01 - Bulgaria - Historical overview
Higher education in Bulgaria originated in the late 19th century after the liberation of Bulgaria from
Ottoman rule. The first Bulgarian university was opened in Sofia. It started its activities with three
faculties: Law Faculty, Physics and Mathematics Faculty, and History and Philologies Faculty. The
higher education structure was established in the 1920’s and the 1930’s. The establishment of
university education (considered elite) marked the foundation of specialised higher education
institutions, whose task was to prepare qualified specialists for the new Bulgarian industry, which had
just appeared but which was developing really quickly. During this period, tertiary education in the
country was influenced both by the national idea concerning higher education and its role, by the
active relations of the academic circles with the intellectual elite of Central and Western Europe.
1920, the first private tertiary institution was established – the Balkan Middle East Institute on political
sciences, which was transformed into Open University for political and business sciences. Higher
education institutions of that period do not have only an educational mission, but they are also play a
key role in transforming Bulgaria from an underdeveloped agrarian country into a modern European
one. The structure of the higher education system was thoroughly changed after WWII. In 1947, a
Higher Education Act was passed, abolishing the traditional principles of academic independence and
self-governing as a result of which the system was completely unified. Universities mission was one of
creating the work force which was to turn Bulgaria into an industrialised country as well as of providing
specialists who would contribute to the centrally planned economy and the development of the
As a result, there appeared two processes governing the higher education system: 1.
institutional specialisation and differentiation, which led to a considerable increase in the number of
the specialised higher education schools (the majority of them – related to engineering and pedagogy)
and 2. strongly ideologised content of education and international isolation.
Research and development activities were mainly carried out by the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, which concentrated the scientific resource and potential related to scientific development. After the abolition
of the totalitarian regime at the end of 1989, a transformation process started changing the higher
education system in line with the political, social and economic processes in the country. The first five
years of this transition period were chracterised by a lack of purposefulness of the changes. The
system was governed according to the Academic Autonomy of Higher Education Institutions Act
(1990). This law made it possible for some students to obtain tertiary education against paying a
certain fee. Consequently, the number of university students increased twice in five years, while the
system was not prepared to react adequately and provide quality under these circumstances and this
led to some negative reactions on part of the public. In turn, it led to the adoption of a new law –
Higher Education Act which banned paid-for tertiary education and combined the principles of
academic independence with those of greater accountability and transparency of results, changed the
one-level structure for a multi-level one, created a National Evaluation and Accreditation Agency and
Eurybase – Bulgaria (2006/07)
started private higher education, putting state and private higher education institutions under equal
conditions as regards the procedures for opening an institution, quality standards, evaluation and
accountability before the state.
The diplomas issued by both private and state institutions are equally
valuable in academic spheres and on the labour market.
Bulgaria’s participation in the Bologna process accelerated the otherwise historically created
tendencies and led to quick legal and practical changes making the system close to European
standards and models.
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