Since 2003 Croatia has been involved in an intensive reform of its higher education system in line with its national needs and European standards, and according to the principles of the Bologna Declaration which Croatia signed in May 2001 during the Ministers conference in Prague. The reform process takes full account of the current developments within the Bologna process and its ultimate goal of the establishment of the European Higher Education Area by 2010 where knowledge will be the cornerstone of development and where comparable and quality higher education will enable greater mobility and increased possibilities of employment for all citizens of the European Union.
The reform of Croatian higher education system began with an intensive legislative and institutional preparation. The Act on Scientific Activity and Higher Education came into force in June 2003 and in 2004 a number of amendments were added to it. Also in 2004 the new Act on the Recognition of Foreign Educational Qualifications was adopted and at the beginning of 2005 five Rules of Procedures covering the field of higher education. The rules regulate establishment of higher education institutions, measures and criteria for evaluating quality and efficiency of institutions and study programs, content of student databases, content of student documents, and content of diplomas and diploma supplements.
That same year saw the creation of the National ENIC/NARIC office, establishment of the Agency for Science and Higher Education and the newly constituted National Council for Higher Education, an expert and advisory body tasked with the development and quality of higher education in Croatia.
During 2005 the evaluation of study programmes that were in their structure and content adapted to the criteria of the Bologna process and the European Higher Education Area was carried out. With the introduction of the first two cycles of study, undergraduate and graduate, the first phase of the Bologna process in Croatia was completed. The introduction of such a system leads to shorter duration of the first cycle of study, quality curricula, acceptable student work load measured by ECTS credits and increased mobility between university and professional studies.
The intention is to provide the students with a possibility to enter the labour market after finishing the first cycle of study or to enrol in graduate and, subsequently, postgraduate study. Therefore, the majority of higher education institutions transformed the usual four year programmes into the widespread 3+2 model of the Bologna process. Only a minority of higher education institutions maintained the 4+1 model and some adopted the so-called integrated programmes, such as Law (5+0) and Medicine (6+0).
The introduction of new study programmes adapted to the Bologna process is a giant step for our system, but it represents only the first stage of reform. It is a precondition for achieving all other goals and for successful participation in the creation of the European Higher Education Area. Such a system will be focused primarily on students, it will offer transparency and quality, and it will enable the transformation of our society into a knowledge based society.
The evaluation of postgraduate study programmes began at the end of 2005 and it will be completed by the beginning of the 2006/2007 academic year. The reform of the third cycle of study aims at creating a better connection between higher education and science and research.
The first phase of the reform also encompassed the creation of the quality assurance system. The system will eventually comprise of quality assurance units at higher education institutions, overseen by the Agency for Science and Higher Education. Through the CARDS programme of the European Union the Ministry of Science, Education and Sports has secured European and Croatian experts in the field of quality assurance who will provide expert help and training to the employees of the Agency for Science and Higher Education and quality assurance units at higher education institutions.
One of the key steps on the path of reform is the introduction of a new model of lump sum financing of universities. The first elements of this model have been introduced at the beginning of 2006. The model envisages a single transfer of the entire university budget from the state budget, which will then be autonomously distributed by the university between its constituent parts.
Another big step is the development of the binary system, a system in which professional studies are carried out at polytechnics or schools of professional higher education while university studies are carried out at universities. The transition period in which it will still be allowed to carry out professional studies at universities will last until 2010. The process of separation of professional studies from university studies has already began, but there is still a lot of work to be done on strengthening the infrastructure of polytechnics and schools of professional higher education so that they could be ready to independently carry out professional studies after 2010. At the same time a process of polycentric development of professional studies has been initiated. Its aim is to establish new polytechnics in smaller urban areas and regional centres. So far two new polytechnics have been founded in areas of special state concern, one in Knin in June 2005 and the other in Vukovar in July 2005. During 2006 the Ministry of Science, Education and Sports and the National Council for Higher Education will devise a strategy for the creation of a network of professional studies.
Connecting higher education and science and research with the private sector is a process that runs parallel to the reform of higher education. An important step in this process has been the creation of the National Foundation for Science, Higher Education and Technological Development of the Republic of Croatia in October 2003. Its mission is to transform Croatian society into society of knowledge, enhance development of globally recognized research and knowledge-based economy.
There is great work ahead of us in the area of modernization of teaching. It will be necessary to secure continual education of teachers at higher education institutions so they could adapt to European teaching methods and standards. It is also necessary to substantially increase the number of courses taught in English, not only to enable enrolment of foreign students, but to also make sure our students master one or more foreign languages during their studies.
The Ministry of Science, Education and Sports continues to work intensively on legislative changes and enhancements to current legislation. Currently we are working on the amendments to the Act on Scientific Activity and Higher Education, Act on the Recognition of Foreign Educational Qualifications and the Act on Professional and Academic Titles. We are also preparing the new Act on Rights of Full-time Students.