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Bulgaria - Higher Education

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Vische obrazovanie (higher education) is the sector of the education system that experienced most intensive growth during the 1990s, despite unfavorable economic conditions and diminishing state funds. This tendency indicates that Bulgarian society in times of economic duress and social crisis resorts to higher education as a reliable investment. The pace of reform and the changes introduced in higher education are also more considerable than those in preprimary, basic, and secondary education. Some major outcomes of this reform are the abolition of ideological subjects and content; the reshaping of study programs, curricula, and syllabi; the abolition of research institutes and ensuing unemployment among researchers; the introduction of tuition fees in public universities; the increase of the number of universities as a result of the transformation of many higher institutes into universities; and the establishment of private universities and colleges.

The total number of higher schools in Bulgaria is 88. There exist three types of higher schools: universities, specialized higher schools (academies and institutes), and independent colleges. There are 26 universities, belonging to one of the following two kinds: traditional universities with faculties of law, history, education, philosophy, economics, philology, chemistry, biology, physics, mathematics, and geography; and specialized universities of medicine, technology, agriculture, and economics. The number of specialized high schools is 15. Some of them are institutes (of technological sciences), others are academies (of fine arts, music, sport, theology, theater and cinema, and the military). Because universities and specialized high schools have an equal status, it is often said that there are altogether 41 universities. There are also 47 colleges specializing in technology, teacher-training, nursing, tourism, and telecommunications. Although, there are slightly more colleges than universities, the latter are more prestigious because of the quality of education offered and the employment possibilities after graduation. Despite the fact that most colleges exist within the structure of a university, the 'functional bridges' between them are not well constructed. Ten of the higher schools in Bulgaria are private: four of them are universities and specialized high schools and six are colleges.

Higher schools offer study programs that result in the following types of degrees: a specialist diploma awarded for completion of a three-year program; a bachelor's diploma awarded for completion of a four-year program; a master's diploma awarded for the completion of a five-year program, or one year after the bachelor's degree; doctoral degree awarded for completion of a three-year research program after the master's diploma. A necessary prerequisite for enrollment in a higher school is a diploma for completed secondary education. Otherwise, rules of admission are left to the discretion of the particular school and vary considerably, being lower in the newly established private institutions of higher learning. The most prestigious universities apply a formula, which combines results from written admission exams with grades from the high school diploma.

During the 1990s student enrollment in institutions of higher learning increased considerably. In 1988-1989, there were 160,000 students pursuing higher education. By way of comparison, the number for 1992-1993 was 192,000; in 1994-1995, about 221,000; in 1996-1997, about 263,000; and in 1999-2000, about 258,000. Taking into consideration that the country's population as a whole and the numbers of university-aged individuals is on the decline, this trend is even more pronounced. According to Popov, the main reasons for this lie in the expansion of public universities and the opening of private ones, the attraction of students from medium-sized towns to newly established university branches outside the major urban centers, the introduction of paid tuition and the subsequent lowering admission requirements for paid education, as well as the option for adult college graduates to obtain bachelor's and master's degrees in part-time, short-term university programs. This boom reached a peak in 1996-97, coinciding with the deepest financial, economic, and social crisis of the 1990s. The number of enrolled students is slightly declining, reflecting the decline of university In 1999-2000, there were 258,000 students of higher education, 57 percent of whom are women. Highest enrollment was in the economics and business programs, followed by the technological sciences. Some fields of the humanities and the social sciences, and particularly law, are also considered prestigious fields of study. An surprising fact is the large number of students enrolled in teacher training programs. Colleges experience a markedly low rate of enrollment: in 1999-2000, they had only 18,500 students. In the same year, the private higher schools had 27,500 students, or 10 percent of the total enrollment.

The faculty ranks consist of professor (full professor), docent (associate professor), assistant (assistant professor), and prepodavatel (lecturer). The total number of teaching faculty in 1999-2000 was 26,735, approximately 42 percent of which are women; there were 2,447 full professors, 19 percent of whom were women.

Higher education in Bulgaria is managed at two levels: national and institutional. The entities supervising higher education at the national level are the parliament (the National Assembly), the cabinet (Council of Ministers), and the Ministry of Education and Science. The parliament acts as the decision-making authority on the establishment, transformation, and the closing of public and private higher schools. It also annually allocates subsidies to public higher schools on the basis of the State Budget Act. The main actor in managing higher education on the national level is the Council of Ministers, which has wide-ranging prerogatives; the Ministry of Education and Science plays a more limited role. A National Evaluation and Accreditation Agency is established by the Council of Ministers as the specialized government authority for quality assessment and accreditation of higher school activities. The institutional level of management has acquired significant importance according to the principle of academic autonomy. The general assembly, the academic council, and the rector (president) are the main figures of importance.

Financing of higher education has been a most controversial issue of public discourse since 1989. Under communism, the general public was accustomed to the nearly egalitarian character of higher education, and grew to perceive it as a kind of social service. The popular expectation that the government should be the main source of funding higher education is still widespread and made it very difficult for those in power to renounce the government's function. The introduction of student paid education, parallel with the limited state funded enrollment, was met with considerable social and political resistance, despite the apparent need for additional sources of university revenue. The government continues to sponsor a limited number of students enrolled through the system of darzhavna porachka (state quota), a quantity of specialists perceived as necessary to sustain the continuity of manpower in every professional field. These spots are highly contested in the enrollment process and only the best candidates qualify for these positions. In addition, the schools of higher learning admit a great number of students who pay for their own tuition.


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