Every person who finishes a four-year secondary school has open access to higher education in the Republic of Serbia. In the 2020/21 school year in the Republic of Serbia, 241 605 students enrolled at all levels of studies and at all higher education institutions.
Higher education is divided into three levels:
- The first level (Bachelor Studies);
- The second level (Master Studies, Specialized Studies);
- The third level (PhD Studies).
Serbia joined the Bologna Process in 2003. The adoption of the Law on Higher Education supporting the implementation of the Bologna Process followed in 2005.
The reform process continued by the adoption of the standards for accreditation, self-evaluation and external quality control in 2006. This set the conditions for the start of the process of accreditation of higher education institutions and study programmes in 2007.
The Strategy for the Development of Education in Serbia by 2020, was adopted in 2012. It seeks to identify purposes, goals, directions, instruments and mechanisms for the development of the education system in the Republic of Serbia until 2020. It includes chapters relevant to higher education.
The Strategy for the Development of Education in Serbia by 2030, adopted in 2021, defines two general objectives. The first one is related to pre-university education and the second one focuses on improving accessibility, quality, relevance, and equity in higher education. The Strategy establishes a plan of reforms aimed at ensuring the accomplishment of general objectives by 2030. It also includes specific milestones, measurable targets, indicators, and mechanisms within each general objective.
According to the Law on Higher Education, every study programme is defined through the number of ECTS. Each course within the study programme is valued through the number of ECTS. The total sum of ECTS varies from a minimum of 180 for three-year programmes to a minimum of 240 ECTS for four-year programmes at the bachelor level. At the master level, a number of ECTS may vary from a minimum of 60 to 120 ECTS depending on the length of the programme (one or two years). Programmes at the PhD level comprise at least 180 ECTS.
The higher education system in Serbia offers two types of studies:
- academic studies at universities;
- applied studies organized either at colleges of applied studies or at universities.
The first level of studies includes:
- Undergraduate Academic Studies (Bachelor) – lasting for 3-4 years, carrying 180 to 240 ECTS;
- Bachelor Applied Studies – lasting for 3 years, carrying 180 ECTS.
The second level of studies includes:
- Master Academic Studies – lasting for 1-2 years and carrying 60 to 120 ECTS;
- Master Applied Studies – lasting for 2 years and carrying at least 120 ECTS for students who have previously achieved 180 ECTS;
- Specialised Applied Studies – lasting for 1 year and carrying 60 ECTS;
- Specialist Academic Studies – lasting for 1 year and carrying 60 ECTS, for students who have achieved at least 300 ECTS in previous studies.
The third level of studies includes Doctoral Academic Courses (PhD), including a minimum of 3 years of study or 180 ECTS. In the field of medical science (studies of medicine, dentistry and veterinary medicine), integrated courses are organized. They are 6 years long and carry a minimum of 360 ECTS. Pharmacy studies also offer integrated courses that carry 300 ECTS.
In 2018, the Bylaw on organization, implementation, issuing of certificates and procedure for keeping records in short-cycle programmes was introduced. This bylaw defines the structure of short cycle programmes, their main goals and learning outcomes, as well as issuing of certificates with acquired competencies and the description of the job for which the student has been trained.
Higher education in Serbia is provided by universities and colleges that are either public or private. All higher education institutions must be accredited before obtaining a working license issued by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development. The Ministry is a governmental authority in charge of higher education. It recommends educational policies to the Government, plans admission policies for students, allocates financial resources to higher education institutions, and acts as a general supervisor of the overall higher education development.
Another authority in charge of higher education is the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE). It is responsible for strategic planning and decision making regarding key issues relevant to the HE system coherence such as setting standards for the internal assessment and quality evaluation of HE institutions and establishing standards for the issuance of work permits. The Council is an independent body. It consists mainly of academics proposed by the Conference of Serbian Universities (CSU) and appointed by the National Assembly.
The National Council establishes a separate working body called the Accreditation and Quality Evaluation Commission to carry out tasks related to the accreditation and quality evaluation of higher education institutions and their individual units and those related to the evaluation of study programmes.
The Conference of Universities of Serbia and the Students’ Conference of Universities of Serbia are the two consultative bodies. They also act as very important factors in the governing of higher education.
All students pay administrative fees. There are two options concerning students’ tuition fees.
“Budget-financed“ students have their tuition fees paid by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development. There were 50.5% of these studentsat the beginning of the 2021/2022 academic year. They still need to pay administrative and other costs. The costs may include:
- entrance and application fees when enrolling in a higher education institution,
- fees for issuing a diploma and diploma supplement,
- obligatory payments for exams (in certain cases applicable only to self-financing students),
- issuing certificates - of student’s status, of passed exams etc.
“Self-financed” students are paying both administrative fees and tuition fees. The fees range from 680 to 2071 EUR per year on the Bachelor level and from 1020 to 4331 EUR on the Master level. This appliesto both academic and applied studies.
All students in the Republic of Serbia are full-time students (part-time students are not envisaged by the Law on Higher Education). Their status (budget-financed or self-financed) is determined only by the source of financing of their studies. Student status is achieved through merit-based ranking, determined by the number of ECTS accomplished during the previous school year, or the total score on the entrance exam for bachelors.
The academic calendars are determined each year at an institutional level, meaning that higher education institutions may have different calendars during the same academic year. The teaching part of an academic year consists of two semesters:
- The first semester usually starts in the beginning of October and ends in mid-February;
- The second semester usually starts at the end of February and ends at the beginning of June.
There are 3 breaks during the school year:
- Winter break (New Year’s and Christmas holidays, usually between 31st of December and 7th of January);
- Spring break (usually 5 workdays around Orthodox Easter Holiday in April or May);
- Summer break (between the second semester of the ongoing academic year and first semester of the following).
In addition, there are several one- or two-day breaks for national or religious holidays, as regulated by the Law on National and Other Holidays.
Higher education institutions determine the dates and the number of examination periods during the academic year. Usually there are 4 to 6 periods. They can be at the end of each semester and prior to the end of the academic year, after the summer holidays.
The National Action Plan for the period 2021-2023 which has been created in accordance with the Strategy for Development of Education in Serbia by 2030 defines several indicators on a level of general objective related to higher education. Some of them are:
- An increase in the percentage of people who completed higher education in the population aged 30-34
- An increase in the percentage of people aged 19-30 covered by higher education
- An increase in the percentage of students who completed their studies for a maximum of one year longer than anticipated in the study program
- A decrease in the percentage of students who are leaving their studies (reduction of dropout in higher education)
- An increase in the percentage of students who continued their master’s studies after completing their undergraduate studies
- An increase in the percentage of students who enrolled in the vocational studies
- An increase in the percentage of students who were employed in their profession (maximum three years) after graduation
- An increase in the number of incoming and outgoing mobilities of teaching staff, students and researchers
Also, according to the Strategy for the Development of Education in Serbia by 2030, several important targets have been defined in the context of inclusion in higher education. One of them is increasing the percentage of students from vulnerable social groups who completed the first cycle of studies (the target value has been defined as a 5% increase relative to the initial value).
As part of their self-evaluation and external evaluation, higher education institutions are required to provide data about their students. Also, at the beginning of each academic year, students have to fill in a form in order to enrol in the current year of study. This form is used to collect data about their socio-economic status. The data is collected on the national level for the purposes of the Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia.