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Europe enlargedA handbook of education, labour and welfare regimes in Central and Eastern Europe$

Irena Kogan, Michael Gebel, and Clemens Noelke

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9781847420640

Published to University Press Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.1332/policypress/9781847420640.001.0001

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Education systems of Central and Eastern European countries

Education systems of Central and Eastern European countries

Chapter:
(p.6) (p.7) One Education systems of Central and Eastern European countries
Source:
Europe enlarged
Author(s):

Kogan Irena

Publisher:
Policy Press
DOI:10.1332/policypress/9781847420640.003.0002

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter discusses the vertical dimension of the education system, the different levels of education attainment distinguished within the education system, as well as the central dimensions of differentiation within levels, drawing on a set of theoretically derived, comparable indicators. It describes the stratification of the education system at the secondary level in terms of the extent to which the school population is sorted early in the school career into tracks of different curricula and different scholastic demands with different opportunities and barriers for progression up the education ladder. It also discusses the differentiation between general and vocational tracks, the organisation of vocational training as well as the degree of standardisation and quality differentiation at the secondary level. At the tertiary level, the focus is on the field-of-study differentiation, institutional segmentation, standardisation and quality differentiation of university education, as well as its openness for various strata of a country's population.

Keywords:   education system stratification, tertiary education, CEE countries, vocational training, institutional segmentation

Education is a crucial determinant of individual life chances and the main predictor of young people's labour market outcomes. The individual endowment of education resources is certainly shaped by the institutional structure of education and training systems. The aim of this chapter is to discuss the main contours of the education systems in Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries and to shed light on the options offered within countries’ education systems that might have an impact on labour market entry chances.

An education system has many dimensions and can be characterised by a great number of different indicators. This chapter deliberately focuses on those that are relevant to the job allocation process. It starts with the description of the vertical dimension of the education system and examines the distribution of various age cohorts among different levels of education attainment. Then, the structure of the basic level of education in CEE countries is discussed. At the secondary level of education stratification and track differentiation are the main focus. The present arrangements at the upper-secondary level are considered and compared with those existing before the transition period. Meaningful indicators on enrolment in general, and for technical and vocational tracks are presented. This is followed by an explanation of the organisation of vocational training. At the tertiary level the focus is on the field-of-study differentiation, standardisation, quality differentiation and openness of higher education. The chapter provides comparable indicators for all of the above-mentioned dimensions for the 10 CEE countries and, where possible, complements it with the temporary variation (e.g. the development of institutions over time).

Cohort succession and education attainment

The dramatic growth in education participation and changes in the education and training systems may be studied through the comparison of various birth cohorts. So we start with an analysis of education expansion in CEE countries by looking at the education attainment of successive age cohorts in 2002. (p.8) Figure 1.1 shows the proportions of cohort members with only lower-secondary education or less, which corresponds to the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) 0–2 (for more on ISCED and its problems for comparative research see Schneider and Kogan, 2008). Figure 1.2 presents the proportion with upper-secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education (ISCED 3–4). Finally in Figure 1.3 one can find the proportion of individuals with tertiary education (ISCED 5–6) by age cohort. In each figure four age cohorts are shown. The oldest cohort was born just before, during or just after the Second World War and was in compulsory education during the economically difficult early post-war years. The second cohort was in compulsory education at the end of the 1950s and in the 1960s. The second youngest cohort entered schooling from the late 1970s until the perestroika period. The youngest cohort was in the education system roughly during the period when political reforms and the transition to the market economy started.

Education systems of Central and Eastern European countries

Figure 1.1:Percentage with lower-secondary education or less (ISCED 0–2) by cohort, 2002

Source: Eurostat (2003)

For all countries, we find a dramatic decline in the proportions of the lower-educated (see Figure 1.1). In the Czech Republic, Estonia and to some degree also in Slovakia, the proportion of individuals with basic education is quite low already for the cohort of children born just before, during or just after the Second World War. Romania, Hungary and Bulgaria, on the other hand, (p.9) boast markedly high shares of the least educated in this cohort. The education policies of the communist regimes strongly fostered education beyond the elementary level. The effect of these policies is particularly evident in the first post-war cohort, for which the figures indicate a very substantial decline in the proportion of the lower-educated. This decline is particularly pronounced in Lithuania, Hungary and Romania. In the Czech Republic and Slovenia it is, on the other hand, less evident. Education expansion also affected the last socialist cohort, above all in the Baltic countries, but is less manifest for the first transition cohort. Furthermore, in the Baltic countries a larger proportion of the youngest cohort are found among the lower-educated than was the case among the last socialist cohort. In Bulgaria these proportions are roughly equal.

Education systems of Central and Eastern European countries

Figure 1.2:Percentage with upper-secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary education (ISCED 3–4) by cohort, 2002

Source: Eurostat (2003)

The particularly low share of the lower-educated in the Czech Republic is achieved due to the extremely high rates of upper-secondary education attainment. This is evident from Figure 1.2, which depicts the proportion of individuals with upper-secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education by cohort. In Slovakia and Slovenia more than 50% of the population possessed upper-secondary education in the Second World War cohort. (p.10) Education expansion at the upper-secondary level was very impressive, particularly in Hungary, Romania, Poland, Bulgaria and Lithuania, where the proportion of individuals with full secondary education in the first post- Second World War cohort increased by about 15% compared to the earlier cohort. As in the earlier analyses, here we also see that the proportion of individuals with upper-secondary education for the transformation cohort is not higher than for the last socialist cohort in Estonia. It is even lower in Latvia, Bulgaria and Poland.

