Adult Education in Serbia

Katarina Popovic

What is meant in the country when you talk about Adult Education?
Adult education is a very broad term, covering plenty of acticities on different level.The main definition is given in the Law on adult eduacation, adopted in June 2013: “Adult education is integral part of the education system of the Republic of Serbia that provides to the adults the lifelong acquisition of competences and qualifications required for personal and professional development, work and employment, as well as socially responsible behavior.”

Adult education could be realized as formal, non-formal and informal education.

Formal adult education comprises basic and secondary education. It is defined as the organized process of learning, based on the curricula for basic and for secondary education and other programmes of vocational training, that are adapted to the needs and possibilities of adults and to the needs of labour market, in accordance with the law.

Non-formal education and training implies institutionalized learning which takes place through structured programs, but is not part of the system of formal education. It is organized processes of learning that is intended both for work and related activities, and for personal development. Non-formal education is implemented through: courses, workshop, seminars, instructions, job-training, private classes.

Informal learning is planned, but not organized and structured, not institutionalized. It includes learning in the family, at the workplace or in everyday life, as self-organized, family or social learning. It could be realized through: learning with a help of family member, friend or colleague; by using various printed materials (books, professional journals) or computer and internet resources; by using TV, radio, video or audio  material. This kind of learning helps personal development,  development of creativity, talents, initiatives, taking over social responsibility and accumulation of knowledge, skills and competencies needed for life.

In 2006 Strategy for Development of Adult Education provided the following definitions:  Adult education is a social activity and a process of responding to adults’

needs, regardless of organisation, contents, level or applied methods. According to its content, objectives and organisational methods, adult education is considered as diversified and multifunctional, and could be formal and non formal, general and vocational, initial and continuing, regular and part-time. Regarding operational, practical and organizational aspects, adult education “involves all formal and non formal educational forms intended for adults over the age of 18 who do not have the status of a pupil or student.

Non formal education refers to all educational programmes and activities outside of the school system. Non formal as well as formal education is organised on an institutional level, but does not lead to the national accreditation of acquired qualifications and educational levels and is usually not financed from public funds.

What is typical for Adult Education in the country?
The comprehensice character iof adult education is typical: Adult education it usually understand as the field including ALL areas of adult learning (general, vocational, civic, leisure…other areas and sub-areas), BOTH formal and nonformal education and informal learning and ALL levels of adult education (from literacy till further education).

Adult education in Serbia is strongly marked by economic and political transition of the country since 2000 and by the extensive reforms in all areas of society, including education and adult education. It is also influenced by intensive international cooperation. Recent development are marked by the influence of crises on adult education.

Legal basis

  • Law on Adult Education of the Republic of Serbia, adopted by the Serbian Government in June of 2013, came into force in January 2014;
  • Strategy for Adult Education and the Action Plan for the implementation of the Adult Education strategy;
  • Strategy for the Development of Vocational Education and Training;
  • Strategy for the Development of Education in Serbia 2012-2020;
  • Some aspects of adult education are regulated by laws from other areas – General Law on Education – The Law on the Foundations of Education and Upbringing, Law on Elementary Education, Law on Secondary Education;
  • Some relevant documents are in preparation – NQF, Skills vision 2020 – Serbia.

Responsible public bodies / ministries

  • Ministry of education has the main responsibility, especially the unit for adult education within the Department for preschool and basic and education;
  • The Ministry of labour, Employment and Social Policy and National Employment Service under the authority of the Ministry;
  • The National council for vocational and adult education and The National Educational Council;
  • Centre for vocational and adult education of the Institute for Improvement of the Education.

Relevant umbrella associations and national (service) organisations

TThere are no relevant umbrella associations in the area of adult education. Similar types of organisations are:

  • Workers, People’s and Open Universities Business Association
  • AES – Adult Education Society
  • DAS – Society of the Serbian andragogues
  • There are professional association in certain areas close to the adult education, such as “Association of human resource managers” and some others.

Services are provided by the responsible national bodies, chambers, agencies, NGOs etc.

Providers of Adult Education
The formal system of adult education in Serbia consists of following providers:

  • Schools for basic education of adults – The great change occurred in 2011 with the implementation of pilot Elementary Functional Education of Adults (80 schools were involved in three- year cycle) – the new, modern system of functional basic education of adults was established, including both vocational and genral, liberal courses;
  • High schools – schools on the secondary level (developed from 2000thwithin the CARDS Program, as Regional Centres for continuing education of adults they replaced traditional secondary schools, offering both vocational and liberal courses);
  • Higher education institutions (with a very low participation of adults and older students because of the new system introduced after implementation of Bologna process, which is not flexible regarding the needs of adults);

The institutions and organisations providing nonformal adult education in Serbia are various:

  • Open and People’s universities (providing various number of programs-languages, ICT, music, painting, healt, programmes for the third age etc);
  • National Employment Servise (different programs for unemployed, volunteers, practicioners, some of them include liberal adult education or mixed programmes, such as: foreign languages, ICT etc);
  • Private organisations and institutions (foreign languages schools, ICT schools, music, painting, acting, yoga, photography);
  • NG and civil society organisations (different programs for civic and intercultural education, soft skills, culture and cultural expression, self-development, civic and political literacy, health , family life education, education of women, minority education);
  • Companies (soft skills and companies’ relevant programmes);
  • Universities for Third Age (languages, ICT, painting, music, dancing, acting);
  • Sport associations – sport clubs and recreation centres (various sports, martial arts, yoga…)
  • Professional associations in various vocational areas;
  • Regional centres for the professional development of teachers
  • Various agencies for local and regional development;
  • Consulting and training companies;
  • International organizations, institutions and foundations (mainly through project activities)
  • Comouters, internet, television, books and journals are playing the most important role in informal adult learning.


