Chapter 1. Overview

This chapter gives an overview of the study, the two topics in focus, namely governance and funding, before describing the OECD’s approach to vocational education and training (VET) reviews. It further provides a snapshot of the Bulgarian VET system and presents key data. Lastly, the chapter assesses the strengths of the Bulgarian system and summarises the challenges identified in the report.


Funding and governance in VET

A well-skilled workforce is one of the main supports for national prosperity and growth. Some of the skills required come from the expansion of general education at all levels, but countries also need occupation-specific skills in quickly expanding fields such as health care, in jobs which demand new technological skills, as well as in traditional trades. The collective importance of occupation-specific skills is high and growing as the mix of skills and occupations in demand undergoes rapid change. Typically, initial vocational education and training (VET) systems play a major role in supplying these skills – and therefore are fundamental in meeting the needs of a well-functioning modern economy. The governance and funding of VET systems are two critical aspects that directly affect the capability of countries to produce highly skilled VET graduates.

The governance of VET systems is by its nature complex. VET systems which contribute so importantly to both education and employment policies need to be based upon sound governance mechanisms that balance multiple interests. Often several national ministries and agencies are involved in policy-making that affects VET, and in many countries, there are decentralised structures where subnational authorities have autonomy in decisions regarding provision. This reflects the need of systems to provide education and training to learners that reflect employer needs which can be expected to vary by geography as well as by economic sector. VET programmes need to respond to the complex and fast changing needs of the labour market, while staying attractive to students and to society more broadly. Provision must provide transferable skills that are not too firm-specific, equipping students with strong basic skills, giving them the ability to adapt to changing occupational demands. For VET systems, this demands a close connection to the dynamic world of work and makes governance inherently different to that demanded in general or academic education.

Funding for vocational education and training is equally often a complex mix, and includes support both for students and for institutions and financial contributions from central government, regional and municipal support. In some cases, there are cost-sharing arrangements with contributions from employers and other social partners. The funding of VET raises particular issues given that the very nature of vocational education and training is to provide individuals with occupation-related skills that can be directly beneficial for employers. VET poses specific challenges to funding systems compared to programmes of general education. Its cost structures may be very different with respect to equipment or the technical skills of its teachers, and variation can be especially present between countries, occupational sectors and whether the system is mostly school-based or includes substantial elements of work-based learning. Moreover, VET students often come from more disadvantaged backgrounds than their counterparts in general programmes, demanding potentially greater investment to ensure successful outcomes.

The VET review of Bulgaria

This OECD VET review is focused on two pre-defined topics: VET governance and funding. In Chapter 1, a brief overview of VET provision in Bulgaria and the report’s conclusions are set out. The second chapter focuses on the governance of VET with an emphasis on the dominant school-based model of VET provision, and not the ongoing pilot that Bulgaria is currently conducting on apprenticeship models. The third chapter focuses on the funding of VET. In this chapter, the focus point extends beyond school-based provision to consider some implications emerging from the pilot of apprenticeships.

This review was co-funded by the European Union (EU) and the Bulgarian Ministry of Education and Science (Box 1.1). The scope of the work is equivalent to half of a standard OECD VET review.

To undertake this review, an OECD team visited Bulgaria between 23 and 26 April 2018 where it met with a broad range of stakeholders to discuss challenges and review important aspects of the Bulgarian VET system. The OECD team also received a background report from the Bulgarian authorities. The team is grateful to colleagues in Bulgaria for their engagement in the project.

Box 1.1. OECD reviews of vocational education and training

Now encompassing more than 40 country and regional studies, the OECD has reviewed vocational education systems around the world since 2007. Three major reports draw together the policy lessons from this wide ranging international experience: Learning for Jobs published in (2010[1]), Skills beyond School published in (2014[2]) and Seven Questions about Apprenticeships published in (2018[3]).

The country studies cover Australia, Austria, Belgium (Flanders), Canada, Chile, China (People’s Republic of), Costa Rica, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Kazakhstan, Korea, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Slovak Republic, Spain, Sweden, South Africa, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The country studies are available on line:

Snapshot of the VET system

Bulgarian VET provision is overwhelmingly school-based. Programmes of study include practical learning in school workshops and might also involve elements of work-based learning in a workplace. Most students enter VET at age 14 (secondary education at stage 1 as defined in the context of Bulgarian education), but it is also possible to enter at upper secondary level (articulated within Bulgaria as stage 2) at age 16, depending on the students choice. Programmes last from two to five years. Successful candidates in secondary VET receive a state matriculation examination in Bulgarian language and literature, which allows the VET graduates to continue within education; they have access to higher education at the tertiary level as well as to post-secondary VET programmes. Students currently have the option of also undertaking a state examination linked to a VET qualification. This will be compulsory from 2022. However, although enrolled in a VET programme, one-third of VET graduates do not ultimately chose to obtain this VET qualification. This might reflect the fact that, for many, VET or direct entry to the labour market is not a first choice, but can rather be considered as a practical pathway towards higher education.

There are in total 454 schools providing VET in Bulgaria, and since 2013-14 the number of schools has decreased. VET at the upper secondary level is mainly provided through four different kinds of school (Figure 1.1). VET schools are either owned by the national Ministry of Education and Science or the municipalities. A small number of VET schools are private. In addition, VET can also be provided through secondary schools when there is a lack of a specific provision in a respective municipality.

Bulgaria is currently piloting an apprenticeship model. As the pilot is still project-based, it has not been a main focus for this VET review. Apprenticeship is, however, covered partly in Chapter 3 on funding.

Figure 1.1. Type of VET schools
Figure 1.1. Type of VET schools

Source: Adapted from Eurydice (2018[4]), Bulgaria Overview,


Adult VET learning is provided by institutions responsible for formal education and training and for non-formal training. The main institutions providing formal vocational education and training are the vocational colleges, vocational secondary schools and VET adult learning centres. The latter is specific for learners over 16. Training can lead to full VET qualifications, as well as partial qualifications, depending on the learner’s ambition. Adult learners at VET adult learning centres, however, cannot secure an upper secondary diploma, meaning that they cannot enter higher education. Adults who attend VET schools however, can obtain an upper secondary diploma.

Data on Bulgarian VET

As Bulgaria is not a member of the OECD and does not participate in surveys of relevance to VET, such as the OECD Survey of Adult Skills, a product of the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), this report relies mainly on data provided by the European Union (EU) and by the Bulgarian authorities. Bulgaria is therefore mostly compared to the EU countries, many of which are also OECD members. The following section presents key data on the Bulgarian VET system in an international context.

Enrolment in VET and educational attainment

Bulgaria has a relatively high enrolment rate in upper secondary VET. In 2016, 51.3% of upper secondary school students were enrolled in a VET programme in Bulgaria, while the EU average is 49.3% (Eurostat, 2019[5]). In 2017, 82.8% of people aged 25-64 had successfully competed at least upper secondary education in Bulgaria, compared to the EU average of 77.5% (Eurostat, 2018[6]). The corresponding share of young people between the ages of 20 and 24 who had at least completed upper secondary in Bulgaria is 85.8% which is also slightly above the EU average of 83.3% (Eurostat, 2018[7]).

Adult education

One of the eight EU benchmarks within the Education and Training 2020 strategic framework states that an average of at least 15% of adults should participate in adult learning across the EU countries (Eurostat, 2018[8]). Compared to other EU countries, very few Bulgarian adults currently undertake such provision. The participation of adults has increased only modestly over recent years, and the Bulgarian government has set itself a goal of doubling the share to 5% by the end of 2020 (Bulgarian Ministry of Education and Science, forthcoming[9]).

Figure 1.2. Adult participation in lifelong learning, 2018
Figure 1.2. Adult participation in lifelong learning, 2018

Note: The indicator measures the share of people aged 25 to 64 who stated that they received formal or non-formal education and training in the four weeks preceding the survey. Adult learning covers formal and non-formal activities, both general and vocational education and training.

1. Note by Turkey: The information in this document with reference to “Cyprus” relates to the southern part of the Island. There is no single authority representing both Turkish and Greek Cypriot people on the Island. Turkey recognises the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). Until a lasting and equitable solution is found within the context of the United Nations, Turkey shall preserve its position concerning the “Cyprus issue”.

Note by all the European Union Member States of the OECD and the European Union: The Republic of Cyprus is recognised by all members of the United Nations with the exception of Turkey. The information in this document relates to the area under the effective control of the Government of the Republic of Cyprus.

Source: Adapted from Eurostat (2019[10]), Education and Training Statistics Indicator [trng_lfs_01] (database),


Early leavers from education and training

In 2017, the share of early leavers from education and training in Bulgaria was 12.7%, which is above both the EU average of 10.6% and also above the EU’s Education and Training 2020 benchmark of 10%. A national target for Bulgaria has been set at 11%. High levels of early school leaving have consequences for the economy. For many early school leavers, VET can be an important option.

Figure 1.3. Early leavers from education and training, 2018
Figure 1.3. Early leavers from education and training, 2018

1. See note 1 below Figure 1.2.

Note: Percentage of population aged 18-24 with at most lower secondary education and not in further education or training.

Source: Adapted from Eurostat (2019[11]), Education and Training, Indicator [edat_lfse_14] (database),


Employment rate of recent graduates

Bulgaria’s employment rate for recent graduates between the ages of 20 and 34 whose highest educational attainment is upper secondary VET or post-secondary non-tertiary education is substantially below the EU average. In 2018, 66.4% of these graduates were employed, compared to 79.5% across the EU.

Figure 1.4. Employment rate of young people not in education and training by educational attainment, VET, 2018
Figure 1.4. Employment rate of young people not in education and training by educational attainment, VET, 2018

1. See note 1 below Figure 1.2.

Note: 20-34 year olds from 1-3 years upon completion of upper secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education (ISCED 3-4) vocational programmes.