Overall in CEE countries, the communist regimes often pushed for polytechnic qualifications at the upper-secondary level, but did not invest in university or other types of tertiary education. That is why, except for Lithuania and perhaps Poland, Slovenia, Latvia and Bulgaria we hardly see any substantial growth in the proportion of tertiary educated. Surprisingly there was very little expansion at the tertiary level during the early transition period. Moreover, in some countries, such as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the proportion of those educated at the tertiary level is even lower or at least equal among the most recent cohort as compared to their predecessors.

Education systems of Central and Eastern European countries

Figure 1.3:Percentage with tertiary education (ISCED 5–6) by cohort, 2002

Source: Eurostat (2003)

(p.11) The lack of obvious education expansion, once we look at the proportion of individuals who have attained tertiary education qualifications, may have various reasons. The youngest cohort, who reached the age to enter tertiary education immediately after the start of the reforms, was either not prepared for academic studies, did not have the means for such education in the turbulent transformation years, or the tertiary education system was not yet able to offer more places for students in these years. It might well be that the increase in tertiary education participation, which is discussed further below, has not yet resulted in higher levels of tertiary education attainment, which is depicted in Figure 1.3, as the truly post-transformation cohort is not found there.

After establishing these general patterns of education attainment in the cohort analyses, let us continue with a description of the education landscape in CEE countries after 1990. In particular, this chapter will now focus on the three major levels of education systems already shown in the figures above: primary and lower-secondary education (or the basic level of education), (upper)-secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education and tertiary education.

Basic level of education

During the communist period, most of the CEE countries followed the Soviet model of a single and uniform school covering the whole period of compulsory education, comprising primary and lower-secondary education (Cerych, 1997). Unlike the Scandinavian model, although quite similar in structure, basic schools of Soviet origin were very uniform and quite rigid, as a result of extreme centralisation and ideological control (Kotásek, 1996). After 1990, the basic level of education covering the whole compulsory period was largely maintained. Nowadays there is no clear boundary between primary and lower-secondary education in the majority of CEE counties, as there is only one school type with quite a heterogeneous pupil population in terms of their ability and motivation, continuing more or less until the end of compulsory schooling. In some countries (e.g. Poland) a distinction between primary and lower-secondary schools seems to be somewhat more pronounced, since after primary education pupils are transferred into a different school of lower-secondary education. This has, however, no separate tracks and teaches all students practically the same curriculum. In some countries (e.g. Romania) there exist parallel systems of schools offering compulsory education in a single institution and others where basic and lower-secondary education is provided in different schools. In another group of countries, including the Czech and Slovak Republics and Hungary, the transition from primary and secondary education is also the point at which (p.12) some pupils can select a qualitatively different type of secondary school, the gymnasium, which clearly diverges in its curriculum and ability requirements. Institutional disintegration at the lower-secondary level is a markedly new phenomenon in the above-mentioned countries, as well as Russia, Belarus and Croatia. In these countries, following competitive examinations, pupils could enter new multi-year secondary schools (a gymnasium or lyceum) with a strong academic orientation. This trend towards elite-type education represents a revival of pre-communist patterns, similar to the model of German-speaking countries (Kotásek, 1996; Cerych, 1997). But even in the countries that inherited the Austrian-Hungarian education tradition, only a minority of pupils (as many as 10% in the Czech Republic and Hungary) are selected to follow a separate track early, whereas the majority continue in a uniform-type school.

Education systems of Central and Eastern European countries

Figure 1.4:Percentage of people aged 18–24 not in education with only lower-secondary education in 2002

Source: Eurostat (2003)

Normally pupils proceed to (upper)-secondary education after basic schooling. Some pupils leave schooling at this level. These early school leavers are individuals who are bound to experience particular difficulties when trying to enter into employment, since they often lack the basic skills, be they general or vocational, to find skilled employment. Interestingly enough, the proportion of early school leavers in the majority of CEE countries is lower than the EU15 average (see Figure 1.4). Only in Bulgaria and Romania do more than 20% of young people leave education at the (p.13) lower-secondary level. Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland, on the other hand, rank among the countries with the lowest incidence of low qualification, with less than 6.5% of school leavers possessing only lower-secondary education.

Secondary level of education

The secondary stage of education serves several aims. On the one hand, it selects and prepares students for higher education. On the other hand, it has to prepare some students for the jobs in the labour market that usually do not require higher education. All CEE countries offer these two options in their institutional arrangements, but with different levels of involvement of young people and different degrees of success.