  • According to the new Law, there is Annual Plan for adult education, which should define the priorities for single year, sources for financing and criteria for allocation. The financies should be provided by national budget, regional budgets and communal budgets. In the budget of the Ministry of education and Science there is certain amount of money for education of adults and ‘other education’.Single Ministry and state organizations provide some types of education from their budegts.
  • Important budgetary allocation for employment oriented adult education is given via National employment service.
  • There is a significant support from the European and other international organizations, especially through projects and development cooperation.
  • Private companies and corporate sector invest into the training oif their own staff, employees’ education and professional development.
  • Rather smaller amount in adult education is invested by participants themselves.

Participation rate
There are no reliable data for the participation rate in adult education in Serbia, though a participation rate of three to four percent has been suggested and metnioned in UNESCO National report prepared for CONFINTEA VI in 2009. Factors that influence this rate are for example the relatively low educational level of the population, the insufficient economic situation, the unstable political situation and educational provisions which do not match the needs of the population.
Strategy for the Development of Education in Serbia 2012-2020 envisions participation of at least 10% of adult population in some form of formal or non-formal adult education. owever, a recent research of Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia reports on higher data on participation in adult education, based on data from 2000 – 16,5% (in formal education 4%, in non-formal 13,6%), and in informal education participation rate is 19,1%. Although there is an increasement in participation, there is a problem of access and motivation. Namely, tipical participants in adult education and lifelong learning is male, age 25—34, employed, from urban area, with higher education degree. The majority of the courses in non-formal education are related to the job, but among the adults who participated in the research the preferred courses are: general education, art, science, mathematics, ICT. Women are more included in courses of humanities and art, and men in engineering, science, agriculture and other more job-related courses.

Some of the most important topics and fields are:

  • Literacy and functional basic education;
  • Professional education, training and retraining in different areas, professional development;
  • Personal development and psycho-social support;
  • HR development, leaders and management skills;
  • IT literacy and foreign languages;
  • “Soft” skills (communication and interpersonal skills, team work, etc.);
  • Financial business, enterpreneurship, accountance;
  • Project management;
  • Nutrition, medical prevention, HIV and sexually transmitted diseases
  • Family life education;
  • Hobby activities, free time activities, sports and arts;
  • Citizens, peace and intercultural education;
  • Sustainable development, environonmet, tourism, agriculture.

Professional (university) preparation for staff working in adult education has a long tradition in Serbia. There is 3-level study of adult education at the Belgrade University – Faculty of Philosophy, Department of Andragigy. Andragogue as profession is officially included into the National Vocational Qualification list.
Professional development for adult educators and facilitators is happening mostly within non-formal education sector.
As for the non-professionals, there are (above the initial education for teachers of certain subjects, at the university) some specialized courses within formal education sector in different areas, as well as accredited programmes by Centre for professional development of teachers’ relevant ministries. Non-formal education offers mainly content that is targeting didactic and method competencies. In the last couple of years several programmes for education and training of trainers have been developed. The tendency is to continue with precise defining and implementing standards for training and professional development of staff in this field.
Adult educators/facilitators in Serbia are recruited from different sectors. Just small percentages are full-time professionals; they are mainly part-time teachers, trainers, HRM.

Quality system / insurance
Many of the standards for quality assurance in adult education have been taken from the formal schooling system. It applies mostly on the formal adult education.
The Institute for Education Quality and Evaluation is an institution providing standards for professional development, and National employment Service has developed quality standards for the selection of providers of vocational education and training.
There are standards for: student achievements, quality of textbooks, competence of headmasters, competences of teachers and associates, quality of work of some institutions. An additional set of quality standards of secondary vocational schools is related to the quality of practical teaching.
In some forms of non-formal education of adults, the following standards are used:
– Standards of quality developed for the formal system,
– Standards of quality developed and monitored internally by the providers,
– Internationally accepted programmes.
The EU supported project The “Second Chance“ – Systemic Development of Elementary Practice Based Adult Education in Serbia developed the standrads for the basic elementary education of adults. There is number of projects with developed tracking systems and evaluation of particular segments of adult education and learning included, but there is no systematically monitoring and evaluation in adult education.
Strategy for the Development of Education in Serbia 2012-2020 planned some measures related to the quality of adult education:
The quality is related to conditions, programs, teaching/learning processes, learning outcomes including the adequate number and quality of teaching and other staff specialized for adult education and should be developed in accordance with national and European qualifications framework (NQF and EQF). It is planned to develop a system of accreditation of institutions of formal and non-formal adult education in accordance with the international standards and set up intensive international cooperation in the field of monitoring and evaluation of the quality of adult education system and lifelong learning.
Recognition, validation and accreditation of non-formal and informal learning are also envisioned in this Strategy and regulated by the new Law on Adult Education. There is some work done on development of National Qualifications Framework (NQF).

Latest developments / main problems in the discussion
The main problem is formulated in the National Education Development Strategy in Serbia – to develop a comprehensive system of lifelong education, where adult education is an important part, where the system of adult education and lifelong learning is relevant, qualitative and efficient, open, flexible and available for all, regardless of their socio-economic, physical, intellectual, regional, national, linguistic, ethnic, religious and other characteristics. The implementation of newly adopted Law on Adult Education is the most important challenges, especially in the time of crises and cuts in many areas.
Main issues are related to the development of NQF and to quality assurance, especially for the providers.

Relevant links 

EAEA Country presentation: Serbia

General country information: