The ‘What’ of Policy Outcome: Have the Reform Goals Been Achieved?

The fact that there were almost no non-university HEIs in the 1990s and now there are 38 may be interpreted as achievement of at least one operational goal of the reform - the introduction of the non-university sector. Most of the currently operating non-university institutions were established in the second half of the 2000s, with the number doubling between 2005 and 2011. The number of students in professional programmes organized by universities has decreased in recent years. According to the Croatian Bureau of Statistics (CBS), the number of students in professional programmes at universities decreased from approximately 22,000 in 2004/2005 to just over 17,000 in 2013/ 2014. However, they still constitute only one-third of all students in professional programmes, suggesting that the operational goal to phase out professional programmes in universities - by allowing them only as an exception given special permission by NCHE - has yet to be achieved. Effectively, this means that operational goals have only been partially achieved.

Concerning the strategic goals, while the bulk of the higher education provision is still concentrated in the capital city, each administrative region now has at least one institution, which was not the case in the early 2000s. Keeping in mind that the non-university sector actually caters to students of lower socio-economic background (Cvitan et al. 2011), one would expect that expanded provision outside of the capital region could potentially improve access overall. However, the expansion of provision is in some cases rather narrow, including only one institution with a limited offer of study programmes (in one to two areas), primarily in social sciences (economics) and nursing. Moreover, the tuition fees in non-university institutions, particularly private institutions, are higher than in universities (Cvitan et al., 2011; Doolan et al. 2011), which means that under the current funding arrangements, non-university programmes may actually be less accessible to students from lower socio-economic backgrounds. Similarly, although the educational attainment of the population seems to have improved - from 12 % of the population with a higher education degree in 2001 to now about a quarter of the population with at least first-cycle degree - it is difficult to make a clear causal link with the structural reforms, given that the effects of demographic changes have not been systematically studied and that it is not clear how the introduction of the ‘Bologna’ 3+2 degree structure affected the education attainment.

In sum, although there has been a clear increase in the number of nonuniversity institutions and the professional study programmes they offer, in particular from 2005 onwards, continuous resistance to clarifying horizontal differentiation by allowing only non-university institutions to provide professional study programmes and an unclear situation with regards to strategic goal implies that the structural reform in Croatia has been overall partially successful at best.

 
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