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EACEA National Policies Platform


6. Education and Training

6.1 General context

Last update: 28 November 2023
  1. Main trends in young people's participation in education and training

  2. Organisation of the education and training system

  3. Main concepts

Main trends in young people's participation in education and training

The right to education is guaranteed for everyone by Article 71 of the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia. Even though secondary education is not compulsory, all young people have the right to enter upper secondary education upon completion of the compulsory primary education. In the school year 2019/20, 97.9% of pupils continued education after completing primary education. However, the generation coverage in upper secondary education was 87.4% because there was dropout of pupils after enrolment to upper secondary schools. The number of students in tertiary education decreased by 3,1% in the same school year. The coverage of generation attending faculties and higher education schools was 54.7% (The Statistical Yearbook of the Republic of Serbia 2021).

In 2020, a total of 41,331 students graduated from all higher education institutions, which was about 1,000 less than in 2019. Out of the total number of graduate students, 39.9% were men and 60.1% were women. For the majority of young people aged 15-30 the highest level of education reached is a four-year high school education (41.4%), followed by those with incomplete primary and primary education (21.4%) and three years of high school education (14.8%), while 11.9% of young people completed basic academic studies. According to Labor Force Survey data, 5.6% of young people aged 18-24 dropped out of school early. The NEET rate among youth (young people who are not employed, are not in the process of education, nor are they in training) amounted to 15.9% in 2020 in the Republic of Serbia. NEET rate in the previous five-year period slightly decreased - from 17.7% in 2016 to 15.9% in 2020 (Status of Vulnerable Groups in the Process of Accession of the Republic of Serbia to the European Union - Status of Youth).

Serbia participated in PISA assessment in 2003, 2006, 2009, 2012 and 2018. Students in Serbia scored lower than the OECD average in reading, mathematics and science in 2018 with a difference in points that corresponds to the effect of one and a half years of schooling in the OECD countries. However, mean performance in reading and mathematics has improved since the country first participated in PISA, while performance in science remained stable, on average. PISA 2022 research is to be conducted by the Institute for Education Quality and Evaluation, as the national PISA centre (Pisa 2018 Serbia Country Note).

Different reports show that those least likely to attend or to complete secondary schools are the Roma. Compared with their peers, Roma is underrepresented at all education levels. According the Regional Roma Survey 2017 the percentage of Roma aged 18-21 with complete compulsory education shows signs of progress and that the corresponding gap between Roma and non-Roma peers with complete compulsory education is decreasing. Despite significant improvements, over one-third of Roma of this age lacks a basic education. Upper secondary and tertiary completion rates continue to be very low.  Only 14% of young Roma complete secondary school while only around 1% of young Roma continue to university level.

When it comes to non-formal education, Adult Education Survey (AES) performed in 2016 showed that that a 25-34-year-old woman with a university degree, employed and settled in the city, most often participate in lifelong education. The survey further shows that 23.7% of population aged 25-34 participated in some form of non-formal education.

Organisation of the education and training system

The educational system in Serbia consists of:  

Primary education and preparatory preschool programmes are mandatory and free, while secondary education is free but not mandatory. All citizens have access to higher education under equal conditions. 

More details on the organisation of the education system and it structure can be found on Eurydice pages 2.3 Organisation of the Education System and of its Structure and Overview where diagram of the system is presented.

The total duration of compulsory education in Serbia is 9 years. Children enter compulsory education at the age of 5½, when they start the pre-school preparatory programme (see Glossary), followed by 8 years of primary education. The leaving age in full-time compulsory education is 14½.  Pupils are usually 15 years old when they enter secondary education and 18½ when they leave four-year programmes.

Secondary education (ISCED 3) consists of the following:

  • four years of general education;
  • two to four years of vocational education.

There are two types of general/grammar schools:

  • general/grammar schools (gimnazija opšteg tipa);
  • specialized general/grammar schools, intended for education of talented students in certain areas (specijalizovana gimnazija).

Children acquire secondary vocational education in vocational schools (srednja stručna škola) in 15 different areas.

Pupils who graduate from grammar schools can enrol at almost any faculty. Vocational school students can proceed to higher education at faculties and colleges fitting their specialisation. Students enrolled in three-year vocational education and training (VET) programmes can take additional exams to qualify for taking university entrance exams.

Higher education (ISCED levels 6,7 and 8) is divided into three levels

  • First level (Bachelor Studies);
  • Second level (Master Studies, Specialized Studies);
  • Third level (PhD Studies).

Serbia joined the Bologna Process in 2003. The adoption of the Law on Higher Education supporting the implementation of Bologna Process followed in 2005.

The higher education system in Serbia offers two types of studies:

  • academic studies realised at universities;
  • applied studies organized either at colleges of applied studies or at universities.

First level of studies includes:

  1. Undergraduate Academic Studies (Bachelor) – lasting for 3-4 years, carrying 180 to 240 ECTS;
  2. Bachelor Applied Studies – lasting for 3 years, carrying 180 ECTS.

Second level of studies includes:

  1. Master Academic Studies – lasting for 1-2 years and carrying 60 to 120 ECTS;
  2. Master Applied Studies – lasting for 2 years and carrying at least 120 ECTS for students who have previously achieved 180 ECTS;
  3. Specialised Applied Studies – lasting for 1 year and carrying 60 ECTS;
  4. Specialist Academic Studies – lasting for 1 year and carrying 60 ECTS, for students who have achieved at least 300 ECTS in previous studies.

Formal Adult education is based on the approved national curricula within the primary and secondary education systems, as regulated by the Law on the Foundations of the Education SystemLaw on Primary EducationLaw on Secondary Education and Law on Adult Education. Although based on the mainstream primary and secondary education concepts, achievement standards for these programmes are adjusted to the adult population. There are two types of programmes:

  • general formal adult education, which aims to raise achievement in basic skills, and
  • vocational formal education, aiming to acquire a recognised qualification during adulthood.

Adults who receive primary education according to the adult education programme are persons older than 15 years. Adults who receive secondary adult education are persons older than 17 years of age.

Main concepts

Non-formal education is identically defined by the Law on the National Qualification Framework and the Law on Adult Education as organized adult learning processes accomplished through specific programs in order to acquire knowledge, skills, abilities and attitudes aimed at work, personal and social development.

Law on Youth adjusts the definition to the youth population defining non-formal education of young people as a set of organized and youth-customized educational activities not foreseen by the formal education system and based on their needs and interests, the principles of voluntary and active participation of young people in a learning process and promotion of democratic values, through which young people acquire competences necessary for personal potential development, active participation in society and better employability.

National Youth Strategy 2015-2025 comprise both definitions.

There is no universally accepted single definition of early school leaving within the strategic and legal framework in Serbia.

The legal basis for the inclusive education policy was given in the 2009 Law on the Foundations of the Education System. The main objectives of these policies and strategies were initially aimed at improving the quality and inclusiveness of preschool and primary education and improving the educational achievements of all students. Children from vulnerable social groups were particularly focused according to the Progress Report for 2018.

Even though, there is no specific definition of special need education yet, the Law on the Education System Foundations placed it under the frame of the mainstream education system. Regardless of the severity of disability, all children have the right to participate in regular preschool, primary and secondary school programmes, if their parents decide so. Based on psychological assessment, a special team made of school specialists and parents (inclusion team) may create an Individual Education Plan (Individualni obrazovni plan – IOP) Glossary for a particular child/pupil/student. The purpose of this plan is to eliminate all teaching, learning, communication, physical and other barriers and provide conditions for an unobstructed learning process.