Higher Education in Croatia: Introduction

The System. On the national level, the higher education system in Croatia is defined by the Law on Higher Education since July, 2003, when it was passed. The Ministry of Science, Education and Sports is responsible for its implementation. Croatia has nine accredited universities (seven public and two private), 15 polytechnics (three private) and 27 colleges (24 private). Constituent units at the universities in Zagreb, Split, Rijeka and Osijek are mainly faculties, while the universities in Dubrovnik, Pula and Zadar, as well as the International University of Dubrovnik and Croatian Catholic University of Zagreb, and are organized in departments. The University of Zagreb has 34 constituent units, the University of Split 15, the University of Rijeka 14, and the University of Osijek 16 constituent units. In the last few years we can notice an increase in the number of newly founded higher education institutions.

Study and graduation. Studies in Croatia are divided into two categories, university and professional studies. University studies are organized and conducted at universities in the form of a three-cycle system – undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate - tailored in accordance with the Bologna system. Such system is in practice since the academic year 2005/2006. Professional studies are conducted primarily at colleges of applied sciences and schools of professional higher education and last for two to three years.

Overview of the number of enrolled students and graduates in the past five academic years is shown in Tables 1 and 2. (The data presented in Tables 1, 2 and 3 were taken from the official websites of the Republic of Croatia - Central Bureau of Statistics, http://www.dzs.hr (accessed 11/08/2011))



Academic year






University studies

110 989

114 442

117 621

112 395

118 792

Professional studies

25 657

25 554

25 789

26 674

31 061

Table 1: Enrolled students per academic year



Academic year






University studies

13 354

14 518

16 496

20 755

24 993

Professional studies

4 836

5 048

4 473

4 818

5 163

Table 2: Graduated students per academic year


These data show an increasing trend in the number of enrollments and graduates at university and professional studies in Croatia. It can be seen that a far greater number of students is being enrolled at university studies than at professional studies. This is not surprising since university studies are greater in number and have better capacities. In addition to that, data indicate the difference in the number of enrolled and the number of graduate students at both types of studies, which is extremely high. The ratio of the percentage of students enrolled at professional studies and the percentage of graduates at those studies is smaller than that at university studies.

Before 2005, postgraduate education in the Republic of Croatia was organized at two levels: Master of Science and Doctor of Science.  After 2005 and the implementation of the Bologna education system, master’s level programs and the way they were performed were canceled and were adjusted to the Bologna education system. Table 3  shows the number of people who acquired the title of Masters and Masters of Science and those who acquired the title of Doctors of Science.


MSc/ DCs

Academic year






Masters and masters of science






Doctors of science






Table 3: Masters and Doctors of Science


Above shown data suggest that after the academic year 2005/2006, when a significant increase in the number of acquired titles of Masters of Science occurred in comparison to the following two years, the growth trend became similar to the one at the preceding levels of education. However, the development of doctoral studies and an increase in the number of PhDs in the future is a challenge for the national higher education, which is indicated by the development strategies of some of Croatian universities. (See: The research strategy of the University of Zagreb 2008 - 2013, Strategy, The strategy of the University of Rijeka 2007-2013, The scientific strategy of the University of Split, 2009-2014.)

Governance and funding. To ensure equal development of higher education in Croatia and to prevent the establishment of new institutions without the necessary justification, the National Council for Higher Education has written a document The Projection of the Network of Public Higher Education Institutions in Croatia which defines the prerequisites and criteria for establishing new higher education institutions. Croatian universities are autonomous when it comes to enrollment procedure and quotas, modes of paying tuition and fees, budget management, strategic planning and setting priorities, as well as all other crucial development decisions. The Law from 2003 allowed universities to be funded from the government budget in the total amount (lump sum), but the implementation of the Law did not start before 2007 and 2008. The Ministry allocates the full amount set in the government budget to universities, and the universities later, by Senate’s decision, distribute the funds to constituent units in accordance with their legislation and regulations.  Universities will be accredited and re-accredited according to the Law on Quality Assurance in Higher Education from 2009. That process will evaluate universities and their level of success and competitiveness. There is also a very clear tendency toward market oriented universities with the necessity for both financial and resource sustainability.

The academic profession. A total number of academic staff in higher education institutions has increased significantly in the last 15 years. Despite the public sector employment restrictions, there is a general increase of 38.6%; but it does not follow the increase in the number of students.

A classical pattern of employment and career development is present in the national context where it is still very common for a person to be educated and later employed at the same institution. This practice has started to change in the last couple of years primarily due to mobility programs, homing programs for researchers and similar measures for encouraging the internationalization in higher education. The academic staff in Croatia can be divided into two groups: senior staff (assistant professor, associate professor and full professors). There are further two, but smaller categories: associate positions – expert associate, senior expert associate and expert advisor.

For the senior staff the promotion to higher positions does not take place at the university level, but at the national level. The national bodies stipulate minimal conditions for promotion into higher positions, and the universities can add further conditions in their statutes (which is rarely done). The senior staff is elected on a period of five years, followed by a public call for proposals. The competition for those positions is not high, some disciplines are even lacking in qualified scientists. This situation is to be connected with the part on newly founded institutions (especially the private ones) who have staff working part-time while employed full-time at another (usually public institution), or the same teacher working on two or more public institutions. This practice has only recently started to be considered a conflict of interest.

Author: Marko Turk

Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Rijeka

This text was produced within the project Academic Profession and Societal Expectations: Challenges for University Civic Mission.
The project is a part of a EUROCORES/ EUROHESC Programme of the European Science Foundation (ESF), implemented in Croatia with the financial support of the Croatian Science Foundation.


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