Educational Highlights on Serbia’s Report in the European Union’s 2022 Enlargement Package

This document is a summary of the accompanying document Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on Serbia’s 2022 Report.  

Serbia remains at a good level of preparation in education and culture, according to the 2021 report by the Council for Eastern European Development (CEDR). Some progress was made on the implementation of last year’s recommendations. The COVID-19 pandemic somewhat disrupted the organization and quality of instruction at all levels of education. Serbia’s government has been urged to make significant improvements in the quality and scope of non-formal education and care for children, and has ensured full compliance with the policy and institutional framework for quality assurance in higher education by the European Quality Assurance Commission (ENQA).

Mechanisms to track the implementation of the new education strategy through 2030 and the associated action plan have been developed in the domain of education and training. Negative demographic trends and emigration have contributed to the ongoing decline in the student population. Pre-university enrollment and completion rates remained strong. While the enrollment rate for preschool education that is required for all children aged 6 months to 6.5 years declined from 97.4% in 2019 to 96.4% in 2020, the overall coverage of children with preschool education decreased from 57.4% to 55.5% year over year. In order to provide equal preschool education to the most disadvantaged children, more work is required to improve governance and increase the scope and quality of services and infrastructure. Early school exit rates were 6.3%, and participation in lifelong learning was 4.8% in 2021.

Public spending on education stood at around 3.5% of GDP in 2020, below the EU average of 4.7%. Preprimary school enrolment remained around 64% in the 2020/2021 school year. Higher education attainment in the population aged 25-34 stood at 32.6% in 2020. New certification requirements are being adopted slowly, and they are also being updated. Under both upper secondary and higher vocational education and training (VET), efforts have been made to expose students to work-based learning. Participation rates in life-long learning are traditionally low (4.8% in 2021). Furthermore, from 20% in 2020 to 16.4% in 2021, the proportion of young people (15-29 years old) who are not in employment, education, or training (NEET) declined.

The hybrid education model put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic is still in use, although it is only applied when it occurs. To bridge learning gaps brought on by digital exclusion, further measures are still required. The creation of the school management information system has advanced, although consolidation is still needed.

There has not been any noticeable improvement in the low enrollment in general secondary vocational education and training (VET), and as such, Serbia should keep modernizing and simplifying the requirements for certifications to increase the significance of VET and to accelerate the institutional, financial, and logistical preparations for the introduction of final exams in secondary school. On the another hand, at all educational levels, there has been a significant improvement in the access and involvement of disadvantaged students. The effort against segregation and dropout rates needs to be improved, especially locally. Additional work is required to provide instructional resources and equip instructors to promote student competency in gender equality and sexual abuse.

The Serbian national accreditation body is eligible to reapply for renewed membership of ENQA following its suspension in early 2020. The attainment of tertiary level qualifications for persons aged 30-34 (ISCED levels 5-8) remained at 33% in 2020, still below the EU target of 40%. The sector remains vulnerable to corruption.

It is necessary to reinforce the institutional structure outlined in the national qualifications framework (NQF). The acceptance of qualification requirements is accelerating, but it could do so much more quickly with a bigger emphasis on higher education. Two rulebooks were approved in December 2021 and February 2022 with the goal of facilitating adult education provider accreditation. Additionally, regarding the competitiveness and inclusive growth, Serbia is required to pay close attention to making sure that the institutional framework for quality assurance in higher education fully complies with ENQA’s guidelines in the upcoming term, as well as to upgrading pertinent IT systems.

The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), the International Civic and Citizenship Education Study (ICCS), and the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) were among the international assessments in which Serbia continues to take part in 2021 and 2022, respectively. In 2022, trends in the international computer and information literacy study (ICILS), the teaching and learning international survey (TALIS), and the international mathematics and science study (TIMSS) were conducted. Additionally, Serbia is successfully implementing the new cycle of the Erasmus+ programme, including the new DiscoverEU component. Overall, Serbian institutions are participating in more than 550 projects (decentralized actions) granted in 2021. In total, around 1900 mobilities of students, staff and pupils are planned to take place in the framework of these projects.

The Serbian Ministry of Education has made significant progress in preparing and printing textbooks in minority languages for use in primary schools. The monitoring of curricula for teaching Serbian as a non-mother language in pilot schools is ongoing. Several recommendations aimed at improving the teaching of Serbian in schools were issued to the ministry.

Serbia has made some progress in coping with market dynamics and competitive pressure within the EU and is only partly equipped. The structure of the economy continues to advance, and there is still a high level of economic integration with the EU. The quality and applicability of education and training, however, still fall short of the demands of the labor market, notwithstanding considerable advances. After years of underinvestment, public investment has continued to rise with the goal of addressing critical infrastructure shortages. There are still many difficulties that small and medium-sized businesses must overcome, such as an unfair playing field when compared to big businesses and foreign investors. The advice received last year has been partly adopted.

 

Summarised by Emine Bala & Edited by Olga Ruiz Pilato 

 

References

Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations. (2022). Serbia Report 2022. Retrieved October 17, 2022, from https://neighbourhood-enlargement.ec.europa.eu/serbia-report-2022_en