Earlier research has singled out the following dimensions in the set-up of education systems at the secondary level as being relevant to further education attainment and the outcomes of the education–job allocation process: (1) the stratification of education systems or the extent to which the pupils are sorted early on in their school careers into tracks of different curricula, with different scholastic demands, and with different opportunities and barriers for progression up to the high end of the education ladder (Allmendinger, 1989); (2) the relative advantages of systems organised to provide largely general education versus those equipping school leavers with vocational skills (Allmendinger, 1989; Kerckhoff, 1996, 2000; Shavit and Müller 1998, 2000a); (3) the form of organisation of vocational training, either based in schools or as a combination of training and working (Allmendinger, 1989; Shavit and Müller, 1998, 2000a; Kerckhoff, 2000; Ryan 2001); and (4) the degree of standardisation of education provisions, i.e., the degree to which the quality of education meets the same standards nation-wide (Allmendinger, 1989).1

Stratification and school track differentiation

At the secondary level all education systems split up the student population in segments that follow different tracks or courses of study. This is necessary because students have both different abilities and career preferences. Research shows that the earlier students are assigned to different tracks, the more likely they will end up with different kinds and levels of knowledge, competences and qualifications (Baumert et al, 2007). One advantage of such segmentation is that teaching and learning in groups of homogeneous ability and school performance is more effective. On the other hand, these apparent advantages can be counterbalanced by the negative consequences of stigmatisation that students in low-achievement tracks endure. This is particularly true, since pupils from lower-class and minority families are (p.14) overrepresented in low-achievement tracks, which contributes overall to the persistence of educational inequality (Erikson and Jonsson, 1996).

As described above, the first serious education decision, the selection of a gymnasium, is taken in Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia at the ages of 10–11 (see Table 1.1). Two years later, pupils are also faced with a similar decision to transfer to a shorter-duration gymnasium. Early selection is to some degree associated with a larger number of options or programmes at the secondary level, which is evident from the last column of Table 1.1. Interestingly enough, early tracking and an increase in the options available at the secondary level was reintroduced in these countries in the framework of the post-socialist reforms, and makes these countries similar to the other countries of Central Europe (Germany, Switzerland, Lichtenstein and Austria).

Table 1.1: Age of selection in secondary schools and the number of programmes at the secondary level

Gymnasium

General vs. vocational

Earliest age of selection

Number of programmes

Bulgaria

14

14

3

Czech Republic

11,13

15

11

5

Estonia

15

15

3

Hungary

10,12

14

10

4

Latvia

14–16

14

3–5

Lithuania

14

14

3

Poland

15

15

3

Romania

14–15

14

3

Slovakia

10,12

15

10

5

Slovenia

15

15

5

Source: This information is based on country-specific chapters

Unlike in their German-speaking neighbours, pupils in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia who do not select or are not selected by gymnasia can continue in a single-structure school, which formally offers similar prospects for tertiary education as gymnasia. In reality, however, graduates of selective gymnasia have higher transition rates to tertiary education and are, on average, better equipped with the skills and knowledge to succeed there, as the two types of schools clearly differ in the quality of education (see country-specific chapters for details). Kotásek (1996) mentions, for example, that in the Czech Republic the basic school ceases to be comprehensive and instead gradually turns into something similar to the German Hauptschule, (p.15) with all the consequences that this involves for pupils, curricula and the social and pedagogical climate.

A further education decision with serious implications for education careers is taken in CEE countries at the ages of 14–16. At this point, pupils and their families decide whether to proceed in the general academic or technological tracks, or to switch to vocational education. The latter option is considered to be a second choice and is associated with students of a lower level of academic achievement with more limited labour market prospects (Arum und Shavit, 1995; Shavit and Müller, 2000b).

General versus vocational education

During the socialist era, the school structure and curricula at the upper-secondary level were divided between general and various vocational tracks (Titma and Saar, 1995; Saar, 1997). The curricula of vocational programmes were narrowly defined, focusing closely on the specific occupations for which young people were trained. Vocational education was provided in accordance with scrupulously calculated manpower planning and, in a way, emulated the pattern of overspecialisation found in the economy as a whole (Roberts, 1998; Strietska-Ilina, 2001; Matějů and Simonová, 2003). Students’ choices for education and training programmes were restricted to well-specified training places, provided by state enterprises. Except for the former Yugoslavia, the transition from school to work was smooth, as young people were often assigned to their first workplace, which was supported by employers and secured for all school leavers, virtually irrespective of their level of education.

All CEE countries now provide a mix of tracks in their education systems, with more general and more vocational orientation (see Table 1.2 for an overview). In fact, practically all CEE countries have maintained a tripartite system of upper-secondary education, which existed both during the communist and earlier periods: general secondary schools, technical secondary schools and vocational schools, including apprenticeship programmes (Kotásek, 1996;Koucký, 1996; Cerych, 1997)2.

The general tracks have, as a rule, been academically more demanding and have as their main goal the preparation of students for subsequent entry into higher tertiary education. In Central European countries general tracks preserved their traditional name of gymnasium or lyceum. In the Baltic countries and Bulgaria these schools were set up as a part of the ‘full secondary schools’ and offered only a two-year superstructure on top of compulsory schooling (Kotásek, 1996).

