20 September 2017 Register to receive our free newsletter by email each week
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BULGARIA
BULGARIA: Urgent need for higher education reform

Higher education in Bulgaria needs radical change and modernisation, says Education Minister Sergey Ignatov. Speaking on national television last week, Ignatov said that over the next several years the higher education system should be able to achieve the highest European standards. Reform would be implemented through a new higher education law to be developed by the Bulgarian Council of Rectors.

As part of the reforms, the government plans to change the current system of university accreditation. Officials say this will allow them to more efficiently evaluate the level of each national university in terms of its scientific activities and corporate organisation.

Local analysts believe failure to implement reforms could lead to exacerbation of the crisis in higher education that has universities losing ground in Europe in recent years.

They say the reforms should be mainly based on the reduction of administrative pressure on institutions and providing universities with financial independence.

Most of the prestigious state universities are financially dependent on the Minister of Education. In practice, all funding decisions are in the hands of the government and the universities have little decision-making power.

The state also determines the number of students in private universities and this impacts on their income and autonomy.

Because of the lack of growth opportunities, some universities are no longer interested in improving the quality of their education or increasing efficiency. Instead, they are increasing pressure on the government through their lobby groups to obtain further funding and other benefits.

Although the level of financing higher education is comparable with those in other EU countries, the cost per student is higher than the Eastern and Central European average but lower than in the US. The main problem is not the amount of funding but the way it is distributed.

Conservatism also remains one of the biggest obstacles in developing the higher education system and enhancing its competitiveness. It is almost impossible to open branches of foreign universities in Bulgaria or establish new private institutions.

Bulgaria also continues to experience problems with training its domestic specialists because young talented people prefer to study abroad.

One example of the effect of the present crisis is the Academy of Sciences which is on the verge of bankruptcy. Public funding of the academy covers only the salaries of its scientists and the annual budget is only 74 million lev (US$50 million).

Reports suggest the academy has suspended its business trips and international activities and demanded the resignation of Minister Ignatov.
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