Source: Adapted from Eurostat (2019[12]), Education and Training, Indicator [edat_lfse_24] (database),


Main strengths and challenges


Willingness in Bulgaria to reform

There is commitment in Bulgaria to review and continually improve VET provision, making substantial changes where appropriate (see Chapter 2). Bulgaria has a history of productive reform (European Commission, 2018[13]). Since entry into the EU in 2007, Bulgaria has received substantial resources to make significant changes in its vocational education and training system through EU structural funds.

Bulgaria is developing a new strategy with a medium term vision for VET

Bulgaria is determined to establish a clear strategy underpinning a strong vision for VET. It is based on an appropriate description of challenges and articulates measures for mid-term implementation (Bulgarian Ministry of Education and Science, forthcoming[9]).

System of social partner engagement

A system for social partner engagement is a critical factor in governing VET. Every national VET system benefits from mechanisms for systematic dialogue with the labour market. Although there is room for improvement, Bulgaria has established a strong foundation for social partner involvement (see Chapter 2). Bulgaria has established the National Agency for Vocational Education and Training (NAVET) which is responsible for co-operation with social partners in establishing new VET qualifications, updating existing ones, and conducting inspections of VET centres that provide education courses for adults (see Chapter 2) (Cedefop, 2018[14]).

A solid funding arrangement

Bulgaria uses a funding formula to determine VET resourcing. The funding formula takes into consideration the number of students, regional differences and differences between VET programmes. It represents a solid foundation upon which to build further. Recently performance-based funding for schools has been included in the formula (see Chapter 3) (Cedefop, 2018[14]).

VET is well articulated with the other parts of the education system

The different levels in the Bulgarian education system are well articulated. Successful VET graduates have access to higher education and post-secondary VET. In 2015, 93% of the upper secondary VET cohort in Bulgaria was eligible for direct access to tertiary education, compared to 66.7% across the EU (Cedefop, 2017[15]).


Summary of challenges relating to governance

The challenges that are identified during this review relating to governance are:

  • The Bulgarian governance of VET is overly centralised. Opportunity exists to increase autonomy and flexibility at subnational levels, consequently enhancing capacity at a national level to steer the VET system more strategically in order to better ensure provision matches the needs of the labour market.

  • There are weaknesses linked to the collection and use of data and evidence. Data and evidence should systematically be made publicly available and used within governance structures at different levels within the system to inform policy decisions.

  • Capacity to support the VET system is limited among some key actors, such as the Ministry of Education and Science, NAVET and the social partners.

  • The overall participation of adults in VET is very low. The majority of the provision is private and difficult for the authorities to steer. In addition, there is little information about the quality of such training or its outcomes.

Summary of challenges relating to funding

The challenges that are identified during this review relating to VET funding are:

  • The funding of VET is relatively low, both from government, municipalities and from employers.

  • The financial autonomy of VET schools and their capacity to act is low. Opportunity exists for it to be increased in order to enable deeper collaboration with employers.

  • More can be done to tackle the issue of equity within VET provision, including the engagement of vulnerable groups.


[9] Bulgarian Ministry of Education and Science (forthcoming), Making Vocational Education and Training a First Choice - Vocational Education and Training in Bulgaria 2017-2021, Bulgarian Ministry of Education and Science, Sofia.

[14] Cedefop (2018), Vocational Education and Training in Bulgaria - Short Description, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg,

[15] Cedefop (2017), On the Way to 2020: Data for Vocational Education and Training Policies. Country Statistical Overview, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg,

[13] European Commission (2018), Interim Report of the Technical Support for the Implementation of the BG NQF in VET Deliverable 3, European Commission.

[10] Eurostat (2019), “Adult participation in lifelong learning”, in Eurostat, Education and Training, Indicator [trng_lfs_01] (database),

[11] Eurostat (2019), “Early leavers from education and training 2018”, in Eurostat, Education and Training, Indicator: [edat_lfse_14] (database),

[12] Eurostat (2019), “Employment rate of young people not in education and training by educational attainment”, in Education and Training, Indicator [edat_lfse_24] (database),

[5] Eurostat (2019), “Share of students in vocational education programmes, 2016”, in Education and Training Statistics,,_2016_(%25)_ET18_II.png.

[8] Eurostat (2018), Education and Training - Indicators, (accessed on 22 October 2018).

[7] Eurostat (2018), “Educational attainment 20-24”, in Education and Training Statistics,

[6] Eurostat (2018), “Educational attainment aged 25-64”, in Education and Training Statistics,

[4] Eurydice (2018), Bulgaria Overview, (accessed on 22 October 2018).

[3] OECD (2018), Seven Questions about Apprenticeships: Answers from International Experience, OECD Reviews of Vocational Education and Training, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[2] OECD (2014), Skills beyond School: Synthesis Report, OECD Reviews of Vocational Education and Training, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[1] OECD (2010), Learning for Jobs, OECD Reviews of Vocational Education and Training, OECD Publishing, Paris,

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