Doz. Dr. Rumiana Stoilova  


Role of Student Fees and Loans in Gaining Access to Higher Education Germany and Bulgaria in Comparison[1]


Recent Changes and Non-changes in higher education

Systematic legislative changes have transformed the institutional relations between the state and higher education in Bulgaria since 1989. Parallel to this, public discussion has been going on, both amongst experts and politicians. In this debate, the importance of openness, inclusiveness and access to higher education is underestimated, because it is falsely perceived as socialistic. Taking examples from the reforms in higher education, we will illustrate the tendency that, although liberalization of the state is occurring, the access of individuals to resources relevant to tertiary education has not become a central issue, namely access to student loans. A key reason for this unequal pace of reforms issociety’s growing distrust. In turn, this low level of trust accounts for the prolonged process of enforcement of public policies which would potentially lead to greater opportunities for “individualistic inclusion” in the modern societies (Münch 2008). Western societies are based on constitutional liberalism. The legal discourse increasingly reflects issues of individual rights. In this context the access to higher education is a matter of individual rights. All this increases the interest of the case study of laws on education. The guaranteed opportunity for social participation and equal opportunities is a central goal that educational systems address at the system level[2]. This goal points to the relationship between education and social structure. The aim is “to minimize the interdependencies between social background and educational, life and income opportunities, and to enhance the social integration and participation of young people in processes that shape the social and political community” (Baethge, Arends 2008:31).

A central dimension of the institutional reforms is the financing of higher education. The direction is towards increasing the private funding through the implementation of tuition fees paid by students and their families, and greater financial autonomy of the universities. On one hand the required payment of tuition fees is an obstacle to university access for young people from less educated families; on the other hand, the system of tuition fees leads to diversification of funding of tertiary education, and competitiveness between the higher schools. The use of private funding for public higher education contributes significantly to the access issue by opening educational institutions to new segments of society that were previously effectively excluded from a largely elitist higher education. The effect on achieving equity, however, may be questioned. The same ambivalent development - access representing the “success story” and the “equity failure” seen as the dark side – is formulated by researchers from Central and Eastern European countries (Kwiek 2008)

The balance between equality of opportunity and competitiveness has to be restored through students’ grants and loans. The Higher Education Act (1995) stipulates the obligation of the state to provide a system for student loans. While students fees were introduced with the Law of Higher Education (1999), the Law for crediting was only adopted eight years later - in 2008 via the Student Loan Act. What is evident is the implementation of one part of the Law - introduction of tuition fees (Art.95) – and the postponement of the state engagement towards another part - introduction of state guaranteed bank credits for the students(Art.96)[3].

Experts’ views (1999) [4]

Regarding reforms in financing of higher education, experts support an increasing involvement of the students and their families in this funding and greater financial autonomy of the universities.

-         The abolishment of paid education in the state universities and the introduction of minimal student tuition fees contribute to greater justice in the access to higher education (university teacher).

-         The state should guarantee credits instead of giving grants. Private institutions – for example, foundations – should distribute grants (university teacher, ex-minister of education and science).

-          The state should determine the disciplines for which grants are to be made available. The state should not, however, determine the universities where the students may receive these grants. The best way to finance education is through the choice of the students (university teacher from private higher school).

-         The existence of higher schools outside the capital city is very important. Poorer families cannot pay for studies far from the family’s place of residence (teacher from a university in a small town)

Criticism has been voiced by a few people, stating that the introduction of tuition fees for students does not lead to diversification of funding of tertiary education or to competition. State universities rely for their financing mainly on the state. They are not interested in improving the quality (Bogdanov, Angelov 2004). The implementation of the policy remains centered in the Ministry of Education and Science. Student tuition fees have been introduced, but the number of students subsidized by the state remains the same (Boyajieva, Dimitrov 2005). State intervention continues to exist: it takes the form of centralized specification of the number of students in state universities. Thus the old inequality between the financing of private and state higher schools still exists. The Student Loan Act fills the gap between the centralized public financing going directly to the institutions and the limited public funding going directly to the students.


[1] This research has been supported by the Austrian Federal Ministry of Science and Research (1.October 2008 - 30.June 2009) under the fellowship programme “Shaken Order: Authority and Social Trust in Post-Communist Societies (Case Studies in Law) of the Centre for Advanced Study Sofia.

[2]Some additional ones are: the development of an individual’s potential for occupational mobility, self regulation and autonomy, and the safeguarding of human resources in a society.

[3] Cf. Yanev, N. 2005:71 In: Slancheva, S. Pashkina, Y. (eds.) 2005 Private Higher Schools: Myths and Reality. Regional Centre for Study of Private Higher Education in Central and Eastern Europe, Sofia: Iztok-Zapad Publishers. The functions stipulated in art. 8 of the Higher Education Act are to provide high-quality education, to subsidize students and post-graduate students in state higher schools, to provide scholarships, dormitories, canteens, to provide property for state higher schools, and to ensure tax and other concessions for all higher schools for the conducting of their activities.  Art. 8, par. 4. (amendment – State Gazette, issue 60 of 1999, amendment, issue 41 of 2007).

[4] The experts’ views are cited in : Boyadjieva, P. 1999 (ed.) University Autonomy and Academic Responsibility, Sofia, LIK Pbs. (in Bulgarian)




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