Bulgarian reforms aim to smooth path to Europe

August 13, 1999

Bulgarian universities are to switch to a four-year first degree with a masters degree awarded after a fifth year of study.

This replaces a five-year course ending with a diploma. The government is also introducing fees of an average 45 levs (Pounds 16) per semester. This compares with average monthly salaries of 200 levs.

Higher fees have been set for farming and agricultural subjects, as well as for health and medical studies. The most expensive courses will be arts, set at 150 levs annually. The fees include administrative costs as well as tuition.

The practice of providing state scholarships according to grades will be phased out. Under that system, any sudden under-performance and drop in grades could lead to cancellation of their support. Lecturers had to consider the impact of a drop of a grade not only on a student's academic record but on their finances.

Ministers hope the reform will bring Bulgaria more in line with its European neighbours as the country embarks on preparations to apply for entry to the European Union. Another less articulated expectation may be to stem the flow of students to other countries, where education is seen as more modern and worthwhile, particularly for postgraduates.

Reform was put on the agenda after the overthrow of communism, but was put on hold because of economic and political crises.

Other changes include the extension of compulsory education from 11 to 12 years. University entrance will now require that students pass examinations in three main areas: Bulgarian language and literature, the new subject of civic education, and the speciality of their secondary schooling if applicable, such as a foreign language or mathematics.

The universities' own entrance tests may be left intact in the interim period, though they have recently come under scrutiny.

Dimitar Pavlov, vice-chancellor of Sofia University, who has special responsibility for educational matters, is one of those who has publicly voiced his concerns about the old system of entrance examinations. He said that they were inefficient and the candidates' success was more a matter of chance rather than real knowledge of the subjects examined.

He proposed a more "humanitarian" system that took account of candidates' school matriculation exams.

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