Executive summary


Over recent years, Bulgaria has shown great willingness to reform its vocational education and training (VET) system. Bulgaria now engages social partners in VET policy decision making at a national level, has increased emphasis on work-based learning within VET programmes, and is currently piloting apprenticeship programmes. Enrolment rates in upper secondary VET, compared to EU averages, are relatively high and VET provision is well articulated with the other parts of the education system. However, significant challenges remain relating notably to the system’s responsiveness to labour market needs and its capacity to better ensure equitable outcomes for all learners. This report is a focused review of two predefined issues, governance and funding of VET. These are two crucial elements essential to effective VET provision. The report assesses the strengths of the Bulgarian VET system and the challenges it faces when it comes to governance and funding and suggests policy responses for how these challenges can be addressed.

Governance of VET in Bulgaria

Decision-making structure and capacity

In order to increase labour market responsiveness, Bulgaria is in the process of increasing decision-making autonomy at local levels. However, building up the capacity of local actors to act in the context of increased flexibility is challenging. While regions, municipalities and schools are involved in VET governance, their tasks are limited. Concurrently, national government lacks capacity to fully undertake its responsibilities. The ministry, for instance, spends considerable time and resources on detailed administrative tasks, especially linked to its direct ownership of hundreds of VET schools and its review of hundreds of learning programmes. The report argues that autonomy at subnational level should be incrementally increased for those institutions which have proven capacity to deliver on increased responsibility. By doing so, providers can engage more closely with local employers, provision can better reflect local circumstances and capacity can be released at a national level. A quality assurance system can assure alignment with national policy goals. Increased autonomy locally should be accompanied by a shift from monitoring input variables and setting detailed regulations for local actors towards building accountability by promoting a culture of continuous improvement, reviewing outcomes and developing peer learning for local actors.

Using data and evidence to inform policy decisions

Bulgaria should improve access to, and use of, to inform policy decisions. For example, currently there is no VET graduate tracking mechanism providing data on economic returns linked to programmes. The report argues for improving emphasis on ensuring that better data is available across all governance levels, which should in turn have capacity to draw insights from evidence within decision making. There is potential enhance capacity to analyse data and conduct research on VET, for instance by establishing a research centre, as has been undertaken in many OECD countries.

Social partner involvement

Although Bulgaria has now created a strong foundation for involving social partners in VET policy making, institutionalised co-operation is highly concentrated. Both sectoral and subnational co-operation between social partners and the authorities is limited. With demand for different skills varying significantly by economic sectors and by geographical areas, this is a weakness that needs to be addressed. In this, it cannot be taken for granted that social partners will have capacity to engage effectively within governance structures. The report argues for the Bulgarian authorities to take steps to expand social partner involvement at sectoral and local levels, making sure that stakeholders have sufficient capacity to deliver on their responsibilities. Improving this can increase the system’s sensitivity to labour market needs.

Steering adult VET provision

Overall adult participation in learning is very low in Bulgaria compared to EU averages. Simultaneously, concerns have been raised over both the quality of adult training and the government’s capacity to monitor quality. Much provision aimed at adults is organised through VET adult learning centres. The government has, in general, limited information about the outcomes of the training that these numerous centres provide, especially in terms of labour market relevance. The report argues for steps to be taken to more closely manage VET adult learning centres, notably by improving quality assurance, accountability and potentially decreasing the number of centres. Furthermore, it is essential to improve horizontal collaboration between different governmental units involved to make sure that policy is coherent.

Funding of VET in Bulgaria

Well-crafted funding arrangements can help to achieve better quality in education. The report identifies challenges relating to the funding of VET in Bulgaria.

Local level financial autonomy can be improved

The report argues that subnational and school-level financial autonomy can be strengthened, as long as the capacity to manage responsibilities related to funding is properly developed. Currently, many detailed rules steer how schools spend their resources. Where capacity is sufficient to make effective use of resources, increased financial autonomy for both the subnational level and schools can be expected to increase the labour market relevance of VET.

Collaboration with employers and schools can be strengthened

Bulgarian employers’ involvement within upper secondary VET is relatively low. Collaboration between schools and employers can be improved, notably with regard to work-based learning for students within school-based programmes. Such collaboration is an important means of sharing the costs of education and training.

Bulgaria is currently experimenting with an apprenticeship model. A number of studies have shown that financial incentives aimed at employers should be considered with care. Should the pilot be rolled out, potential government financial investment should be based on evidence of the costs and benefits to employers of providing apprenticeship by sector and be designed to optimise the productive skill development of learners.

More can be done to tackle the issue of equity

Bulgaria is also facing substantial challenges in relation to delivering equity in the education system. Regional differences are significant with early school leaving a greater challenge in smaller towns and rural areas than in cities. The report argues for considering revision of the existing funding formula to improve equity and the better inclusion of vulnerable groups, taking into account that some students need more support than others.

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