(p.16) (p.17)

Table 1.2:Upper-secondary schools in CEE countries

Secondary general

Secondary technical

Secondary vocational

1

2

3

1

2

3

1

2

3

PL

General lyceum

4

M

Secondary technical

4/5

T+M

Basic vocational + follow-up course

2/3 3

SW M

Technical lyceum

4

M

Post-secondary technical

M+2/3

HT

Vocational lyceum

4

SW + M

HU

Gymnasium

4/5 (8/6)

M M

Sec. tech. type A

5

M + T

Vocational

31/2

SW -SW

Sec. tech. type B

4

SW + T

Sec. tech. type C

4

M + T

CZ

Gymnasium

4/5

M

Secondary

4/5

T + M

Sec. vocational

2/3

SW

(8/7/6)

M

technical

2/3

-T

+ follow-up course

2

M

Technical/

4

M

Post-secondary

M+3/4

HT

Sec. vocational

4

SW + M

Commercial

technical

integrated

4/5

SW + M

lyceum

SW + T

SK

Gymnasium

4/5

M

Secondary

4/5

T + M

Sec. vocational

2/3

SW

(8)

M

technical

2/3

-T

+ follow-up course

2

M

Sec. vocational

4

SW + M

Vocational

1

-SW

SI

Gymnasium

4

M

Secondary

4/5

T+M

Sec. vocational

2/3

technical

+ follow-up course

2

M

RO

Lycée

4/5

M

Secondary

4

T + M

Sec. vocational

2/3

SW

technical

foremen training

2

T

BG

Complete general

4

M

Secondary

4

T + M

Sec. vocational

1/2/3

SW

sec. (grades 9–12)

technical

LT

Complete general

3

M

Post-secondary

HT

Sec. vocational

3

SW

sec. (grades 10–12)

colleges

Gymnasium

4

M

LV

Complete general

3

M

Secondary

4

T + M

Sec. vocational

2/3

SW

Sec. (grades 10–12)

technical

EE

Gymnasium

3

M

Post-secondary

4/5

HT

Sec. vocational

2/3

SW

colleges

2/3

4

SW + M

Notes: Column 1 refers to type/name/stream of school, 2 to number of years, 3 to type of certificate. Certificates: M= school leaving examination (Abitur), T= technician examination (all fields of national economy, administration, services), -T= lower level of T, HT= higher technician examination, SW = skilled worker examination, -SW = lower level of SW. Abbreviations: sec. = secondary, tech. = technical.

Source: Kotásek (1996).

(p.18) Higher-level vocational or technological tracks cater for more practically orientated students and offer a mix of general and vocational subjects. They prepare pupils for middle-level professions in various branches of industry, agriculture, commerce, public administration, culture, artistic production, health services and teaching, as well as for entry to tertiary education.

The fact that the final examination (maturita) gives pupils the right to attend any kind of institution at the tertiary level has helped to put these schools on an equal footing with general secondary schools (Kotásek, 1996).

The lower-level vocational tracks usually prepare students for entry into the labour market; they specialise in various occupational areas and are often intended for students who are more capable of doing things practically rather than studying them theoretically3. Training in vocational tracks has been delivered either in the form of apprenticeships or in schools either closely or loosely linked to appropriate enterprises (Kotásek, 1996). A more or less pronounced hierarchy evolves between the tracks, particularly since vocational tracks often include more students with weaker cognitive abilities and records of school performance (see the sections on quality differentiation at the secondary level in the country-specific chapters).

Education systems of Central and Eastern European countries

Figure 1.5:General upper-secondary education enrolments (gross ratios, percentage of population aged 15–18), 1989–2005

Notes: For the Czech Republic the data for 1989–95 refers to young people aged 14–17, and since 1996 to those aged 15–18; for Hungary and Slovakia for young people aged 14–17; for Poland the data since 2001 refers to young people aged 16–19; for Estonia the data for 1989–95 refers to adolescents aged 16–17, and since 2001 to those aged 16–18; for Latvia to young people aged 16–18; for Lithuania the data for 1989–98 refers to young people aged 16–18, and since 1999 to those aged 17–18.

Source: UNICEF (2007)

(p.19) Despite the availability of vocational, technological and general tracks in the education systems of all CEE countries, some systems provide more places in tracks that have a general orientation, while other education systems are more vocationally orientated. From Figure 1.5 it is evident that Baltic countries, above all Estonia and Lithuania, have higher enrolments in general tracks and this has been so since 1990. In Latvia general track enrolments increased in the mid-1990s, but had much lower enrolment rates in this type of school in the early 1990s. The Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania boast, on the other hand, lower enrolments in general education tracks. All in all, an increase in the enrolment of pupils in general tracks is apparent for all CEE countries, with Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia having more pronounced growth rates.

Education systems of Central and Eastern European countries

Figure 1.6:Vocational/technical secondary education enrolments (gross ratios, percentage of population aged 15–18), 1989–2005

Notes: For the Czech Republic the data for 1989–95 refers to young people aged 14–17, and since 1996 to those aged 15–18; for Hungary and Slovakia for young people aged 14–17; for Poland the data since 2001 refers to young people aged 16–18; for Estonia the data for 1989–95 refers to adolescents aged 16–17, and since 2001 to those aged 16–18; for Latvia to young people aged 16–18; for Lithuania the data for 1989–98 refers to young people aged 16–18, and since 1999 to those aged 17–18.

Source: UNICEF (2007)

A contrary picture with regard to the ranking of countries is observed for secondary education enrolment in vocational/technical tracks (see Figure 1.6). The Baltic countries have the lowest rates of enrolment in these tracks, whereas the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia and Hungary have more pronounced vocational and technical education sectors. Romania and (p.20) Bulgaria lie in between. Some countries experienced a decrease in vocational school enrolment (Lithuania, Latvia, Poland and Romania), whereas in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary vocational enrolment increased. In Estonia we observe stability, more or less, in vocational and technical enrolment. In Bulgaria a U-shape form in the trend is apparent with vocational education enrolment decreasing until the mid-1990s and increasing further on. In Slovenia an inverted U-shape could be found.

