Higher Education Systems and Institutions, Serbia

  • Predrag LažetićEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-017-9553-1_386-1


Higher Education Financing System Private Polytechnics Public Polytechnics Self-funded Students Professional Bachelor 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Higher Education System Development

Higher education in Serbia has its origins in the beginning of the nineteenth century with the establishment of the College in Belgrade in 1808 by the enlightenment figure Dositej Obradović.

Thirty years later, the Lyceum was founded in the town of Kragujevac. Transferred to Belgrade in 1841, the Lyceum opened its Law Department, in addition to the already existing Philosophy Department. On September 24, 1863, the Law on the Advanced School Founding was adopted. It was by power of this Law that the Lyceum was transformed into the The Higher School (Visoka škola). Early in 1905, the Act on Universities was passed, and Visoka škola was transformed into the University of Belgrade. The Act granted the academic freedom, stating that “the teachers are free to present their knowledge.” The University of Belgrade was the most important academic institution of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia (1918–1941) and the one of three universities in the Kingdom (besides the Universities of Zagreb and Ljubljana). Higher education in Serbia had its most rapid period of expansion and development after World War II when other major state universities were established in Novi Sad (1960), Niš (1965), Priština (1970) and in Kragujevac (1976) as well as the numerous nonuniversity higher education institutions (viša škola). The period after the 2000s in Serbia is characterized by the massive expansion of the number of students and the number of institutions, especially through the opening of numerous private higher education institutions.

The current higher education system can be characterized as dual, consisting of university and polytechnic subsectors. Both types of institutions can be public or private. In 2014/2015, there were 8 public and 10 private universities and 70 polytechnics. The University of Belgrade is a flagship institution of the Serbian higher education system with strong research reputation and improving in international rankings. The university sector offers academic studies organized in 3 cycles (bachelor, master, and doctoral studies) as well as professional programs in 2 cycles (professional bachelor and specialist studies). The polytechnic nonuniversity sector institutions offer professional programs in 2 cycles (professional bachelor and specialist studies) and, in a small number of institutions, also academic studies. The total number of students in the higher education system in Serbia in 2014/2015 was 241,054 and the gross enrollment ratio was 48% (Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia 2016). In 2014/2015 majority of students attended public universities (70%), followed by public polytechnics (17%), private universities (11%), and private polytechnics (2%). The majority of students were completing first cycle academic and professional bachelor studies (190,416 students or 79%), followed by second cycle (master, specialist and integrated) studies (41,411 students or 17%) and third cycle doctoral studies (9227 students or 4%) (Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia 2016).

Higher Education Governance

At the central level, the main responsibilities for higher education lie with the Ministry of Education and Science and the National Council for Higher Education.

The Ministry of Education and Science recommends policy to the Government, plans the admission policy for students, allocates the financial resources to higher education institutions, oversees the overall development of higher education, and ensures the execution of decisions of importance (European Commission – EACEA 2012).

The National Council of Higher Education (NCHE) came into existence in 2005 and has been designed as a politically independent buffer body consisting mainly of academics proposed by the Conference of Serbian Universities (CSU) and appointed by decision of the National Assembly. It has overall responsibility for strategic planning and decisions about main issues relevant for the coherence of the HE system, such as setting standards for the internal assessment and quality evaluation of HE institutions and establishing standards for licensing higher education institutions (European Commission – EACEA 2012).

Governance of the higher education system in Serbia is only partly centralized. The autonomous province of Vojvodina has significant jurisdiction in terms of funding, administrative supervision, and setting up enrollment quotas for the public higher education institutions located on its territory.

The internal university governance in Serbia is characterized by the high level of institutional autonomy and a fragmented university structure inherited from the Yugoslav higher education system. Individual faculties are independent legal entities with management and funding autonomy, while the universities are loose associations of faculties in charge of academic standards and procedures.

Universities and individual faculties have a dual governance structure comprising the Council and the Senate.

The Council is the administrative body of a higher education institution. It is responsible for long-term strategic decisions, such as deciding on statutes, strategic plans, election of the rector and vice-rectors, and budget allocation. The Council of the state higher education institutions comprises the representatives of the university faculties (up to two-thirds of the total number of Council members), students, and the Government (jointly one third of members) (European Commission – EACEA 2012).

The Senate is the academic body of a university and the professional body of a faculty and/or an academy of arts. The Senate is responsible for academic issues, such as the curriculum, degrees, and staff promotions. The Senate consists of internal members, i.e., professors (deans of faculties at the university, or academic staff at the faculty) and students (20% of the Senate members). The executive officer of the university is the Rector, of the faculty it is the Dean, and of polytechnics it is the Head (European Commission – EACEA 2012).

