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Higher education funding


3.Funding in education

3.2Higher education funding

Last update: 27 November 2023


Higher education institutions can be public and private: public institutions are funded by the Government, whereas the private ones are self-funded. In 2019/20. academic year, a total of 241 968 students are studying in Serbia, specifically 208 719 at public and 33 249 at private institutions. The financing of private higher education institutions is fully independent from the State. The main source of income for private higher education institutions are tuition fees.

The financing of higher education in Serbia is under the mandate of the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development of the Republic of Serbia, which allocates funds directly to public higher education institutions and controls the spending of their respective funds. Apart from the Ministry of Education as the main source of funding, public higher education institutions can have other sources of income that are defined by the Law on Higher Education as: tuition fees; donations, gifts and endowments;  funds for financing scientific, artistic and professional work; projects and contracts related to the execution of teaching, research and consulting services; compensation for commercial and other services; founders' rights and contracts with third persons and other sources in accordance with the Law on Higher Education. Higher education institutions are autonomous in managing these funds.

In addition, higher education institutions can acquire funds from tuition fees, various national and international projects, real estate etc. The state funding of public higher education institutions in Serbia is input-based, which means that the allocation of funds is based on the real costs of the institution in relation to the number of students due to be enroled in the next academic year, and the number and structure of academic staff. According to the Law on Higher Education, a public higher education institution can acquire funds from the state for: material expenditure, maintenance and investment; employees’ salaries in accordance with the law and collective agreement; equipment; library; scientific research and/or artistic work, as a function of teaching quality improvement; employees’ scientific and professional training; training of junior teaching staff in the fields of sciences and arts; work with talented students; international cooperation; sources of information and information systems; publishing activity; work of the Students’ Parliament and students’ extracurricular activities; funding of the equipment and studying conditions for students with disabilities; and other. The total yearly amount of funds due to be transferred from the State to higher education institutions is determined by the Regulation on Working Condition Norms and Standards for Universities and Faculties Financed from the State Budget. 

Financial Autonomy and Control

The Law on Higher Education defines higher education principles as follows: 1. academic freedom; 2 autonomy; 3. unity of teaching and scientific research and/or artistic work; 4. openness to the public at large and to citizens; 5. recognition of humanistic and democratic values of national and European tradition and values of cultural heritage; 6. respect for human rights and civil liberties, including prohibition of all forms of discrimination; 7. harmonisation with the European higher education system and promotion of academic mobility for teaching staff and students; 8. participation of students in governance and decision-making processes, in particular in matters related to quality assurance; 9. equality of higher education institutions irrespective of the form of property and/or of who is the founder thereof; 10. assertion of competition of educational and research services with a view to upgrading the quality and efficiency of the higher education system; 11. assurance of quality and efficiency of studies. 

The higher education institution’s funds acquired from the state budget are earmarked for a particular budget line, whereas funds from other sources (own income that can come from various sources: projects, consultancy services, equipment, facilities etc.) are subject to the governance by the higher education institution itself. The spending of the institution’s own income is governed by the institution’s internal acts in accordance with its strategic goals. Most often, the institution’s own income is spent on infrastructure and salaries (Babin, Lažetić 2009). The ratio between self-provided income and that coming from the state budget largely varies from one higher education institution to another. Institutions that have more than a half of their total yearly budget covered from their own sources are considered to enjoy larger financial autonomy than those mostly dependent on the state funding. Private higher education institutions are financially independent from the state and therefore have full financial autonomy.

Fees within Public Higher Education

Students at public higher education institutions are either funded by the state or self-funded (in the academic year 2019/20, the overall percentage of self-funded students at both public and private HEIs amounted to 58.6%). All students at private HEIs are expected to pay tuition fees that are in general higher than those at public universities.

Table 1: Students enroled for the first time in the first year of studies at state and private HE institutions

Academic year

Enroled students

Budget financed students

Self-financed students

Budget financed students  %

Self-financed students %





































Source: Statistical Office of the Repubic of Serbia

Tuition fees for self-paying students enroled in public programmes of studies are up to 2 071 EUR for the first cycle and up to 4 331 EUR for the second cycle of studies.  According to the Law on Higher Education, the tuition fee determines the costs of studies for one academic year (i.e. for acquiring 60 ECTS credits), whereas "the criteria for determining the level of the fees shall be established by the general act of a higher education institution.” Students are enroled based on their overall performance, specifically: out of 100% of points, students normally get 60% for their entrance exam performance, whereas the remaining 40% is their secondary school achievement (in a minority of study programmes, however, entrance exam performance is given a larger percentage share). Once enrolled, students have their further achievement measured through average grades. Thus, students can acquire a budget status during their studies under the condition that they satisfy minimum criteria as determined by their average grade and number of ECTS. Tuition fees are free of charge for the following student categories: ”1. Individuals from families with lower socio-economic backgrounds; 2. Individuals without parental care; 3. Individuals from single-parent families; 4. Members of the Roma national minority; 5. Individuals with disabilities, those with chronic diseases and convalescents; 6. Refugees and displaced persons; 7. Returnees under the Readmission Agreement and deported students; 8. Individuals from families with lower socio-economic backgrounds and children without parental care.”

