The Croatian government is developing plans to significantly boost its university sector despite concerns about the quality of tertiary education in the country, which joined the European Union on 1 July.
Croatia’s economy has been stagnant or in recession since 2008, and the country will cut higher education funding by more than 3 per cent this year, according to the latest report from the European University Association’s Public Funding Observatory.
Meanwhile, a World Bank report published in June stated that higher education enrolments in Croatia remain below Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and EU averages.
However, Luka Juros, sector manager for higher education operations and student support at the Directorate of Higher Education – a part of Croatia’s Ministry of Science, Education and Sports – told Times Higher Education that the government will expand state funding for higher education and research over the next few years. The higher education sector will also benefit from EU regional development funds that are now available to the country, he added.
Croatia will have access to a total of €11.7 billion (£10.1 billion) in EU investment funds over seven years if it can come up with suitable projects and programmes, according to the European Commission.
The country had already received €6 million from its EU pre-accession funds for higher education projects, which will complement state funding of €90 million over three years, Mr Juros said.
The government also hopes that its reforms will help to get more young people through higher education. “We are aware that we need to grow the number of graduates in the country, particularly in maths, engineering, science and technology,” Mr Juros said.
In collaboration with the World Bank, pilot funding programmes have been set up with the aim of increasing student numbers and widening access to public universities, Mr Juros said.
He added that there were also plans to improve governance and management in universities, which would include the financial restructuring of institutions; to increase funding for research; and to boost the number of students from lower socio-economic backgrounds.