Education and qualification in Bulgaria Education and qualification in Bulgaria
Source: BIA

Flashback on the problems and comparative analysis with Romania, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia

Sofia, 2017


1.       Government


  • In Bulgaria the total cost of "Government" sector for education remains among one of the lowest in EU. In 2014 it accounted for 4.1% of GDP (below the EU average of 4.9%) and 9.7% of the total cost of the sector. The amount of overall education funding increases progressively throughout the period considered, however, there is no significant change in the quality of education, which leads to the conclusion that the cause of educational system’s significant problems lies elsewhere. According to Bulgaria's Convergence Programme for 2016-2019 period the cost for education will decline to 3.2% of GDP in 2019 and to 8.7% of total public expenditure. And here comes the question about the invested funds’ effectiveness, especially since the students’ share in the total population is decreasing.
  • In the years after Bulgaria joined EU (2007-2013) over 732 million levs were invested in education through operational programme “Human resource development”. However, its effect is unclear due to lack of a mechanism for assessing the added value. During the new programming period 2014-2020, Bulgaria is implementing an entirely new operational program in science and education “Science and education for smart growth”. It is governed by the Ministry of Education and Science and its total budget is 1.37 billion levs. However, administration’s stagnant actions and the political situation in the country can have adverse effects on the funds’ absorption.
  • People have been talking about educational reform for decades; various suggestions and changes have been made, however, real reforms are partial and insufficient. Regulations in education are untraceable, unstable, unpredictable and in some cases contradictory. Two of the major acts in education had been changed multiple times (33 times) before being cancelled completely – the Public Education Act and the Act of Education Degree, General Education Minimum and Curriculum. Moreover, the Act of Higher Education has been amended 47 times and the Act of Vocational Education – 27 times. This leads to the conclusion that there is a lack of continuity between the governments. Additionally, the amendments’ implementation has nothing to do with the underlying intentions. Many of the changes do not guarantee the quality of the education in any way, they consume professionals’ time and efforts and create an atmosphere of unpredictability, uncertainty and public distrust.
  • Current strategic legal instruments for developing education need to be revised and updated. Some of their indexes are lower than in Europe, their objectives are mainly descriptive and desirable, and there are no resources for implementing the plans and the programs.



2.       Life-long learning


  • Bulgaria has one of the lowest indexes in lifelong learning among countries in EU. People aged 25-64 years who participate in different forms of education are 2% of the total population. This index is lower only in Romania – 1,3%; in Slovakia (3%) and Serbia (2,9%) it is higher. In Hungary the index has almost doubled in the last 15 years and currently it indicates that 7,1% of the population aged 25-64 years take part in education. There is a gap between the average index for EU (10,7%) and for Bulgaria and it doesn’t change with time. At this rate, the EU benchmark of 15% seems unattainable.
  • Bulgarians do not want to retrain, even if they have lost their jobs. Only 5,3% of unemployed people aged 25-64 years take part in different forms of education, whereas the index for employed is significantly higher – 38,4%.
  • Only about 30% of enterprises in Bulgaria provide continuing professional training, whereas in EU they are 85%.



3.       General secondary education


  • The index for education and care for young children (aged 4 years and above) in Bulgaria is 89,3%, while in EU it is 94,3% and in Hungary is 94,5%. The objective for EU is 95% by 2020.
  • One fifth of the population aged 18-24 in Bulgaria has attained lower educational degree than secondary school. According to Eurostat, 13,4% of people aged 18-24 in Bulgaria have received grammar school education at the most. Worse indexes shows Romania (19.1%), while Slovakia (6.9%), Macedonia (11.4%), Hungary (11.6%) show better ones.
  • Contrary to the general tendency in EU the percentage of early school leavers (aged 18-24) in Bulgaria has increased since 2011, and in 2015 it reached 13.4%. There are large differences between rural and urban areas, as well as in regard to minority groups. The most common reason for leaving is "family matters" (39%); "going abroad" (38%); "reluctance to learning" (23%). For comparison, the percentage in Slovakia is 7%, in Hungary is 12% and in Romania is 18%.
  • According to a World Bank study, there is a considerable differentiation and segregation in educational attainment between poor and non-poor people in Bulgaria. There are differences in the educational attainment among the minority groups. Data from the national census of 2011 indicates that 93% of Roma have not attained secondary education; in comparison only 30% ethnic Bulgarians have not attained it. The data also shows that almost a quarter of Roma children aged 7-15 years do not participate in education system (European Commission, 2016). The proportion of Roma who do not take part in any form of employment, education or training (aged 16-24 years) is 61%. The share of early school leavers is higher among Roma children and about 26% of them are being educated in segregated schools. Illiterate Roma are 13.1% and only 0.3% of them have attained a university degree. Slightly better is the educational structure of the Turkish ethnic group - 2% are illiterate, 2,6% have a university degree and 24.2 % - secondary education.
  • The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) shows worrying results regarding the quality of secondary education and functional illiteracy among Bulgarian students.


