering expenses such as salaries, utilities and meals). An assessed yearly fee in a half-day (3-4 hours) programme is around 500 € (UNICEF, 2012: 15).

Funding of Primary (or Single Structure) Education 

The system of the financing of public educational institutions is an input-based system. The sources of financing are divided between the Republic and government levels.

 Public expenditure for education in Serbia, % GDP

education level




























Source (Third National Report on Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction in Serbia, 2017)

For now, the financing system still effective in Serbia implies that the Republic fully allocates funds for the following:

  • salaries;
  • compensation for employees in elementary and secondary schools;
  • all social transfers to employees;
  • financing of institutions’ development programmes;
  • professional training of employees;
  • investment projects;
  • work of unique schools and schools of special interest;
  • student competitions at national and international levels;
  • and incentives to particularly talented students in the form of non-repayable financial assistance (Law on the Education System Foundations, Article 189).

Local governments allocate funds for the following:

  • current expenditures (current school maintenance - electricity, heating, water, current repairs, etc.);
  • professional training of employees;
  • awards and assistance to employees;
  • transportation of primary school pupils (at distances above four kilometres from the school);
  • transport, accommodation and meals for children and students with disabilities (regardless of distance between their respective places of residence and schools);
  • transportation of employees;
  • and capital expenditures;
  • protection and safety of children and pupils, in accordance with the prescribed measures;
  • other current expenditures, except those for which funds are provided in the budget of the Republic of Serbia;
  • payments based on enforceable judgments rendered before the competent courts in disputes regarding this article (Law on the Education System Foundations, Article 189).

According to estimates done for primary education, the structure of expenditures by the budget lines indicates that the largest share of expenditure is allocated for staff salaries and transfers, whereas the smallest share goes to the professional training of employees. In the overall structure of expenditures, direct beneficiaries are educational institutions.

Out of the total amount of public funds allocated for education from public source (2017), direct transfers to school institutions indicate that 16.4% of share goes to preschool education, primary and lower secondary education get 43.2%, upper secondary gets 18.8%, and 14.6% goes to higher education (the remaining 7% of share covers other costs). Most of these funds – about 71.7% - are provided from the national budget (some funds are transferred to local self-governments). An additional 27.9% amount is provided by local governments (Third National Report on Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction in Serbia, 2017).

Funding of Secondary (or Upper Secondary) Education 

The same provisions from the Law on the Education System Foundations related to the financing of primary education apply to the financing of institutions of secondary education. 

Financial autonomy and control

Until 2006, the funding of all levels of education was centralized. Later, in accordance with the Law on Local Governments Financing, a portion of tax revenues was left to local governments. Municipalities and cities were expected to use those revenues to cover part of the education costs from preschool to high school levels. In 2010, the Government passed a decree whereby this law was temporarily suspended, while the local governments’ financial obligations toward educational institutions remained in force, which resulted in austerity measures at the local level (OECD, 2012, Strengthening Integrity and Fighting Corruption in Education: Serbia (Serbian version), OECD Publishing).

Political decentralisation, which started in Serbia after 2000, involved partial transfer of financial autonomy to the local level and to educational institutions. According to the Serbian normative, financial autonomy of educational institutions implies that primary and secondary schools can realise part of their revenues through donations, sponsorships, contracts and other transactions. These funds can be spent on material costs of schools or investment projects, but not on wages or other transfers to employees as regulated by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development.

Work of schools is subject to financial control at several levels, the first being that of the local community, whereas the Ministries of Education and Finance act as subsequent control mechanisms.

Fees within Public Education

Funding is allocated according to:

  • the number of students and classes;
  • size/qualification structure of the teaching staff.

In primary and secondary schools, classes can have a minimum of 15, or maximum 30 students. In the case of children with disabilities, classes can consist of 6-10 students, and adult education classes can have between 15-20.Preschool education (children between 6 months and 6 years of age) in public preschool institutions is participatory, meaning that up to 80% of the cost is provided by the municipality and the rest by parents, for both half-day and full-day care. An estimated cost is about 1,500 EUR per child (full-day care), or around 500 EUR (half day) (UNICEF, 2012 - Investing in Early Childhood Education in Serbia). Children without parental care, children with disabilities and those from economically disadvantaged families are exempt from paying.

The preparatory preschool programme (children between 5.5 - 6.5 years of age) in public institutions in Serbia last nine months and is free of charge for children in half-day care (four hours). Institutions apply special charging rules in accordance with the concrete family’s economic status.

Public primary and secondary education is completely free for almost all categories of students. The only exceptions in elementary schools are adult learners, who are required to cover the costs of their educational programme organisation and exams. In secondary schools, full-time and part-time students are released from financial dues during their education. However, a secondary education graduate who wishes to proceed with a retraining or further training programme, or acquire a specialist/craftsman qualification degree, is required to pay a tuition fee. The cost includes yearly admission fees (about 3,000 RSD), exam fees (from 600 to 1000 RSD), consultative classes (up to 150 RSD) and the final exam (about 2,000 RSD).

