Higher education in Serbia

The higher education system in the Republic of Serbia

Recent policy updates and reforms

HERE events and activities

Projects and initiatives

Relevant links


The higher education system in the Republic of Serbia

In the Republic of Serbia, access to higher education is open to every person who finishes a four-year secondary school. Higher education is divided into three levels:

First level of studies includes:

  • Undergraduate Academic Studies (Bachelor) – lasting for 3-4 years, carrying 180 to 240 ECTS
  • Bachelor Applied Studies – lasting for 3 years, carrying 180 ECTS.

Second level of studies includes:

  • Master Academic Studies – lasting for 1-2 years and carrying 60 to 120 ECTS
  • Master Applied Studies[1] – lasting for 2 years and carrying at least 120 ECTS for students who have previously achieved 180 ECTS
  • Specialized Applied Studies – lasting for 1 year and carrying 60 ECTS
  • Specialist Academic Studies – lasting for 1 year and carrying 60 ECTS, for students who have achieved at least 300 ECTS in previous studies.

Third level of studies includes Doctoral Academic Courses (PhD), including a minimum of 3 years of study or 180 ECTS.

Higher education in Serbia is provided at universities/faculties and colleges of applied studies. According to the latest 2011 census, 10.59% of the population of Serbia have higher education qualifications. 

The higher education system in Serbia offers two types of studies: academic studies realized at universities, and applied studies realized primarily at colleges of applied studies, and occasionally at universities as well.

In the field of medical science (studies of medicine, dentistry and veterinary medicine), integrated courses are organized in the duration of 6 years and carrying a minimum of 360 ECTS. Pharmacy studies also offer integrated courses that carry 300 ECTS.

Higher education in Serbia is provided by/at universities and colleges that are either public or private.

An Academy of Applied Studies has also been envisaged by the aw, but no such institution has been founded yet.

There are two options concerning students’ fees. “Budget-financed“ students have their tuition fees paid by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development, but they need to pay administrative and other costs (entrance and application fees when enrolling in a higher education institution, fees for issuing diploma and diploma supplement, obligatory payments for exams (in certain cases applicable only to self-financing students), issuing certificates - of student’s status, of passed exams etc.).

The academic calendars are determined each year at institutional level, meaning that higher education institutions may have different calendars during the same academic year. The teaching part of an academic year consists of two semesters:

  • First semester usually starts in the beginning of October and ends in mid-February.
  • Second semester usually starts at the end of February and ends in the beginning of June.

Higher education institutions determine the dates and the number of examination periods during the academic year, usually 4 to 6 periods, at the end of each semester and prior to the end of the academic year, after summer holidays.


Recent policy updates and reforms

Serbia started the reform of its higher education system by joining the Bologna Process in 2003, followed by the adoption of the new Law on Higher Education in 2005. This law formally introduced the European Credit Transfer System, three-cycle system of study and diploma supplement. As a result, from the school year 2007/8, all newly admitted students have studied under the reformed study programmes at all higher education institutions. The reform process was continued by the adoption of the standards for accreditation, self-evaluation and external quality control in 2006, which set conditions for the start of the process of accreditation of higher education institutions and study programmes in 2007.

According to the Law on Higher Education, every study programme is defined through the number of ECTS. Each course within the study programme is valued through the number of ECTS while the total sum of ECTS varies from a minimum of 180 for three year programmes to a minimum of 240 ECTS for four year programmes at the bachelor level, a minimum of 60 to 120 ECTS (for one or two year programmes respectively) at the master level and at least 180 ECTS at the PhD level.

Strategy for the Development of Education in Serbia until 2020, adopted in 2012, is also an important document seeking to identify purposes, goals, directions, instruments and mechanisms for the development of the education system in the Republic of Serbia until 2020. In other words, the Strategy is intended to shape the development of this system in the best possible way.

Strategy for the Development of Education in Serbia until 2020 provides a great number of important innovations at all levels of education in Serbia. As far as higher education is concerned, the strategy sets up 2 important goals to be achieved by 2020:

  • At least 40% of students who finish the 4-year vocational secondary education and 95% of those who finish general secondary education should enter the 3rd cycle of studies;
  • At least 50% of students who finish Bachelor studies should enrol in a Master degree programme and at least 10% of Master students should get into a PhD programme.

The national action plan in accordance with the Strategy for the Development of Education in Serbia until 2020 ensures the increased number of students from underrepresented groups on all higher education levels by 2017. This will be accomplished through establishing the system for monitoring availability of higher education higher education programmes and the mechanisms of support for students from underrepresented groups.


HERE events and activities

ABCD HERE – Academic Business Club Development (Nov 2015)

The main idea of HERE activity called ABCD HERE – Academic Business Club Development was to create a “template” session that would be hosted at conferences and professional meetings in different fields in order to connect the academic and business worlds in terms of education of students, preparing them for labour market, providing internships and job opportunities and identifying students’ and employers’ opinions on the quality of study programs and students’ competencies.

The first session was held at BIZIT conference that gathers ICT companies involved with creating new technologies. On this occasion, HEREs gave a review of higher education in the field of ICT in Serbia, presented HEIs capacities and the need for improving them, and described the current status of collaboration between HEIs and companies. The representatives of IT companies talked about their own perceptions about higher education, pointed out the needs of companies and described selection procedures and demand for IT experts from HR perspective. Their presentations were followed by a discussion with participants who, in addition, had an opportunity to participate in a survey prepared by HEREs with the goal to investigate which competencies and characteristics of job applicants are the most important – from a view of three different categories: employees, employers and HEIs.

Organization of this activity aimed at tighter cooperation between HE and enterprises/world of work. The main outcome was that representatives of labour market, in this case in the field of ICT, were made aware of specific competencies expected from graduates, and, on the other hand, student and recent graduates got an insight into expectations, criteria and selection procedures of leading IT companies in Serbia. 

Information day on higher education performance indicators - toward a new model of financing and ranking study programmes  (Nov 2015)
The main goals of this event were initiating discussion about possible models of financing of higher education that would be based on performance criteria and included in the new draft law on higher education, and learning about good practices and methodologies used in other countries. For this purpose, two TAM experts were invited to contribute to the event.

Infodays on National Recommendation for HEI and Research Institutes on managing intellectual property in innovation transfer activities  (June 2016)
The  four HERE team members organized a serious of information days and public discussions to present the publication they create at the university centers in Serbia.
The publication can be downloaded here (in Serbian).

Conference on Organizational and Operational Aspects of Higher Education Applied Studies Programmes in Serbia (June 2016)
The main goal of the event was to discuss relevant issues for vocational HE offered by colleges of applied studies in Serbia, such as structure of colleges and possible creation of academies of applied studies, models of funding, cooperation with industry, accreditation standards, mobility of students, recognition of prior learning. Dr Eva Cendon from Vienna Institute for Professional Education (Deutsche Universität für Weiterbildung, Berlin – DUW) was invited as a TAM expert at the event.


Projects and initiatives

Serbia has actively participated in the Tempus programme since 2001 when it joined the first call of the so called Tempus 3 phase of the programme (2001-2007) until 2013 (Tempus IV phase from 2008 to 2013). Total number of project in which one or several institutions in Serbia had been involved (as coordinator, contractor or partner), before the Erasmus+ programme started:

  • Tempus III – 103,
  • Tempus IV – 84
  • Erasmus + Capacity Building in HE – 9 (Call 2015)

Several years later, in 2007, Serbia joined the Erasmus Mundus programme, i.e. its joint degree programmes and scholarships for students, teachers and other staff in higher education institutions. Since 2004, there have been 3257 individual mobilities within the Erasmus Mundus/Erasmus+ programme.

In 2011, Serbia also started its participation in the Lifelong Learning Programme, which provided cooperation opportunities for pre-university levels of education.

At the end of 2013, all three programmes gave way to a new programme of the European Union, named Erasmus+. The Erasmus+ programme has three Key Actions and two separate parts – Jean Monnet and Sport. Serbian institutions can take part in certain types of projects within each of the enumerated Erasmus+ parts:

  • KA1 - Academic exchange,
  • KA1  - Joint master programme,
  • KA2 -There are modalities of participation:
  1. Participation, as partners or coordinators of projects, in Capacity Building Projects for Higher Education,
  2. Participation as partners only (not as applicants), provided that their participation brings an essential added value to the project. This refers to participation in Knowledge Alliances, Sectoral Skills Alliances and Strategic Partnerships,
  3. Serbian schools can use eTwinning internet portal for cooperation and exchange of good practices.
  • KA3
  • Jean Monnet

Regarding the Key Action 1 (KA1) – International credit mobility projects, in the 2015, HE institutions from Serbia participated in about 500 project proposals within two calls, out of which 2500 mobilities of students and teachers were approved.

When it comes to the KA2 – Capacity Building in higher education, in the previous, 2015 call for proposals, 40 applications for projects were submitted, out of which 18 with coordinators from Serbia, and 9 with the mobility strand component. Finally, 9 projects were selected for funding, out of which 4 with coordinators from Serbia, while one of them has a mobility strand component included.

In the 2016 call for proposals (KA2), the institutions from Serbia participated in 70 projects applications, out of which in 34 as coordinators, and 6 with the special mobility strand. This makes 10% of all the applications from all participating countries in the programme, and 64% in the Western Balkans region.

Members of Serbian HERE team participate in several projects listed below:

Fostering University Support Services and Procedures for Full Participation in the European Higher Education Area

Strengthening of Internationalisation Policies at Universities in Serbia

Institutional framework for development of the third mission of universities in Serbia

Enhancement of HE research potential contributing to further growth of the WB region

Harmonization of Preschool Teacher Education Curricula in Serbia

Waste management curricula development in partnership with public and private sector


Relevant links


[1] Such programme are possible according to the HE law. However, none of the HEIs in the country is offering them at the moment. Clarification and approval concerning their accreditation is awaited by the Commission for Accreditation and Quality Assurance.