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.

In 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 socialist society.

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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Date: 2009
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