According to 2011 census, literacy in Serbia stands at 98% of population while computer literacy is at 49% (complete computer literacy is at 34.2%). Same census showed the following levels of education: 16.2% of inhabitants have higher education (10.6% have bachelors or master’s degrees, 5.6% have an associate degree), 49% have a secondary education, 20.7% have an elementary education, and 13.7% have not completed elementary education.
Education in Serbia is regulated by the Ministry of Education and Science. Education starts in either preschools or elementary schools. Children enrol in elementary schools at the age of seven. Compulsory education consists of eight grades of elementary school. Students have the opportunity to attend high schools and vocational schools for another four years, or to enrol in vocational training for 2 to 3 years. Following the completion of high schools or vocational schools, students have the opportunity to attend university. Elementary and secondary education are also available in languages of recognised minorities in Serbia, where classes are held in Hungarian, Slovak, Albanian, Romanian, Rusyn, Bulgarian as well as Bosnian and Croatian languages. Petnica Science Centre is a notable institution for extracurricular science education focusing on gifted students.
There are 19 universities in Serbia (nine public universities with a total number of 86 faculties and ten private universities with 51 faculties). In 2018/2019 academic year, 210,480 students attended 19 universities (181,310 at public universities and some 29,170 at private universities) while 47,169 attended 81 “higher schools”. Public universities in Serbia are: the University of Belgrade (oldest, founded in 1808, and largest university with 97,696 undergraduates and graduates), University of Novi Sad (founded in 1960 and with student body of 42,489), University of Nis (founded in 1965; 20,559 students), University of Kragujevac (founded in 1976; 14,053 students), University of Pristina (located in North Mitrovica), Public University of Novi Pazar as well as three specialist universities – University of Arts, University of Defence and University of Criminal Investigation and Police Studies. Largest private universities include Megatrend University and Singidunum University, both in Belgrade, and Educons University in Novi Sad. The University of Belgrade (placed in 301–400 bracket on 2013 Shanghai Ranking of World Universities, being best-placed university in Southeast Europe after those in Athens and Thessaloniki) and University of Novi Sad are generally considered as the best institutions of higher learning in the country.
The beginnings of education in Serbia date from 11th and 12th century with the establishment of schools at Roman Catholic monasteries in Titel and Bac in today’s Vojvodina, which was then part of the Kingdom of Hungary. People were also educated in Serbian Orthodox monasteries like Sopocani, Studenica and Patriarchate of Pec.
After the fall of medieval Serbian state, among newly established schools were Slavic and Latin schools. In 1778, Serbian primary school Norma was established in Sombor. In 1791, Gymnasium of Karlovci, the oldest Serbian high school, was established.
During the First Serbian Uprising, Belgrade Higher School was established in 1808. In 1838, in Kragujevac, Liceum of Serbian Principality was established. It was moved to Belgrade in 1841. In 1863, it merged into the Belgrade Higher School. It had 3 faculties: philosophy, engineering and law. Later, it became the University of Belgrade.
University of Belgrade was established in 1905. After World War II, more universities were established, including University of Novi Sad (1960), University of Nis (1965), University of Pristina (1969), University of Montenegro (1974) and University of Kragujevac (1976). In 2006, the State University of Novi Pazar was established.
Serbia spent 0.9% of GDP on scientific research in 2017, which is slightly below the European average. Since 2018, Serbia is a full member of CERN. Serbia has a long history of excellence in maths and computer sciences which has created a strong pool of engineering talent, although economic sanctions during the 1990s and chronic underinvestment in research forced many scientific professionals to leave the country. Nevertheless, there are several areas in which Serbia still excels such as growing information technology sector, which includes software development as well as outsourcing. It generated over $1.2 billion in exports in 2018, both from international investors and a significant number of dynamic home-grown enterprises. Serbia is one of the countries with the highest proportion of women in science. Among the scientific institutes operating in Serbia, the largest are the Mihajlo Pupin Institute and Vinca Nuclear Institute, both in Belgrade. The Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts is a learned society promoting science and arts from its inception in 1841. With a strong science and technological ecosystem, Serbia has produced a number of renowned scientists that have greatly contributed to the field of science and technology.