As mentioned above, when it comes to vocational/technical tracks in CEE countries, a meaningful distinction lies in the options available to students on graduation. Technical and upper-level vocational tracks normally end up with a mixture of a matriculation examination and a technical qualification, which gives access to tertiary education (see also Table 1.2). Some technical schools offer post-secondary non-tertiary level education in which students end up with a higher-level technical qualification. Such schools can be found in Poland, the Czech Republic, Lithuania and Estonia. In the Czech and Slovak Republics one type of technical secondary school does not, however, offer unconditional access to tertiary education (via the matriculation examination). Lower-level vocational tracks (without any follow-up courses) normally give school leavers access solely to the labour market and are therefore considered to be educational dead-ends.

Education systems of Central and Eastern European countries

Figure 1.7:Secondary education options in the CEE countries in the mid-1990s

Source: ETF (1998); the information for Slovakia is taken from the country chapter and refers to 1995

(p.21) Longer-duration vocational schools or vocational schools followed by additional courses, on the other hand, enable students to sit for a matriculation. Figure 1.7 shows that all CEE countries (apart from the Baltic states) have systems that predominantly favour vocational or technical education, but it also confirms that the majority of their pupils leave education with a matriculation certificate. In the Baltic countries the majority of vocational programmes also offer an option for entering tertiary education. Furthermore, analyses presented in the country-specific chapters show that the share of lower-secondary vocational education (without matriculation) has been decreasing in all the countries under discussion since the 1990s. These facts make the secondary education in CEE countries, despite its strong vocational orientation, more open and permeable than similarly organised secondary education systems in German-speaking countries. Even though certain vocational qualifications formally allow access to tertiary education in CEE countries, the participation and success rates of vocational track graduates are usually clearly lower than among graduates from general education tracks (see country-specific chapters).

Organisation of vocational education and training

Further crucial differences within vocational education relate to the form and context in which education and training is provided. Vocational education and training (VET) might be organised in schools and a classroom context. It might also be offered as a combination of learning in schools and practical work in workplaces. In the most explicit way, these two learning environments are combined in the dual-system model, in which a learner has a learning/employment contract as an apprentice with an employer, who commits him or herself to teach the practical side of an occupation or profession either through regular work placements or in special training shops within the firm. Arrangements such as this that work well in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Denmark require substantial involvement from employers in the provision of training and the setting up of educational programmes.

In the beginning of the privatisation and restructuring processes in CEE countries, which had had their vocational systems organised in the dual system prior to the fall of socialism, employers largely withdrew from the provision of training opportunities as they were not able to maintain the training infrastructure or afford the financing of apprentices. This led to general disarray in the education and training system, and the dismantling of well-established links between schools and enterprises. Overall, elements of enterprise-based apprentice training are now found in the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Hungary and Romania, whereas in the rest of the countries vocational education is mostly carried out under the auspices of schools and (p.22) workplace learning experiences are much less common (see Figure 1.3). In these countries training is clearly less occupation-specific, but relates rather to broader occupational areas. Some countries (e.g. Poland and Slovakia) operate school-based vocational education together with a much smaller-scale apprenticeship system.

Table 1.3: The predominant form of organisation of VET

School-based

Dual system

Bulgaria

X

Czech Republic

X

Estonia

X

Hungary

X

Latvia

X

Lithuania

X

Poland

X

X

Romania

X

Slovakia

X

X

Slovenia

X

X

Source: The information is based on country-specific chapters

Tertiary level of education

Most CEE countries, as well as other European countries, have experienced a strong expansion in the tertiary education sector in recent years. Connected to this, the higher education systems have also become more differentiated through the introduction of new institutional forms (e.g. more practically oriented colleges) or the re-organisation of existing structures (e.g. the upgrading of institutions of higher education to universities). On the one hand, the institutional differentiation and the various reforms have substantially increased the variability of institutional arrangements in tertiary education in CEE countries and in Europe in general. The Bologna process, on the other hand, introduced substantial pressures towards the harmonisation of tertiary education within the European Union (EU). Relevant dimensions of the education system at the tertiary level discussed below are: the horizontal differentiation with regard to the fields of studies and the type of educational institutions (universities versus non-university sector); standardisation and the connected issue of the quality differentiation of tertiary education institutions; and finally, the openness of the education system or the degree of provision of financial support for young people which would allow them to study at the tertiary level.

(p.23) Education expansion

During the transition period, tertiary education participation substantially increased in all CEE countries, which is evident from Figure 1.8. A surge in tertiary education enrolment is observable for Slovenia, Hungary, Latvia and Poland. Despite its growth, tertiary education enrolment still lags behind in Romania, Bulgaria and Slovakia. Tertiary education expansion occurred not least due to the emergence of private institutions of higher education and the expansion of short, practically oriented programmes at the tertiary level in ‘fashionable’ areas of specialisation (Cerych, 1997; Roberts, 1998; Micklewright, 1999; Matějů and Simonová, 2003).