Table 2: Students enroled for the first time in the first year of studies at state and private HE institutions (%)


Enroled students

Budget-financed students

Self-financed students

State-funded HEIs




Private HEIs








Source: Statistical Release no 351, Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia

Financial Support for Learners' Families

There are no structural measures meant to target learners' families. All of the existing structural measures apply to students directly.

Financial Support for Learners

Financial support for learners is defined by the Law on Pupils and Students' Standard, whereby students are entitled to the following:

  1. Accommodation;
  2. Subsidised meals;
  3. Student loans;
  4. Student grants;
  5. Grants for talented students.

Accommodation and subsidised meals

The state subsidises accommodation and meals for all students at public institutions who are funded from the state budget. In addition, subsidised accommodation in dorms is granted to those studying out of their place of residence. Prices of meals are determined on the state level. In the academic year 2020/21,breakfast was priced 40 RSD (≈0.33 EUR), lunch 72 RSD (≈0.61 EUR) and dinner 59 RSD (≈0.50 EUR) (Source: Student Center Belgrade, 2020).

Monthly accommodation fees in dorms in the same academic year ranged from 1,020 RSD (≈8.50 EUR) to 2,230 RSD (≈18.58 EUR) per student (Source: Student Center Belgrade, 2013).

There are 8 student centres in Serbia which provide both subsidised accommodation and meals (Belgrade, Novi Sad, Niš, Kragujevac, Subotica, Čačak, Bor and Užice). The city of Belgrade can accommodate 12,000 students in 14 dorms, Novi Sad 3,000 students etc. Students from private universities and those who are not funded from the state budget have the possibility of getting accommodation in a student dorm only on the condition that there are vacant places left and at the economic prices.

Student loans

Funding for the above mentioned support mechanisms is provided by the Government, the benefits being intended for students studying at public universities and funded from the state budget. Student loans are non-refundable for those who graduate in time with 8.5 or higher average grade. Students who use student loans are obliged to repay them, unless they achieve excellent academic results, in which case they can be granted partial or full loan remission. In order to qualify for a loan, apart from a budget status at a public university as the initial condition, students are further on ranked according to their study success (number of ECTS gained during the previous course of studies, or alternatively secondary school achievement for first-year students), and according to their socio-economic status. The latter criterion carries a 25% share in the total ranking, which implies that studying performance is the main criterion for receiving a student loan. In the academic year 2020/21, a monthly loan instalment was 8,400 RSD (approximately 70 EUR) per student. Students receive their loans in 10 monthly instalments per year.

Student grants

Student grants are awarded to students with excellent accomplishments (average grade has to be 9 or higher on a 5-10 grading scale). The grant amount is the same as that for loans: in the academic year 2020/21, recipients of student grants were allocated respective monthly amounts of 8,400 RSD (approximately 70 EUR).

Grants for talented students

From the state budget and through the Ministry of Youth and Sports, special grants are awarded for outstanding accomplishments to students from the Young Talents Fund. This grant scheme, provided by the Ministry of Youth and Sports, aims at supporting students with the best academic achievement at the end of first- and second-cycle studies, up to 25 and 27 years of age respectively. In 2019/20, a total of 950 first-cycle and 410 second-cycle students received this type of support, which amounted to RSD 250 000.

In addition to the abovementioned support mechanisms as defined by the Law on Higher Education, all students are entitled to subsidised transportation in all cities in Serbia, as well as to discounts for inter-city travels. Some local governments have introduced free transportation for students in their municipalities. The right to subsidised transportation is granted to all students at both public and private institutions.   

Local governments may also offer grants, loans and other benefits to students from their municipalities/cities, while state universities, provincial and university cities' governments may provide funds for supporting talented students. In 2018/19, 7.8 % of both first- and second-cycle students received some of the available state or local government merit-based grants.

Private Education

First private universities in Serbia were established in the early nineties during the process of post-socialist transformation. Their work was legally defined in 2005 with the new Law on Higher Education. Previously they were registered as private companies. Under this Law, each higher education institution must go through the accreditation process controlled by The Accreditation and Quality Assurance Commission. During the accreditation process, the higher education institution must ensure adequate contents and quality of study programmes, the size of appropriately qualified teaching and non-teaching staff, as well as adequate space and equipment for work. Serbia currently has 11 private universities functioning without government, regional or local government subsidies. Private universities autonomously provide funds for their educational and scientific work. The largest share of income is obtained through tuition fees, which range from 1,000 to 4,500 EUR per academic year.