Recently the parliament voted at first reading the amendments to the higher education law. Despite the fact that people are pleading for greater autonomy for the universities, Bulgarian lawmakers still fear to take measures that are more radical in this direction. What is new?
1) Universities will be able to determine the number of the new students every year
Yes, but the right of the universities to define the number of the students will be still limited from the capacity of the university determined by the National Evaluation and Accreditation Agency (NEAA). There is no need for such a restriction. No university will start to accept huge number of new students only to receive more money from the budget. Even if they do so, the only result will be bad education and unfortunately lack of reputation. Moreover, this means no students in the future. Why should we give NEAA such an obligation, when the market itself will force universities to function properly?!
However, the new law provides some opportunity for competition among universities, but only to a certain extent. From now on, the state subsidy for the universities will depend on the number of students in each one. Despite this, there are many unclear points about how exactly the subsidy will be distributed to universities and still this system will be far away from the „voucher system", where the money follows the students and thus, greater competition is established.
2) Universities will be able to determinate students' fees
Yes, but the right of the universities to determine students' fees will be still limited and should not exceed "normal" student allowance determined by the Council of Ministers of Bulgaria. The main reason for this restriction is the fear that students' fees will increase substantially if we give full freedom to the universities. Yes, students' fees will increase, but this will be determined by the market. Good universities will raise their fees because they provide higher quality of education. No university can raise fees without taking into account the will of the market.
Something positive is that universities will have the right to differentiate fees on their own. This is an opportunity to motivate students, as good students will pay lower fees or even no fees.
3) Board of Trustees
We can all agree that the first two amendments are steps in the right direction – giving universities greater autonomy. Nevertheless, the idea to create board of trustees by law sounds a little bit scary. The problem is not in the board itself. Many universities establish such boards of trustees on their own to ensure better management, but these boards do not have a status of inviolability. These boards will contain seven members, including one member from the Ministry of Education. Even if the law says that this board has no authority and its prerogative will be just to give standpoints, I thing it's clear that such a body will have huge informal power and it will be easy for its members to interfere in all stages of university governance. This board of trustees has nothing to do with the autonomy of the universities.
4) Students' Ombudsman
It was just a few years ago when we first heard of the concept of so-called „Academic Ombudsman". Now we are facing the new law and the new concept of so-called „Students' Ombudsman". Besides that students' ombudsman will be a member of the board of trustees, he will have the task to improve the communication between lecturers – students – administration. It sounds great that the students will have the opportunity to take part in the university governance, but this is the main reason for the existence of students' council. Actually, with this law both the "students' council" and "students' ombudsman" will be elected by the students and will have same duties. However, if the governance of the university should be well watched, it is better to leave this duty to the students, not to some boards of trustees.
"Poor Dear Rector"
Imagine you are a rector of one of the best universities in Bulgaria and you should make a decision about students' fees and the number of the students you will accept. It is better for you not to forget that you have been chosen from your colleagues and you are the only one responsible for the consequences of your decisions and the future of the university. Despite the fact that your university is one of the best in the country you have no right to determine higher fees than all the other universities and you have serious restrictions on the number of the new students. All this means that you have nothing to decide, as everything is regulated. However, you may fell better if in front of your door are standing 40 members of the students' council, 7 members of the board of trustees, one students' ombudsman, one academic ombudsman and all of them have the legal right to give you hints.