As of school year 2006–2007, preschool in duration of 6 months is compulsory and it is the first part of compulsory education. Attended at the age of 5 or 6 in the local kindergarten, it familiarizes students with the educational system.
Preschool education is attended from the beginning of the year (in the same year when the 1st grade starts). It lasts for at least 4 hours a day for at least 6 months. After it, students have to pass an exam of ability in order to attend primary school.
Children enrol in primary schools at the age of seven (usually, all students in a class were born in the same year). However, it is possible for students to enrol at the primary school one year earlier if they were born before March.
The elementary school is divided into two stages:
Lower grades (grades 1-4)
Higher grades (grades 5-8)
In the lower grades, students are sorted into classes randomly and have only one teacher and classroom for all subjects, except for English, P.E. and, civics and religion. Students in the lower grades study the following subjects (as of school year 2005–2006, it is compulsory to learn English language from the 1st grade):
The teacher that teaches lower grade primary school students has only one class of students assigned to them and remains with the class for 4 years.
In the higher grades, students get a whole new range of teachers and classrooms for each subject. Teachers don’t change over the years; they remain the same for the next four years. In the 5th grade, each class is assigned The Head Teacher, who is responsible for students in the particular class.
When students graduate from the primary school, they choose whether they want to continue their education or not. National Strategy for Education plans to make secondary education compulsory by 2020. The Minister of Education said that even though strategy would be implemented in the future, it required constitutional changes.
The school year for primary and high schools lasts for 9½ months, except for 8th grade of primary and 3rd/4th grade of secondary school, for which it lasts 9 months. It begins on the first Monday of September, and ends in the half of June (June 15 ±5 days). For 8th grade of primary and 3rd/4th grade of secondary school, it ends in the beginning of June (about one week earlier than for others).
The school year is split into 2 semesters, and semesters are split into 2 quarters.
Students have 6 holidays a school year: one in November (quarter holiday, lasts for 2 days), one in January (New Year/Orthodox Christmas, lasts for about 10 days), two in February (Serbia National Day, lasts for 2 days; semester holiday, lasts for about 15 days), one in April (Orthodox Easter/quarter holiday, lasts for about 10 days) and one in May (International Workers’ Day, lasts for 2 days).
Between school years, in summer, there is summer holiday which last for 2½ months (3 months for those proceeding to high school or university. So, students have about 85 working days in the first semester and 95 in the second semester; 180 in total).
Secondary schools are divided into three types – high schools, professional and craft schools. After graduating from the primary school, students take a test called matura (lat. maturare). The test covers subjects that were taught in primary school. They are awarded the maximum of 40 points at the test. They also get points from their average marks from 5th to 8th grade, and the maximum is 60 points. Both the points from matura and from average marks are totalized into the maximum of 100 points. Then, students make a list of their preferred schools and courses, and are sorted according to how many points they had gained – every secondary school has a limited number of students it takes. After students make lists for preferred schools, they get into the first school that suits them according to the points. If they fail to get into any of the schools they had listed (ex. if they don’t have enough points, but they had chosen very competitive schools), they make another list for the Second Enrolment Deadline.
There are secondary schools that don’t require the classical point system for entrance. Various music, science, philology and ballet schools sort students out based on their talent and skill, rather than their previous academic performance.
High schools take four years to complete and offer general and broad education, awarding students a High school diploma. Students are advised to continue their education after graduation as it is very hard to find a job with a high school diploma. There are also four types of special high schools: The High school of Mathematics, The High school of Physics, The High school of Computer Science and The High school of Philology. There are plans for an integrated entrance exam for higher education, as well as unified scoring systems for entrance exams, even for special high schools.
High schools have its courses, and the most common ones are the General Course, Science-Mathematics Course, Humanities-Linguistics Course, Information Technology Course and the Bilingual Course. Students can only choose one course (they do it when they write their wish list for preferred schools and courses) and they usually don’t change it until they graduate. Every course has the same number and list of classes, but the difference is in their schedules (for example, the Humanities-Linguistic Course might have English classes five times a week, while the Science-Mathematics Course offers two English classes a week).
