The education system
The beginnings of schools and education in Croatia date back to the 10th century, and up to the 18th century were linked to the Church and priesthood. Systematic education of the people began during the reign of Maria Theresa, who issued an Edict on the General School Order in 1774, beginning a reform in education with an emphasis on elementary education.
From then on, every place with a parish church was required to open a school, which children aged 7 to 12 attended compulsorily. In the same year, the first courses to train teachers began in Bjelovar, Petrinja and Karlovac, and the first public teacher training college opened in 1849 in Zagreb. In 1874, the Croatian Sabor issued the first Croatian Education Act, which regulated compulsory five-year education. In 1946, seven-year education became compulsory, and this was increased to eight years in 1958, covering all children aged between 7 and 15.
The education system today begins in preschool institutions, which include those run by local authorities and private nursery schools (legal persons, religious communities, and others), and institutions that provide preschool programmes and shorter programmes such as libraries, various associations and elementary schools. Nurseries are responsible for full-day or shorter programmes of education, health care, nutrition and social care, providing for children from the age of six months to when they start school. In 2022, 81.2% of children attended them, including all children in the year before they started primary school (compulsory as of 2014).
Children who are six and a half or over must attend compulsory elementary education, which lasts 8 years. There is an adult education system for those over the age of 15 who fail to complete elementary education.
Upon completing their elementary education, children may continue optional secondary education which is divided according to curricula into gymnasiums, vocational schools (technical, industrial and craft based) or art schools (music, dance, art). Gymnasiums provide a comprehensive syllabus which lasts 4 years and includes a final examination, the state graduation exam. Programmes in vocational and art schools last from one to five years, and usually end with the production of a final assignment, but it is also possible to sit the state graduation exam if pupils have completed four years of secondary education. Since 2010, state graduation exam results have been the basis for entry to higher education institutions. Along with secondary education, there are also programmes that prepare people to work in their chosen vocations and adult education programmes. Elementary and secondary education in state schools is free.
Higher education is conducted in higher education institutions through university and professional studies. Higher education institutions are divided into polytechnics, colleges of applied science, faculties and art academies. All courses were aligned by 2005 with the requirements of the Bologna Process as part of the creation of a European system of higher education.
University studies equip students for work in science and higher education, in the business world, public sector and society. University studies are organised and implemented at universities which comprise several faculties, and may be at the level of undergraduate, graduate or postgraduate studies. After completing a three- or four-year undergraduate course, students are awarded the title of Bachelor (univ. bacc.) and, after a further one or two years of graduate studies, the title of Master (mag.). Postgraduate studies last three years and end with the defence of a doctoral dissertation, after which the academic title of Doctor of Science (dr. sc.) or Doctor of Arts (dr. art.) is awarded.
Professional studies provide students with the knowledge and skills they will require to work in professional occupations. Professional studies, which last two to three years, are conducted in colleges of applied science or polytechnics, and may also be conducted in universities. Upon completion, graduates are awarded the title of Professional Bachelor (bacc.) with reference to a specialisation. Polytechnics and colleges of applied science may organise specialist graduate professional studies lasting one or two years for students who have completed professional study courses or undergraduate university courses, and these studies lead to the academic title of Professional Specialist (struč. spec.) with reference to a specialisation. Universities may organise postgraduate specialist studies lasting one or two years, which lead to the academic title University Specialist (univ. spec.) with reference to a specialisation.
For many years now, secondary-chool students have successfully competed at international knowledge Olympiads in the fields of natural sciences and mathematics.
Achievements at international knowledge Olympiads in 2019–2022
|3 silver and 3 bronze medals||3 bronze medals||2 silver and 2 bronze medals||2 bronze medals||2 bronze medals||4 bronze medals|
|Cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic||3 silver and 2 bronze medals||1 gold, 2 silver and 1 bronze medals||1 silver and 2 bronze medals||Croatia did not participate|
|2 silver and 4 bronze medals||1 gold, 2 silver and 3 bronze medals||1 gold, 1 silver and 1 bronze medals||1 bronze medal||2 silver and 1 bronze medals||1 bronze medal|
|4 silver and 2 bronze medals||1 silver and 4 bronze medals||2 gold, 1 bronze medals||2 bronze medals||1 silver and 3 bronze medals||1 bronze medal|
The first university in Croatia was founded in Zadar in 1396, when the Dominican order promoted the level of courses to studia generalia with all university rights and privileges. The beginnings of Zagreb University date back to 1669, when King Leopold promoted the Zagreb Jesuit Academy to the level of a university. The Decree of the Empress Maria Theresa of 1776 ordered the establishment of the Royal Academy of Science, which at first had three faculties: Theology, Law and Philosophy. The modern University of Zagreb was founded in 1874, and its component faculties were Theology, Law, and Philosophy. Today, it is the largest university in the country with 31 faculties and 3 academies (drama, fine arts, music). There are also universities in Dubrovnik, Koprivnica, Pula, Rijeka, Osijek, Split and Zadar, and a Catholic University in Zagreb.
Today, 91 public and 28 private higher education institutions as well as one university centre at the public universities are operating in Croatia. The largest number of students, 81.2%, is enrolled in university courses in faculties.
In the academic year 2021/22, a total of 155,627 students were enrolled in higher education institutions, and 33,415 of them graduated in 2021. There were 13,424 students accommodated in 24 student halls of residence.
In the academic year 2021/22, a total of 3,987 students enrolled in postgraduate studies, while 1,463 enrolled in postgraduate specialist studies. In 2021, 737 students gained their doctoral degrees, and 521 obtained a master's degree or graduated as university specialists.
Teaching was carried out in higher education institutions in the academic year 2021/22 by 18,892 teaching staff and associates, among whom there were 11,182 staff with doctoral degrees.