Education systems of Central and Eastern European countries

Figure 1.8:Higher education enrolments (gross population ratios, percentage of population aged 19–24), 1989–2005

Notes: For the Czech Republic the data for 1989–95 refers to those aged 18–22; 1996–2005 to those aged 19–23; for Hungary data refers to those aged 18–23; for Slovakia - data refers to those aged 18–22, 1989–95 for full-time courses only; for Slovenia data refers to those aged 19–23; data includes all students enrolled at ISCED 5 (also enrolled on post-graduate master's programmes); for Estonia data refers to those aged 19–22; for Latvia and Lithuania data refers to those aged 19–23.

Source: UNICEF (2007)

Gender differences in the access to higher education in CEE countries were eliminated during the socialist period, with women's education attainment eventually surpassing that of men (Simkus and Andorka, 1982; Gerber and Hout, 1995; Saar, 1997; Ganzeboom and Nieuwbeerta, 1999; Micklewright, 1999; Helemäe and Saar, 2003;Matějů et al, 2003). According to Figure 1.9 the proportion of women among students of tertiary education was higher (p.24) than the proportion of men in all CEE countries except for the Czech Republic and Romania in 1998. The increase in the share of female students is evident for all countries, apart from Bulgaria, where their numbers decreased from 61% in 1998 to 53% in 2004. The proportion of female students remained more or less unchanged in Lithuania (at 60%) and Poland (about 57%). In 2004 women were overrepresented among students in all CEE countries.

Education systems of Central and Eastern European countries

Figure 1.9:Proportion of women among students (ISCED 5–6) as percentage of the total students at this level, 1998–2004

Source: Eurostat (2008a)

Horizontal dimension at the tertiary level: field-of-study differentiation

Higher education in CEE countries has managed to achieve remarkable success in natural sciences and technical education during the post-Second World War period (Cerych, 1997). It should be mentioned that technological (e.g. engineering) education was over-emphasised at the expense of educational opportunities in the humanities and social sciences (Matějů and Simonová, 2003). The proportion of students enrolled in technical fields has decreased since the fall of socialism. In Bulgaria, the decrease was almost 25% between 1970 and 2000. In Estonia it was 33% between 1994 and 2005. A similar drop is also evident in Latvia between 1980 and 2004. In Romania enrolment in technical fields decreased from 70% to 30% between 1990 and 1995, a dramatic fall in such a short period of time. In Hungary, where the (p.25) proportion enrolled in engineering was not so high, the decrease was less pronounced (from 20% in 1990/91 to 14% in 2003/04).

Student numbers in the social sciences, above all business and law, on the other hand, substantially increased in all CEE countries. In Bulgaria, enrolment in economics increased by almost 10% between 1990 and 2004/05. In Hungary an increase of almost 15% was observed for the same period of time. In Poland the numbers increased by 15% between 1990 and 2001. Twenty per cent more students were counted in the fields of economics and education between 1989/90 and 2004/05 in Romania. And an even more dramatic surge of 45 percentage points in the number of those enrolled in the social sciences were found in Latvia between 1980 and 2004/05.

Figure 1.10 shows the extent of variation between countries in the horizontal dimension of tertiary education. Thirty per cent of students in the Czech Republic and slightly less in Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania are enrolled in technical fields (engineering, manufacturing and construction, as well as science, mathematics and computing). Health and welfare are more popular in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and less so in Poland and Latvia. Social sciences, business and law are more popular in Latvia, Romania, Poland, Slovenia and Hungary, but less so in the Czech and Slovak Republics.

Education systems of Central and Eastern European countries

Figure 1.10: Enrolment by fields of study (%), 2004

Source: Eurostat (2008a)

With the numerical advantage of females at the tertiary level of education, the issue of gender educational inequalities nowadays is concerned with gender- (p.26) specific disparities in the choice of the field of study. In nearly all countries far fewer women than men are enrolled in the fields of engineering and architecture, mathematics and computer sciences, while across the board women outnumber men in subjects such as the humanities, social sciences, social work, nursing and the medical (semi-)professions. There exists variation across the countries with regard to the field of study feminisation. The highest proportion of women in typical female fields is found in the Baltic states. In Bulgaria and Romania we find, on the other hand, a relatively high proportion of women in traditionally male technical fields.

Institutional segmentation, standardisation and quality differentiation

Tertiary education in the majority of CEE countries is organised with traditional universities and a non-university sector working in parallel (for similar developments in the EU15, seeMüller and Wolbers, 2003). Academically less demanding and less prestigious than conventional universities, non-university institutions of tertiary education (i.e., colleges and polytechnics) can be defined as a second tier of higher education. Still, they provide an opportunity to get an academic degree, and as such they probably attract less able members of privileged groups who are unable to meet the academic demands of the public universities (Shavit et al, 2007). This is particularly true of the professions like business and law, which − since they are rewarding economically and socially − are in great demand, and consequently the universities can be highly selective when recruiting students for them. One could argue then, that colleges and universities in CEE countries are substantially stratified in terms of their status and prestige, as well as the labour market opportunities they offer their graduates. A hierarchy of tertiary institutions, according to Allmendinger (1989), reproduces and perpetuates social stratification, since each level and type of academic institution tends to recruit disproportionally from different social strata.

CEE countries differ with regard to the prominence of the non-university sector in their system of tertiary education. From Figure 1.11 one can see that in countries with higher rates of tertiary education in the early transition period – Lithuania, Estonia and Slovenia – more students in fact attain their degrees in more vocationally oriented programmes. The majority of tertiary educated youth in Romania, and the Czech and Slovak Republics – the countries with the lowest rate of those enrolled at the tertiary level in the early 1990s – attained their degrees in more traditional institutions of higher education.

