There are 4 types of Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in Serbia:
- Colleges of Applied Studies,
- Colleges of academic studies,
- Academies of Applied Studies.
According to the way of their foundation, HEIs are either public or private institutions. Public higher education institutions are established by the state. Higher education institutions founded by an autonomous legal entity or a private person are private HEIs. Both types of HEIs become legal entities within the higher education system in Serbia only after receiving a state permission granted by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development.
Every accredited higher education institution in Serbia can organise study programmes and issue first and second-cycle degree certificates (academic and professional), but only universities can implement third-cycle educational programmes. In general, a HEI cannot become a university unless it offers doctoral studies in at least three fields (natural sciences and mathematics, social sciences and humanities, medical science, technical and technological sciences and arts). In addition, a difference between universities and other HEIs in Serbia is also reflected in the fact that the universities are obligated to be engaged in research - their teachers must have appropriate ranking in the scientific community and apply their scientific knowledge and research results in relevant education processes.
Under the Law on Higher Education, University is an independent higher education institution, which can carry out academic, and/or vocational/applied study programmes at each of the three levels of study. Faculties and art academies are constituent parts of university and – albeit separate legal entities - cannot exist independently. Both faculties and art academies can carry out academic and/or vocational/applied study programmes at all of the three levels of study.
University integrates the functions of all of its constituent institutions and units - notably faculties - through unified policies aimed at the on-going promotion of the quality of courses and improvement of scientific research and artistic creativity.
College of academic studies is an independent higher education institution entitled to organise and conduct only first and second-cycle study programmes (Bachelor and Master academic studies).
College of applied studies is an independent higher education institution entitled to organise first and second-cycle study programmes (vocational studies at Bachelor, Master and specialised levels). Academy of applied studies is an institution that integrates several vocational study colleges. While the higher education system currently does not include any such institution, their formation is being considered with a view to ensuring better functionality. A Tempus project, Establishing and capacity building of the Southern Serbian Academy and the National Conference for Vocational Higher Education, has started considering the creation of such an academy in the Southern Serbian region.