- 35,2% of Bulgarian students are illiterate in natural science and this index is almost twice as higher than the average for other countries: underachievers in science in Hungary are 26%, Slovakia – 27,6%, Romania – 31,6%. The results in Macedonia are quite poor – 62,9%.

 - Almost half of the students in Bulgaria (41,5%) show low scores in reading literacy, which is two times lower than the average (20,1%). For comparison low scores on the reading scale in Hungary show 27,5% of the students, in Slovakia - 32,1,6%, in Romania – 38,7%, in Macedonia – 70,6 %.

- 42% of Bulgarian students show unsatisfactory results in mathematical literacy - almost twice as lower than the average (22,5%). The low scores on the scale in Hungary show 27,9% of the students, in Slovakia – 27,7%, in Romania - 39.9% and in Macedonia – 70,2 %.

Thus, the requirement of under 15% students with poor results in science, reading and mathematics among 15-years-old seems almost unattainable.


  • PISA results reveal that there is a strong link between the lack of skills in one area and the lack of skills in the other two areas. Bulgaria has the highest proportion of low-achievers in all three areas at the same time – 29,6%. Bulgarian students have problems in practical and analytical thinking rather than in knowledge of theory. This is the results of the teaching methodology in Bulgarian schools – it focuses on theoretical knowledge rather than on practical applications and analytical thinking. This model does not build key competences and functional literacy, which makes subsequent social and professional development even harder. Curriculum is full of useless facts and generalizations without students being able to make deductions themselves.
  • According to the World Bank the greatest inequality in educational opportunities and the largest social stratification is observed in Bulgaria. Meanwhile there are significant differences in quality of education between elite schools in regional centers and vocational schools in small towns. Educational system recreates the existing socio-economic differences, instead of contributing to more equal opportunities for access to education. The difference between low-achievers with low and high socio-economic status in Bulgaria is 42,1%, whereas in EU it is 26,2%.
  • The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) shows that a tendency of stable decrease in reading skills among students for 2001-2011 period, whereas there is a tendency of increase in Hungary and Slovakia.
  • The European Survey on Language Competences 2011 (ESLC) indicates low levels in both studied foreign languages. Only 35% of students have reached levels B1 and B2 for first foreign language and only 20% have reached these levels for second language. Also, one in every five students cannot even reach the lowest level A1.
  • One in four (26.8%) students aged 14 in Bulgaria has not developed civic competencies, as shown by the international research on civic education ICCS held in Bulgaria in 2009. For comparison the average index for the other surveyed countries is 15,7%.
  • Results from matriculation exams in Bulgaria (2009-2016) show a decreasing tendency in grades. School grades in high school are increasing according to a comparative analysis of MES. However, since the criteria for grades have been strongly lowered in some regions and in particular schools, serious actions have to be taken for objectifying the evaluation process.
  • Research in EU shows that Bulgarian students (together with Romanian) show the lowest level of ICT skills. Only 20% of Bulgarians acquired their ICT skills at school. Compared with other EU countries, Bulgaria has quite unfavorable material conditions - the number of desktop computers in schools is quite below the average in EU (1 computer for every 5 students) – there is 1 computer for every 11 students; in regard to laptop computer sthere is 1 for every 125 students, whereas in EU there is 1 for every 14 students. The other problem of ICT education is the relatively low training of the teaching staff. Independent research (2006) shows that students are theoretically prepared, rather than practically. This, however, is a worrying trend, given the nature of ICT practical skills are needed.
  • In the process of school informatization there is a number of serious problems such as: lack integrated processes management systems; lack of administrative work automation; significant lack of qualified IT professionals; lack of a system for continuous training of educational professionals; poor quantity, quality, compatibility and interconnection for online digital content to be used for conducting educational and scientific.



