University shake-up

University shake-up

When Education Minister Sergey Ignatov presented the newly adopted Law on Academic Staff Development on April 19, he called it "the biggest reform ever made to Bulgaria's education over the past 20 years".Whether this is true only time will tell, but the law does indeed aim to shake up the country's higher education system and bring it on a par with the rest of the world. Higher education has long been criticised for being too conservative and outdated. Naturally, most censure has been aimed at the academic staff whose future is addressed by the new law adopted on April 16.One of the main changes is in the system of awarding higher degrees to academic staff and people's motivation in progressing in their career development. Currently, it takes many years for a young scholar to reach the point when he or she might be recognised and awarded the academic title "professor", which ranks as the height of a scholar's career. Until now, the body responsible for awarding academic degrees was the Higher Attestation Commission (HAC) as stipulated in the Law on Academic Degrees, which will now be replaced by the Law on Academic Staff Development.The HAC can be found in the educational systems of Russia, Ukraine and some other former socialist states as a leftover of communism. Currently, if a scholar wants to advance in the hierarchy his application has to be reviewed by the HAC upon the recommendation of the candidate's respective university or scientific organisation. In other words, the HAC has the final say on each candidate. According to HAC's critics, this has delayed procedures, rendering the whole process inefficient and in need of an overhaul. Now, according to the new law, the HAC will have to be shut down within eight months after the law comes into force. Significantly, universities will now have the final say on who can be promoted in the academic hierarchy and on what criteria."This law treats the Bulgarian academic community with respect and that's why it delegates them rights and responsibilities," Ignatov, who prior to becoming a minister was head of the private New Bulgarian University, told an April 19 news conference. All universities will have to adopt their own individual rules on how one can progress in the hierarchy, he said, noting that he did not share the fear that this would lead to a boom in professors. Ignatov said he believed it would only separate the good from the not so good. All decisions by the respective universities could be appealed before the Government's National Evaluation and Accreditation Agency.Another major change expected to reduce the number of higher educational establishments in Bulgaria (currently there are 51, of which 41 are universities and 10 colleges) is the rule that from now on only teachers who have signed labour contracts with the respective universities can teach there. In other words, the current practice whereby teachers from Sofia University St Kliment Ohridksi, for example, could tour the country teaching for a day or two in small-scale universities will cease. That way, universities would either have to shut down or invest in their own teachers; this is supposed to improve teaching standards or close those establishments that cannot afford it.

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