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Scotland shares its experience with our European partners.

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SFC in Slovenia

SFC has been working with other EU member states on a project to support the reform of Slovenia’s higher education funding system. With the current uncertainty about what may follow next month concerning our relationship with Europe here is a concrete example of the benefits of collaboration with European partners.

The Government of Slovenia passed legislation in 2017 to move the country towards performance-based higher education funding. To support this reform process, the European Commission brought together representatives from seven member states to act as peer counsellors and share their experiences of similar reforms. 

Led by Ken Rutherford, Assistant Director, Outcome Agreements, SFC has subsequently made three country visits to Slovenia over a two year development period, and most recently at a review meeting in the picturesque capital city of Ljubljana on 22 January 2019, where officials from funding bodies in Scotland, Germany, Austria, Poland, Latvia, Croatia and Lithuania presented on their own experiences and provided peer counselling and critical reflection on the Slovenian proposals and progress.

Slovenia has a population of just over two million. The majority located in the capital Ljubljana (300,000) while some 60% of the country is uninhabited. By GDP it is the wealthiest of the Slavic nations, although there is inequality in the distribution of wealth across the regions.

The landscape for tertiary education in Slovenia is dominated by the University of Ljubljana with nearly 70% of the funding and student numbers. But there is also a very complex and diverse HE sector, with two additional public universities, one private university and 47 private Higher Education Institutes (HEIs). In AY 2013-14, around 79,000 students were enrolled in HE, and in the last decade, the number of higher education institutions has markedly increased.

Degree / tertiary programmes are not generally selective nor is the length of study time fixed.  As a result, it can be hard to quantify at any given time how many students are in the system and retention rates, meanwhile, are variable. The Slovenian HE sector has some similarities with Scotland, but also some marked differences – particularly the division of research and teaching funding and the status of lecturers and their contracts (6 hours teaching a week).

SFC in SloveniaThe Ministry of Higher Education is committed to introducing Funding Agreements and were particularly interested to hear about the Scottish experience with Outcome Agreements – particularly the negotiation approach, use of guidance, role of the Government, promotion of national priorities, funding consequences and how we monitor progress. They have a legislative commitment to increase their funding of HE to 1% of GDP and include within that a pillar of funding (3%) tied to performance.

In January we heard of their experience after the first round of funding agreements. Clear progress had been made, notwithstanding ongoing challenges there was an appetite to increase the scope of negotiations both by incorporating research and expanding the total proportion of funding under negotiation.

Our presentations were warmly received both by our hosts and other members of the EU delegation and we learned of similar approaches elsewhere – particularly in Germany.

The next steps will see Slovenian colleagues aiming to enhance their new arrangements over the next academic year. While we recognise room for improvement within our own Outcome Agreement process, reflecting on the journey ahead for the Slovenians really served to highlight the OA capacity we have built, and the significant culture shift which has taken place over the past five years here in Scotland.