The European Union is the biggest partner of the Republic of Serbia in the process of modernisation of the education system. Since 2003, the European Union donated about EUR100 million for the reform of education at all levels, with the goal to strengthen the role of education as the foundation for social and economic development. From pre-school and primary education, to secondary vocational and adult education—the EU is the most important partner of Serbia when it comes to introduction of new standards, development of curricula, professional training of teachers, and procurement of new equipment for schools.
The goal of EU's assistance in the education sector is to support the reform of education and assist in harmonisation of standards, policies, and practices with EU Member States by building the capacity of both educational institutions and professionals, aligning education with labour market needs through development of a qualifications system, introducing innovative and inclusive teaching practices, and equipping schools with modern teaching aids. Education is considered the foundation for job creation, promotion of economic growth, development of individuals and society as a whole, strengthening of social cohesion, as well as the foundation for the forging of European identity, with respect to cultural and linguistic differences.
Serbia is committed to the process of modernisation of education in line with European and global trends. Contemporary learning process, based on the needs of economy and with respect for individual differences and needs of students, is one of the priorities of EU’s support for Serbia. Thus far, over 40,000 professionals in education have acquired new skills and knowledge via professional training. When it comes to secondary education, 175 vocational schools went through the process of modernisation and the development of curricula for new educational profiles designed in line with labour market needs. The work of high schools was also improved and modernised, especially when it comes to vocational schools in the areas of agriculture, food production and processing, medicine, mechanical engineering, construction, geodesy and electrical engineering, wood processing, tourism and hospitality, etc. As a result, curricula in over 40% of vocational high schools were updated.
EU support is also directed toward the harmonisation of the national education system with education systems in Europe. With EU’s support, the development of National Qualifications Framework in Serbia will ensure a modern, relevant, and flexible education system in line with the European qualifications framework. Harmonised evaluation of an individual’s knowledge and skills will contribute to greater employability in both domestic and international labour markets.
The European Union supports Serbia in its efforts to introduce the system of exit and state graduation exams in secondary education starting from 2022. The introduction of a standardised exam at the national level will increase the quality of education by providing feedback about the quality of secondary education and helping to steer future investments. Also, it will make the education system fairer by creating equal opportunities for impartial evaluation of students’ knowledge and competences, as well as a more equal access to faculties and continuation of academic career.
The European Union invests in education infrastructure and equipment procurement, without which the modernisation of education wouldn’t be possible. Over 300 primary and secondary schools were renovated, furnished, and modernised using EU funds. Toys, furniture, and teaching aids were procured for a number of pre-school institutions. When it comes to higher education, modern equipment was procured for as many as 27 faculties and research centres, increasing the quality of education. At the same time, equipment was procured for a number of laboratories, too. Tens of thousands of young researchers now work using state-of-the-art teaching and research equipment. Agricultural schools received equipment worth EUR2.8 million that will help pupils acquire practical knowledge and skills and prepare for either labour market or further education.
Thanks to a swift and efficient response from the EU to the catastrophic floods in May 2014, 15 schools were renovated, one primary school was built from the ground up, 20 schools were furnished, while modern equipment for practical training was procured for a number of secondary vocational schools. As a result, the 2014/2015 school year started on time as the EU contributed to bringing the life in 38 municipalities in Serbia back to normal.
In an effort to contribute to making quality education available for all children, the European Union enabled the hiring of over 250 teaching assistants trained specifically for work with children who need additional educational support. Also, over 1,000 high school Roma students were awarded scholarships and their living conditions were improved so that they continue to attend education.
Given that education strongly influences personality development, the EU supports projects aimed at stimulating analytical and critical thinking in pupils, fostering democratic culture, antidiscrimination, etc. Project “Quality Education for All” supported over 60 schools in Serbia to develop and implement action plans and efficient strategies for practical work with pupils, colleagues, parents, and members of the local community. Thanks to this innovation, classes became more engaging, while both students and teachers became more motivated. The schools work together with the local community on different projects, giving pupils a chance to apply those skills and improve their entire community. Meanwhile, the capacity of teachers is boosted thanks to a range of digital and creativity skills, as well as social skills.
The European Union supports the education system in facing the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. It donated nearly 2 million EUR to help the education system adapt to the needs of distance learning, enabling every child to have access to education. Through a further increase of the technical capacity of distance learning platforms and by supporting the broadening of their content, the project will also support setting up of school libraries in 30 schools with a considerable number of Roma and other socially vulnerable children who are hit the hardest by the ongoing state of emergency.
Since 2019, Serbia takes part in the largest European education programme—Erasmus+. Thanks to EU support, students and teaching staff from Serbia participate in exchange and training programmes on an equal footing with their peers from the EU at all levels of education. Students’ achievements during their stay abroad are recognised at home as part of their regular study programmes. So far, over 10,000 students and teachers from Serbia were given an opportunity to study and train in European universities. In parallel, institutions from Serbia have attracted over 4,300 students and teachers from Europe. From the beginning of the programme, Serbia has been the leader in the region when it comes the number of approved projects and participants in mobility projects, as well as the level of funding.
Serbia has access to different financial mechanisms of the Union. The European Investment Bank (EIB), being an EU bank and a strategic partner of the Government of the Republic of Serbia, has supported the education sector reform in Serbia since 2004. Investments in education have thus far reached over EUR275 million in the form of long-term loans supporting construction and reconstruction, modernisation, and digitisation of 160 primary and secondary schools across Serbia. Thanks to EIB’s investments in education in Serbia, over 100,000 children were given access to IT equipment, thanks to which they will find jobs in the most competent industries in the future.
EU and education
The European Union supports Member States to offer the best education to their citizens. By pursuing a common goal—making Europe a space of knowledge, mobility and exchange, lifelong learning, quality, relevant, and efficient education—the Union enables its Member States to exchange ideas and learn from each other. Also, the European Union makes sure that multilingualism, creativity, entrepreneurship, fairness, and social cohesion are at the heart of education policy in Europe.