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November/December 2003
Volume 16, Issue 6
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Bologna Country Updates: Southeastern Europe

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Croatia currently has five universities (a sixth is under construction), seven polytechnics, six independent higher schools of vocational training, one teacher training college and 11 private higher schools of vocational training. The Law on Higher Education of 1993 was designed to make universities more efficient and autonomous, and it also provided for the separation of the university sector from vocational education through the creation of colleges and polytechnics. However, the ministry resisted the changes mandated by the law and micromanaged every faculty separately, weakening the concept of institutional autonomy.

Legislative changes in 1996 further weakened the ability of the universities to manage themselves. To promote integration into the European higher education system, the academic community enhanced its contacts with international advisory bodies, whose experts visited Croatia in 2000. It was again recommended that university autonomy and management be strengthened.

The Act on Scientific Activity and Higher Education, adopted in July,
“introduces to Croatia a legal obligation to observe European standards for science and higher education. The application of this act introduces the Bologna Process as a method of organizing studies.” The law stipulates organizational integration of the university and requires full legal integration of individual faculties by the end of 2007. Provisions of the act relating to the European Higher Education Area are discussed below.

1. Easily Readable and Comparable Degrees

Croatia signed and ratified the Lisbon Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications.

The new Act on Scientific Activity and Higher Education mandates prerequisites for monitoring and recognition of individual teaching courses and qualifications earned abroad. The Croatian Act on Recognition of Foreign Educational Qualifications is in the final stages of enactment.

The National Equivalence Information Center, under the auspices of the Ministry of Education, currently acts as the Croatian ENIC/NARIC body. In the spirit of the new law, the organization will be given a more definitive role. It will organize and supervise training of staff at institutions of higher education in the preparation and issuance of diploma supplements in the Croatian and English language. No definitive dates or deadlines have been published concerning the adoption and use of diploma supplements for institutions.

2. Degree Structure

Stage I: University programs at the undergraduate level require four years of full-time study (some disciplines five-to-six years) leading to the award of Diploma.

Stage II: Students who successfully complete the first stage of higher education are eligible to study for a Magistar (master's degree) in either arts of sciences subjects. Students must defend a master's thesis.

Stage III: The Doktor (Doctor of Science) is the final postgraduate degree and is concluded with the defense of a dissertation.

The new Act on Scientific Activity and Higher Education provides for the introduction of a three-tiered system of higher education. The ministry states that some institutions are better positioned to adopt the new system than others, and so institutions will be given flexibility in applying the new structure. The Croatian progress report prepared by the ministry for the Berlin Summit in September says the majority of higher education institutions will begin the implementation project in the 2004-05 academic year, while the rest will do so the next year.

Current discussions at polytechnics, professional associations and universities on how to structure the first-tier studies are centering on the following topics:

1. The curricula and their relation to second-tier studies.
2. The qualifications that will be gained by graduates.
3. The flexibility of duration of the first and second cycle (3+2 or 4+1).
4. The relation between academic and technical higher education.

It appears that although the necessary legislation has been passed, the introduction of a multi-tiered system of education in Croatia is still far from fruition and very much in the discussion stage, especially in terms of curriculum and program lengths. The ministry, in its latest Bologna update report, states, “The period spent studying is unjustifiably long, resulting in a costly and inefficient studying process,” suggesting that there is a desire to reform study periods.

3. Credit Transfer

There is no national system of credits in Croatia.

Preparations for the introduction of ECTS (European Credit Transfer System) to the Croatian higher education system started this fall. So far, about 15 faculties have adopted ECTS; others are also preparing to do so.

According to the latest Bologna update report from the ministry, “By the end of the ‘90s, Zagreb University started showing interest in ECTS and making preparations for its application. Some time ago a brochure on ECTS was translated and published, a number of seminars on the system of credits were held, following which some polytechnics introduced a system of credits as a part of internal organization of their studies.”

4. Mobility

Croatia does not participate in European mobility programs; rather, it promotes mobility on a bilateral and regional basis.

The ministry is confident that candidacy for European Union (EU) membership will open Croatia to participation in European mobility programs, one of its top priorities.

5. Quality Assurance

Quality assurance in Croatia is the responsibility of the National Council for Higher Education, but the results of its monitoring have been labeled by the ministry as “unsatisfactory.” As a result, one key aspect of higher-education reform for the ministry will be the promotion of “cultural quality,” which involves various aspects of external and internal evaluation, including student evaluation, as well as self-evaluation at the university and program level.

The system of granting institutional accreditation to independent institutions of higher education has been very rigid in the past. As a result, very few private institutions have been granted accreditation. In five such cases, private, accredited schools have been financed from the national budget. The new act makes it possible to register private institutions without state intervention, as the government will have no financial obligation toward private schools.

Croatia considers student input in quality assessment a priority. The new law stipulates student representatives of the first and second cycle should constitute 10 percent of the Senate, and students of the third cycle at least 5 percent of the Senate.

The ministry also views international cooperation as invaluable in the quality-assurance process: “Commonly accepted (European) instruments for quality assessment would contribute to an objective evaluation and would consequently lead to the ‘harmonization’ of European institutions of higher education.”

In instituting quality-improvement and quality-verification measures, Croatia plans to cooperate with Slovenia, Austria and Italy on an individual, as well as institutional, level.

Croatian universities currently participate in a number of quality assurance-related TEMPUS and CARD projects.

6. Promotion of European Dimensions in Higher Education

In cooperation with universities from Europe, Croatia plans to promote study programs at both the undergraduate and graduate level toward joint degrees and the joint appointment of professors.

Nick Clark
November 2003


Lisbon Convention Status Reports, Council of Europe, Aug. 29, 2003

CROATIA: National Report on the Bologna Process, Ministry of Education, 2003

Higher Education in Croatia: Unfinished Reform, International Higher Education (Boston College), No. 26, Winter 2002, p.6. Marijan Šunji

Explanation of the Need for a Higher Education Reform, Public Debate on the Draft Law on Higher Education, Ministry of Education, May 2001

Round Table: Science and Higher Education Legal Regulations in Central European Countries and European Integration, Humboldt Club of Croatia, Zagreb Conference, May 2002


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