Higher Education Funding System

The higher education system funding in Serbia is characterized by increasing privatization and slow withdrawal of the state as the main funding source. Public expenditure on higher education in Serbia in 2012 was 0.8% of the GDP (excluding research funding and student welfare), and it is directly allocated by the central level of Government (Vlada Republike Srbije 2014). The private expenditure on higher education coming mostly through tuition and administrative fees that students pay at both public and private higher education institutions was estimated to be around 1% of GDP in 2012 (Vlada Republike Srbije 2014).

There are two categories of students with respect to funding: state-funded students (43% of all students in 2014/15), who study at state higher education institutions, and self-funded students (57%), who exist in all types of higher education institutions, private and public (Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia 2016). All self-funded students at a particular higher education institution (faculty) pay the same fee, regardless of age. Tuition fees are determined by the higher education institutions and approved annually by the Government (Vukasović 2009).

Academic Profession and Students

The main categories of teaching staff are teachers, researchers, and associates. The ranks of teachers in higher education institutions include lecturers, professors in colleges of applied sciences, docents, associate professors, and full professors. In 2014/2015, there were 10,706 higher education teachers (89.6% full time and 44.6% women) and 4114 teaching associates (87.6% full time and 54.3% women) at higher education institutions in Serbia (Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia 2016).

Female students constitute the majority in the overall student body in Serbia (55.8% of all students in 2014/15); however, they are in a majority only at public universities (58.7%), while in other types of institutions they represent minority: 49.3% at private universities, 49.4% at public polytechnics, and 45.3% at private polytechnics (Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia 2016). In 2014/2015, the majority of students in Serbia studied programs in the field of business, law, and administration (22.8% in total and 39.7% at private universities), followed by the field of engineering, manufacturing and construction (16.7%), arts and humanities (11.4%), and social sciences (10.3%) (Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia 2016). According to the (Savić and Živadinović 2016) survey data, 51.6% of bachelor students and 66.3% of master students in Serbia do not have tertiary education family background. The same survey indicates that 4.5% of students in Serbia have children and that approximately 20% of student work during their studies (Žarkić-Joksimović and Benković 2015).

Other Issues

Reform of the funding and governance and internationalization of the higher education system is one of the identified areas of future reform in the National Education Development Strategy adopted in 2012. The current system of organizationally fragmented universities and the system of higher education financing which provides publicly financed student places and student welfare subsidies only on the bases of academic merit is often identified as the key reform area in Serbian higher education. The Strategy identified the improvement of student mobility and recognition, a strengthening of the links between science and teaching as additional higher education challenges (Vlada Republike Srbije 2012). The Strategy proposes the adoption of flexible learning paths between academic and vocational/applied studies in order to permit students to progress seamlessly to the next cycle of higher education. The quality of the learning process and provision of study programs at polytechnics that have passed the first round of accreditation till 2010 is seen as another key area for systemic quality improvement.


  1. European Commission – Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency. 2012. Higher education in Serbia. Brussels: European Commission.Google Scholar
  2. Savić, Mirko and Živadinović, Ivana (eds). (2016). Social Dimension of Studying in Serbia. EUROSTUDENT V. Report for the Republic of Serbia. Belgrade: University of Belgrade. http://finhed.org/media/files/Eurostudent-Serbia.pdf. Accessed Dec 2017.
  3. Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia. 2016. Statistical yearbook of the republic of Serbia – Education. Beograd: Republički zavod za statistiku.Google Scholar
  4. Vlada Republike Srbije. 2012. Strategija razvoja obrazovanja u Srbiji do 2020. godine. Službeni glasnik Republike Srbije 107/2012.Google Scholar
  5. Vlada Republike Srbije. 2014. Drugi Nacionalni izveštaj o socijalnom uključivanju i smanjenju siromaštva. Beograd: Vlada Republike Srbije.Google Scholar
  6. Vukasović, Martina, ed. 2009. Financing higher education in Southeast Europe: Albania, Montenegro, Croatia, Serbia and Serbia. Beograd: Centre for Education Policy.Google Scholar
  7. Žarkić Joksimović, Nevenka, and Slađana Benković, eds. 2015. Finding the right path. Higher education financing and social dimension in the Western Balkan countries. Beograd: Službeni Glasnik.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of SurreyGuildfordUK

Section editors and affiliations

  • Barbara M. Kehm
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Education, Robert Owen Centre for Educational ChangeUniversity of GlasgowGlasgowUnited Kingdom