4.       Vocational education and training


  • The proportion of people who have acquired I, II, III, IV degree of professional qualifications in fields of Computer Science, Engineering, Manufacturing, Architecture and Construction has decreased by about 15% - from 63,1% (2001/2002) to 48.2% (2012/2013).
  • The number of trainees in professions with II, III and IV level of professional qualification has decreased. For 2000/2001 – 2015/2016 period the number of students has decreased by 56 073 and today the labor market, in particular employers, feel the consequences. According to a survey by the Agency for Small and Medium Enterprises conducted in 2016 about 82% of employers are experiencing serious difficulties in finding qualified professionals.
  • 18 364 students have dropped out of vocational education in only 3 years (2012-2014). The effectiveness of vocational education is low despite the invested funds - 36 in every 100 students do not acquire professional qualification (according to an Audit Court’ report)
  • The existing network of vocational schools and classes does not comply with the socio-economic specifics of the region. The annual plan for admission in state schools is carried out without researching the labor market needs. Also, no operating system tracks students’ professional development (according to an Audit Court’ report).
  • The list of professions for vocational education and training includes 47 professional fields with 239 professions and 570 specialties. There are 189 state educational requirements for acquiring qualification on professions. However, there are no educational standards for acquiring professional qualification in the rest of the professions and specialties (according to an Audit Court’ report).
  • There is no system for evaluating the quality of vocational education, thus, financing cannot be associated with education’s quality. There is a small number of trainings for teachers, which cannot improve the quality of education.



5.       Teaching staff


  • According to the international comparative study TALIS (2007) the teaching profession in Bulgaria is steadily becoming feminized - 82.7% of the teachers are women, whereas in EU they are 70%.
  • The average age of teachers in Bulgaria is constantly increasing. TALIS survey shows that 36.3% of teachers are over 50 years of age (25% in other countries) and only 6.9% - below 30 years of age (15% in other countries). Aging will lead to a sharp deficit of teachers in the following years. There is a financial aspect to the matter as well: about 63% of budgetary spending in education is spent for remuneration.
  • According to TALIS teachers in Bulgaria work in harder conditions than their counterparts in other countries. Over 44% of teachers in Bulgaria work in schools where the training materials are inadequate or inappropriate (34.2% average for other countries).



6.       Higher education


  • The accreditation system in Bulgaria does not provide accredited higher education. There is a framework of criteria for quality education in Bulgaria, however, more attention is paid to inputs rather than on results – the focus is mostly on quantitative indexes, rather than on qualitative ones.
  • Since 1889 until now the number of universities in Bulgaria has increased from 30 to 51. Nevertheless, the structure of higher education does not correspond to the needs of society. Some of the educational and scientific fields develop with dominance, such as economics and law: 31 universities out of 51 provide training in economics. The proportion of graduates in social sciences, business and law is 49% and it is one of the highest in the EU, while the share of graduates in natural sciences, mathematics and informatics, health and welfare is 5% below the average in EU.
  • Only a quarter of graduates work on positions which require higher education and nearly half of graduates who are employed work on positions which require lower level of education. According to data from the ranking system of universities in Bulgaria, the average percentage of workers whose position corresponds to their education is 47,2%.
  • Territorially, universities are concentrated in the Southwest region - 40% of universities are situated there. This raises risks of serious internal migration and depopulation of areas without adequate access to higher education.
  • None of the universities in Bulgaria qualifies for Ranking Web of Universities Top 100. Only SU "Sv. Sv. Kliment Ohridski" is included in the ranking "Top 1000" and it is on 681st place.
  •  There is a growing preference among young people (20%) to obtain higher education abroad. This trend is not a result of the government’s efforts and of a strategy for promoting international student mobility in both directions. The result is a loss of intelligence.
  • Incoming mobility in 2015 is significantly lower than the average in EU – for bachelor's degree is 3.4% and for master’s degree is 2.7%, whereas the average in EU are respectively 5.9% and 13.9%.
  • The limited funding in research in higher education affects negatively the quality of education. In EU Bulgaria ranks last with only 0,7% of GDP spent for funding science. Thus, education in Bulgaria cannot be based on research and achievements.



Confederation of the Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria BULGARIAN INDUSTRIAL ASSOCIATION Confederation of Labour „Podkrepa”