The expansion of tertiary education has occurred partially due to the introduction of private institutions of higher education. CEE countries differ in the extent to which tertiary education has become open for private (p.27) providers (see Table 1.4). In the Czech and Slovak Republics almost all students are enrolled in public universities and even in the non-university tertiary sector public institutions largely dominate, particularly in Slovakia. In Romania and Poland more than a quarter of students are enrolled in private universities. In private non-university institutions this proportion is lower and in Romania it is almost negligible.

Education systems of Central and Eastern European countries

Figure 1.11:The proportion of tertiary educated people aged 25–29, by type of tertiary education, 2001

Source: Eurostat (2008b)

In Estonia 20% of students study in private institutions of tertiary education (the data here does not allow for a distinction between colleges and universities). For Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovenia we only have information on the proportion of private institutions of tertiary education and not the number of students enrolled in them. Hence the data is not comparable to the results discussed above. We can see, however, that in Bulgaria less than 10% of tertiary education institutions are private, whereas in Slovenia more than 75% are private. Latvia and Lithuania are in between. In Latvia more private institutions operate in the university sector and fewer in the non-university sector, whereas the opposite picture is evident for Lithuania.

All in all, the expansion of tertiary education, particularly when it comes to the second-tier institutions of higher education, introduced even further variation in the content and quality of training. In other words, it contributed to the decreasing standardisation and growing quality differentiation of (p.28) various education providers. Recent reorganisation of the university sector according to the Bologna guidelines and the use of the compatible European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) since the early 2000s, on the other hand, contributed to an increase in the standardisation of tertiary education. At the same time, however, the quality differentiation, particularly between the university and college sectors, has persisted. This has led to the initiation of multiple committees responsible for the accreditation of educational providers in CEE countries (see country-specific chapters for details).

Table 1.4: The proportion of students enrolled in private institutions or proportion of private institutions at the tertiary level

Tertiary university education

Tertiary non-university education

Tertiary education

Students

Institutions

Students

Institutions

Students

Institutions

BG

8.6

CZ

1.7

32.1

EE

20.0

HU

14.1

20.4

LV

41.2

34.6

LT

28.6

40.8

PL

28.4

17.4

RO

26.0

3.4

SK

0.7

6.4

SI

76.5

Notes: Private education includes either government-sponsored private or independent private. For Czech and Slovak Republics, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania and Poland the information is for 2002; for Romania 2004 (refers to graduates); for Bulgaria and Lithuania 2004; for Latvia and Slovenia 2006.

Source:OECD (2004) for the Czech and Slovak Republics, Hungary and Poland; country reports for Estonia, Bulgaria, Latvia and Slovenia; Romanian National Institute for Statistics for Romania

Openness of tertiary education

During the socialist period tertiary education was free of charge and students were, as a rule, entitled to scholarships. With the introduction of market economies, this situation has changed. All CEE countries, except for the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Romania4, have introduced fees at the tertiary level but the amount varies according to the type of university and the type of programme (see country chapters for details). As a rule students in private universities pay fees, while students in public ones pay no fees (e.g. Poland), or students in private universities pay higher fees than the students in the public ones. Among students in the public universities, a lower fee is paid by (p.29) the more academically successful students (this is particularly pronounced in Bulgaria), and higher fees are paid by part-time students (e.g. Hungary), or students in extra-mural or full-time evening classes (e.g. Poland). The size of fee also varies according to the field of study.

Education systems of Central and Eastern European countries

Figure 1.12:Financial aid to students in the form of scholarships and loans, as a percentage of total public expenditure on tertiary education, 2002

Source: Eurostat (2005)

A system of financial aid to students − in the form of scholarships or both loans and scholarships − operates in all CEE countries, but the amount of support allocated varies across the countries (see Figure 1.12). While Hungary, Latvia, Slovakia and Lithuania offer both scholarships and loans, in the rest of the countries only a system of scholarships is installed. The largest amount of resources (as a percentage of total public expenditure on tertiary education) for student financial aid is allocated in Slovenia, Slovakia, Hungary and Latvia, and this is higher than the average amount directed to student aid in the EU as the whole. In Poland the financial aid offered to students is an almost non-existent item in the budget allocated to tertiary education. In the Czech Republic, Estonia and Romania such expenditure is lower overall than in the EU25. One can expect that in CEE countries that provide a low level of financial aid, students will have to rely on financial support from their families to fund their studies or work in parallel to them. In the latter case, this might result in longer periods of study and possibly lower graduation rates.

(p.30) Conclusion

Since the early 1990s, CEE countries have without doubt experienced numerous education changes, going hand-in-hand with radical political and economic transformations. In this period, new patterns of education, new types of schools and new institutional structures have emerged. Many of these developments have brought about a certain restoration of pre-communist educational forms; others have been adaptations and assimilations of mainly Western European trends (Cerych, 1997). This chapter has described the structure of the education systems in the CEE countries since the 1990s and explored the central dimensions that might be relevant for the job allocation process.