Financial Support for Learners' Families

Financial support to parents for preschool education is achieved through reduced payment rates, at times including complete exemption from payment. Parents are entitled to discounts based on the number of children attending kindergarten: 20% discounts per child are granted to families with two children at kindergarten, and 50% discounts for the third and every subsequent child; single-parent families are also entitled to 50% discount rates; furthermore, certain payment benefits have been envisaged for underprivileged families and those with children suffering from disabilities or chronic diseases.

At the level of preparatory school, financial support to families is provided in the form of partial or full payment relief for such programmes and free children transport, which is covered from the local governments’ budget.

Parents of primary school children can be exempted from payment for special services, such as meals or textbooks. Free textbooks award program implies that the first cycle primary school pupils in the school year 2018/19 receive textbooks for:

  • mathematics;
  • Serbian or native language;
  • the world around us;
  • nature and society and
  • the foreign language.

In the second cycle, they will receive textbook kits for:

  • mathematics;
  • Serbian or native;
  • first foreign language;
  • geography;
  • history;
  • chemistry;
  • physics and
  • biology.

Some local governments voluntarily cover the costs of textbooks to students. Free transportation is provided for students living in places more than 4 km away from their respective schools, and schools that can afford so may provide free meals and local transportation for all their pupils.

Families with secondary school children can receive indirect support through the exemption from payment or entitlement to reduced rates for meals and accommodation in student dormitories.

Financial Support for Families of Pupils with Special Educational Needs

Financial support in the form of loans and subsidized accommodation and food in dormitories through the implementation of a special ranking system can be used by pupils from vulnerable social groups:

  • materially disadvantaged families;
  • children without parental care;
  • single-parent families;
  • the Roma national minority;
  • persons with disabilities;
  • persons with chronic diseases;
  • refugees and displaced persons, returnees upon readmission agreement, deported students etc.. 

Progress in inclusive education was made after 2009 with the Law on the Education System Foundations. This legal solution opened up possibilities of cooperation within a range of state and private sectors, aimed at providing better access to education at all levels.

Inclusive Education Network is a special body formed in 2010 with a view to implementing standards in area of inclusive education. Complex support measures to that goal include the following:

  • adaptation of methods, materials and supplementary tools;
  • adjustment of classroom space;
  • and changes to learning contents/ achievement standards.

Sources of financing include:

  • the EU funds (IPA);
  • Republic;
  • local governments and
  • private donors.

There are no clear estimates as to the number of children from vulnerable social groups being covered by these programmes.

Since 2010, pedagogical assistants have been introduced into all public schools working with children with special needs, as well as consultants to other teachers in the educational process. According to the last analysis conducted in 2015 by the Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction Unit, there are currently 173 of such professionals and their work is financed from the state budget.

Students who are not able to use regular textbooks are entitled to versions adapted to their abilities. In recent years there have been significant developments in this respect at all levels of public education.

Financial Support for Learners

At the levels of preschool education and preparatory preschool programme, no specific measures have been envisaged in terms of direct support to children. At the primary school level, no special scholarships have been offered as direct financial support to pupils/students.

Secondary school students have access to the following system measures of support from the national budget:

  • loans;
  • scholarships;
  • scholarships for exceptionally gifted students;
  • subsidised accommodation and meals in student dormitories.

Such support measures apply to students of public secondary schools, namely those whose education is financed from the Republic of Serbia’s budget and who have the citizenship of the Republic of Serbia.

A monthly student scholarship amounts are determined by the Ministry of education, science and technological development for each year and it is at least an amount enough to cover the cost of accommodation and meals in a student dormitory, and so is for the student loan. In Serbia, accommodation capacities in dormitories are sufficient for almost 30 000 students in dormitories.

In addition to the said state-funded support measures, students may apply for scholarships awarded by the local governments.

Private Education

In Serbia, private education is available at all levels. Preschool education and preparatory school programmes are approved by the state and implemented at kindergartens and preschool institutions. According to the data from 2014, there are 2,355 (95.6%) public preschool institutions attended by  186,214 (98.4%) children, and 81 (4.4%) private ones attended by 3,090 (1.6%) children (PI, 2014). While there are no clear estimates regarding student rates at private elementary and secondary schools, such rates are certainly lower than those in private preschools.

Private preschools are fully financed by the institutions themselves and their users. There is no systematic funding of these institutions at the Republic’s level. Some local governments offer financial support for parents who enrol their children in private kindergartens, with the system of subsidies. Elementary schools rely entirely on their own sources of funding, in the first place on parent payments. There are 52 private secondary schools in Serbia, which are completely financially independent and – the same as in the case of primary education - receive no support from public funds.

Preschool education fees range from 150 to 400 EUR per month and are determined by preschool institutions themselves. Likewise, private elementary and secondary schools determine their tuition fees, which can vary from 4,000 to 10,000 EUR annually. These costs are fully covered by students’ parents and are used for staff salaries, equipment, maintenance and other costs.

Parents and children, as well as private institutions, do not receive any form of support from public funds. Students of private primary and secondary schools are not eligible to apply for scholarships, loans, subsidised accommodation and meals in student dormitories. Given that the basic commitment is the strengthening of the public education sector and providing equal access opportunities at all levels of education, private schools are attended by children from higher social strata which do not necessarily need this kind of support.