Professional schools specialize students in a particular field and awards them with a First Professional Degree. It also takes four years to complete. Some examples of such schools are Economy School, Medical School, Chemistry School, Technical School, Graphics School, etc.
Professional schools also have courses. Usually, they teach 10-14 general subjects (Serbian, mathematics, geography, biology, history, foreign language etc.), a few professional subjects that are different for almost every course (hygiene in a nurse-technician course at medical schools, for example) and a compulsory block of practice classes.
There are two types of professional school courses: four-year courses and three-year courses. Three-year courses are crafts and if a student that has a craft diploma wants to attend a university, they must enrol in the fourth year of a four-year course inordinately.
Also, after graduating from professional schools, students are given particular ranks. If their school course was “Law”, then their rank is the Law Technician. Only four-year courses give ranks.
The grading system is numeric and is present in this form through elementary school and high school. Grades from 1 (the lowest and failing grade) to 5 (the best grade) are used for primary and high schools:
Insufficient (1) corresponds to American F
Sufficient (2) corresponds to American D and C
Good (3) corresponds to American C and B grades
Very good (4) corresponds to American B+ and A- grades
Excellent (5) corresponds to American A and A+ grades
Higher schools and universities use grades from 5 to 10. All students have to acquire at least 6 (the lowest passing grade). Grades for the 1st grade of primary school are ‘descriptive’ (teacher writes down the impressions about the particular student and particular subjects).
The school year starts on October 1st and ends on May 31st and it is split into two semesters. There are six regular exam blocks every school year and several irregular ones which are different for every college or university.
Tertiary level institutions accept students based on their grades in high school and entrance exams results.
College or “Higher School” lasts for 3 years. In Serbia, it corresponds to professional universities. After graduating from college, students get a bachelor’s degree in Applied Sciences or an equivalent diploma.
Faculties of universities and art academies last for 4 years until baccalaureate, 5 years until magistracy and 8 years until doctorate. Only exception are the Medical schools, lasting for 6 years until Doctor of Medicine.
Serbia has 17 universities, of which 8 are public and 9 are private, 63 colleges of applied sciences, of which 47 are public and 17 are private, and 8 colleges of academic studies, of which 3 are public and 5 are private.
Serbian citizens can study at public universities for free, while tuition is low for foreign students. Tuition costs at private schools vary.
Postgraduate education was made of further specialization and doctorate during the times of Socialist Yugoslavia. However, the Bologna Process (which Serbia signed in 2003) abolished the quaternary education and incorporated it into the tertiary education. Specialization today is non-academic and considered as improvement in different parts of the profession (seminars, researches, etc.), and doctorate is considered as the third part of the bachelor-master-doctor continuum present in the tertiary educational system.
Special education includes: education of disabled, bilingual education, full-day classes and adult education. It is implemented only for primary and secondary education.
Education of disabled is handled both in ordinary schools and special schools.
As of school year 2009–2010, higher grade primary school students and high school students can be organized into special classes, which are based on bilingual education. Children are taught on Serbian and either English, French or Italian.
As of school year 2009–2010, full-day classes are held. They are designed for children with busy parents. They are organized only for lower grades of primary schools. Children have morning classes, afternoon classes and breaks for play, homework, lunch etc. They have separate teachers for separate shifts. This gives students possibility to be in school for the longest part of the day with their classmates and do all the homework and other school obligations at school.
Full-day classes are the extension of already present “extended stay”, which allows students to stay at school after the morning shift (typically ending at noon) until their parents come home from work (typically 3-5 pm). Schools offering full-day classes also offer “extended stay”.
As of school year 2011–2012, adult education was launched under the name Druga sansa (Second chance). Its purpose is to educate people who didn’t graduate primary or high school or both, so they could have better chances of getting a work. Most people attending adult education are minors who missed their chance to enrol in primary schools (most of them being of Roma descent)