In summary, we first list the common elements of the post-transformation education systems in CEE countries. Foremost, after 1990 the curricula of general education in all CEE countries were revised, while the curricula of VET courses were broadened (Cedefop, 2001). The latter happened not least due to the increasing importance of the service sector and uncertainty about graduates’ job opportunities, demanding flexibility in the skills acquired by leavers from vocational education. Furthermore, the structure of post-secondary education was diversified by the introduction of new post-secondary vocational programmes and the emergence of private institutions. Tertiary education participation has substantially increased, not least due to the emergence of private institutions of higher education and the expansion of short, practically oriented programmes at the tertiary level. The demand for higher education can be attributed, at least partially, to the larger proportion of young people opting for an extension of their studies in order to postpone their labour market entry and to escape youth unemployment, which became a reality in the post-transformation years (ILO, 1999; Róbert, 2002; Róbert and Bukodi, 2005).

Alongside these obvious common elements, post-transformation education institutions to some degree continued to mirror the idiosyncratic historical developments or, in other words, path dependencies of each nation's education system and the different models countries have adopted to prepare young people for adult life. Our analyses clearly showed that in CEE countries geographically and historically closer to Germany or Austria, vocationally oriented secondary education has maintained its dominance over more general curricula (Roberts, 1998). Thus, elements of enterprise-based apprentice training were preserved or re-introduced in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia, whereas in the Baltic states, Romania and Bulgaria, vocational education has increasingly become school-based.

Overall, the main orientations as well as outcomes of education reforms can be differentiated according to three groups of new EU member states (Cerych, 1997). The first group encompasses Hungary, the Czech and Slovak (p.31) Republics, Slovenia and probably also Poland. These countries were a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and were hence greatly influenced by the Austrian and, more generally, German education and training systems. These countries, except for Slovenia and Poland, reintroduced early selection in academically prestigious gymnasia, and preserved or reintroduced the dual system of vocational training (although less so in Poland and Slovakia). At the tertiary education level, the developments are more heterogeneous with the Czech and Slovak Republics boasting somewhat lower enrolment rates, whereas the numbers of students enrolling in Slovenia and Poland has soared.

The three Baltic states, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, form the second group of countries and have been influenced both by the German and Russian (or Soviet) education traditions. Since their independence in the early 1990s, these countries have established close contacts with Scandinavian countries, so that their education system could be said to combine both Nordic and Central European characteristics. This implies that comprehensive secondary education in these countries also includes elements of school-based vocational education. Higher transition rates to tertiary education are indicated by their towering tertiary education enrolment rates and the expansion of their non-university tertiary sectors.

Finally, Romania and Bulgaria constitute the third group of countries, and are marked by relatively late education expansion and a significant Soviet influence up to the transition period of the 1990s. Their system of secondary education combines both general and vocational elements, whereas tertiary education enrolment lags behind the rest of the CEE countries. Relatively low gender segregation with regard to the choice of the field of study is, however, evident for these two countries.

Müller and Wolbers (2003), in their discussion of the educational landscape of the EU15, suggested that in countries without a system of vocationally oriented training a larger proportion of the youth cohort drops out from the education system immediately after reaching the age at which education is no longer compulsory. It seems that the exceptions the authors found in Western Europe – such as Belgium, Ireland and Greece (countries with small vocational education sectors but low rates of early school leavers) – are not the only ones. In practically all CEE countries, regardless of the level of VET provision, the proportion of early school leavers is lower than in the rest of the EU. The exceptions are Romania and Bulgaria, the two countries in which vocational training provision is at the medium level, but early school leaving rates are comparatively high. Country experts argue that one of the main reasons for the relatively high drop-out rates in these countries is a high proportion of Roma youth, who are often excluded from the education system.

The second central argument put forward by Müller and Wolbers (2003) is that in countries with extensive vocational programmes the demand for (p.32) tertiary education grows more slowly than in countries with a more pronounced general orientation at the secondary level. This hypothesis is only partially supported by evidence from the CEE countries, in which the system of vocational education appears to be more diverse and also formally more open than the extremely stratified one in the German-speaking neighbourcountries. Overall, however, it could be said that in CEE countries in which a large proportion of young people participate in vocational tracks and in which vocational programmes offer only skilled worker certificates, a smaller proportion of young people proceed to the tertiary level. Examples are the Czech and Slovak Republics, Bulgaria and Romania. However, Hungary and Slovenia do not fit this pattern.

An attempt to find common elements and shared characteristics in the education systems of CEE countries after the transition should not obscure the unique features of each country's system, which are discussed in the single country chapters. Country-specific analyses shed further light on the development of institutions and highlight the trends in each of the above-mentioned sectors of these countries’ education systems.

Notes

References

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Notes:

(1) We will not focus on standardisation at the secondary level here, due to the fact that in all CEE countries the degree of standardisation with regard to certificates is similarly high. Standardisation seems to be higher in the general and technological tracks that end with a matriculation examination, and lower in the vocational tracks offering qualification certificates. For details see country-specific chapters.

(2) Cerych (1997) argues that the tripartite division in upper-secondary education has become much less rigid in the transformation period than it was earlier, with the boundaries between tracks becoming more blurred. A clear sign of this trend is the emergence of integrated schools combining both vocational and advanced technical courses, or the inclusion of more general courses in specialised technical schools.

(3) Although these schools do not imply an automatic entitlement for entry to tertiary education, this can sometimes be attained after an additional two to three years of study (see Table 1.2).

(4) For Slovenia and Romania fees are waived for regular full-time students.