Croatian educational system and its accessibility for migrants

Getting ready for the NECE conference, you will probably be eager to learn more about this years’ host country Croatia. Julija Kranjec from the Centre for Peace Studies, one of the local partners of NECE 2016, provided us with valuable insights into the Croatian educational system. Her article focuses on children's education, language courses for adults and access to and availability of higher education for refugees and is a compilation of information and explanations provided by the Ministry of Education, the Government Office for Human Rights and National Minority Rights and MIPEX Croatia.

Education is a powerful instrument for the process of adaptation and social integration. It benefits the refugees as well as the society in which they live (by increasing skills and competencies, better employment opportunities, etc.). It is fact, in any society, that education is the key to integration - not only in cases of refugees and asylum seekers, but also for all of its members through socialisation. Every society that wants to become a community of constructive, responsible and active members should strive towards this goal. What must be avoided is a one-way educational process with the ultimate goal of assimilation of newly arrived people in the society and the process of learning a language, skills and regulations in which refugees become a mere object without being able to influence this process.


In this article, we will focus on three equally important areas: children's education, language courses for adults and access to higher education for refugees, which inevitably involves the recognition of previous qualifications of these people in question.


Each of these areas contains a number of problems and particularities that must be taken into account and whose neglect, as is evident in the current situation in Croatia, leads to violations of fundamental human rights and contributes to an unwelcoming and hostile atmosphere. One of the aspects of quality of integration is the availability of educational programs of the host country. According to the Act on International and Temporary Protection, this aspect appears to be simple and easy to implement, however, in practice it turned out to be the opposite due to many obstacles of which the society and system in Croatia is often not conscious. It is important to emphasize that refugees (asylum seekers and foreigners under subsidiary protection) and Croatian residents do not have the same starting position when entering Croatian education system.


The education system in the Republic of Croatia includes:

Preschool education in the Republic of Croatia encompasses education and care of children of preschool age, realized though educational, health care, nourishment and social care programs for children from six months of age until school age.

Eight-year elementary education in the Republic of Croatia is compulsory and free for all children between the ages of six and fifteen. This applies to all children, who are residents in the Republic of Croatia, regardless of their nationality.

Following elementary education, secondary education enables everyone, under equal terms and according to one’s capabilities, to acquire knowledge and skills required for work or continuation of education.

Universities two-year and four-year colleges are available for both Croatian citizens and foreigners according to certain procedures.


Teaching and other forms of educational work is performed by school institutions in the Croatian language and Latin script. When it comes to refugees, for successful integration into the educational system, the student needs to pass the test of knowledge of the Croatian language, which will be done by the professional body of the respective educational institutions. After verification of the Croatian language, the student will be included in an appropriate type and level of education of a educational institution that is closest to the residence of the student. Depending on the age of the student, the educational institution should assess whether the student will be simultaneously included in the corresponding attendance and in the approximately appropriate grade. If the student is included in lessons in parallel, his attendance will not be evaluated by grades, but only in terms of socialisation and language learning. Schools are required to provide special assistance to:

- children of vulnerable groups (asylum seekers, foreigners under subsidiary protection)

- children of Croatian citizens, who are returning from abroad and have insufficient knowledge of the Croatian language but are about to start or continue their education in the Republic of Croatia

- children whose families reside in Croatia and are nationals of EU Member States and perform or performed self-employed jobs, or are employed or were employed on the Croatian territory.

All legally residing migrant children in Croatia can enroll in compulsory education. Following the recent amendments of the Law on Education in Primary and Secondary School of 07/15/2013, undocumented pupils will now have limited access to primary education. Still, they will not be able to enroll in secondary school and access higher education or vocational training.

For the effective integration of students, schools organise individual and group forms of direct educational work, by which these students are provided Basic language support and support to compensate a lack of knowledge in certain subjects. Hardly any school in Croatia has been helped to adapt to the needs and opportunities brought by migrant pupils or organised wider lessons in immigrant languages and cultures, specific funding, training or support staff for schools.

Croatian schools are required to provide very few integration measures for migrant pupils. Migrant children can benefit from official language support in primary and secondary education, but are not provided with an opportunity to learn their mother languages. Only EU citizen children are provided with free school lessons about their language and culture based on reciprocity agreements with other countries, despite EU recommendations to expand this to non-EU citizens.


The Republic of Croatia does not regulate intercultural education within separate legal frameworks, but some conditions for its development can be found in the laws and other documents that regulate various other areas. Schools should integrate intercultural education throughout their curricula with guidance from the national educational standards, which can be modified to reflect the diversity of the local population. However, they are missing out on new opportunities that immigrants bring to the classroom. For comparison, most new immigration countries in Southern and Central Europe provide additional tuition to master the official language and immigrants’ home languages, specific funding or teachers for schools, and required teacher trainings on immigrants’ needs.  Basic intercultural approach in Croatia requires greater support to be implemented by schools and civil society.



There is a Basic adult education that is provided for people older than fifteen years, who have not completed primary school education. The aim of such an education program is to improve literacy and life skills in all areas of education. Basic adult education is free but only for Croatian citizens.

Secondary Adult Education includes special programs for acquiring secondary school or vocational qualifications, lower qualifications, retraining and training programs.


Croatian language learning for vulnerable groups of adults (asylum seekers, aliens under subsidiary protection), who are not included in the educational system, should be organized in open universities, primary schools and other institutions that are authorized to perform the annual school calendar. For other groups of foreigners, courses are organized in Croaticum - Centre for Croatian as Second language and Foreign Language at the Department for Croatian studies in Zagreb, performing educational programs (semestral course, the one-month courses and Little summer school) and examinations of Croatian language for non-native speakers.


Although the Law on International and temporary protection prescribes the right of asylum seekers and aliens under subsidiary protection to learn the language and includes penalties in the event that they do not attend, there is no organized learning of Croatian language in a systematic and professional way. Given that the knowledge of the language is a prerequisite of integration, many of the problems encountered in the integration process are caused by exactly this failure. Instead, this very important part of the work is done by civil society organizations, through their engaged and dedicated volunteers. However, this way of providing language lessons is not systematic nor professional and does not allow the issuing of a certificate, that proves the knowledge of the language. In many occasions and at many levels the attention was drawn to the harmful effects of non-implementation of the Croatian language courses but indifference and inaction of the competent institutions, primarily MZOS, continues. As a result, there is a growing number of people on the waiting list for learning the language, a large number of people who cannot attend trainings organized by the Croatian Employment Service so as to obtain qualifications and better employment opportunities, difficulties in the use of health care services and problems in general communication with the local population.



Recognition of foreign qualifications refers to the formal acknowledgment of the value of the foreign educational qualifications and periods of study, issued by the competent authority for the purpose of access to education or employment. Considering the type of qualification for which recognition is sought, it is possible to differentiate: Recognition of primary and secondary school qualifications and periods of study, the recognition of foreign educational qualification of secondary education in vocational programs for employment or continuing education, the recognition for continuation of primary and secondary education, the recognition of primary education for access to secondary education, the recognition of higher education qualifications and periods of study, the recognition of foreign educational qualification for the purpose of continuing education in the Republic of Croatia, the recognition for employment purposes in the Republic of Croatia (professional recognition), and the recognition of specializations and professional examinations.


The refugees could contribute to Croatian and European societies using their qualifications, but reality shows that they generally fall in the long-term unemployed category or are obliged to undertake the education or training they have already completed in their country of origin. There are many problems and barriers that contribute to this state of affairs and influence the high rate of unemployment of refugees, but also there are many examples of how the systems for the assessment and recognition of foreign qualifications, skills and knowledge do not allow refugees adequate involvement in further education, training or employment. In practice, the main problems faced by refugees concerning the recognition of diplomas are:


- Lack of information and incomprehensible procedures,

- Lack of regulations for different areas of assessment or recognition of qualifications,

- Lack of procedures in cases of absence of documents or incomplete documentation,

- Additional procedures or requirements for people coming from outside the EU,

- Lack of financial support and support in overcoming barriers to entry into the educational process and access to education,

- The absence of clear provisions on how to include refugees as a special group, into higher education institutions (Croatian system recognizes the category of Croatian citizens and aliens, but not the refugees which in practice represents a huge obstacle) and

- The impossibility of proving any qualifications leaves the refugee in the category of unskilled labour without completed primary school, which also makes it impossible to have additional programs of retraining included in their Employment Office record


Access to higher education

Foreigners enter the study under the same conditions as Croatian citizens, but in accordance with the decision of the competent state authority or institution of higher education they may be asked to pay a part or the full costs of study (each institution may issue a special decision by which a refugee or an foreigner under subsidiary protection is free from tuition fees). Students who are citizens of European Union countries have the same rights under the Law on Science and Higher Education and they enter the study under the same conditions as Croatian citizens. Their enrollment may be restricted or denied if the study refers to military or police education or other studies of interest to national security.


The main problem with access to higher education is that the system recognises only two categories, Croatian citizens and foreigners, while under other legislative regulations asylum seekers and foreigners under subsidiary protection are defined as a specific category which has features of both of these groups. Therefore, if an asylum seeker wants to enroll in college (and has not graduated from high school in Croatia) he or she can choose between two equally problematic options (if, as mentioned before, a certain faculty has not brought specific decisions on this issue):

- Enroll as a Croatian citizen, which requires the passing of school examination and scoring marks from high school or,

- Enter as an alien, which requires very high tuition payments.

While it is important to point out a small number of refugees, who exclusively due to their own efforts and intercession and good will of individuals from civil society organisations and academia, have shown success in enrollment and mastering student obligations, it is urgent to develop and begin to implement a model of inclusion and scholarships for students with refugee status.


This text is a compilation of information and explanations found at the official websites of the Ministry of Education, GUIDE THROUGH INTEGRATION Basic Information for the Integration of Aliens into Croatian Society by the Government Office for Human Rights and National Minority Rights and MIPEX Croatia.



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