Head of the Centre for Education and Dual Education of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Serbia and Director of the Chamber’s Business Academy
Dual education in Serbia today is based on small and medium-sized enterprises
At a recent conference on dual education called “The essence of dual education – Practice is money,” Mirjana Kovačević, MBA, from the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Serbia (CCIS), highlighted that the dual education system was only in its infancy and that it was not easy to “erase” the former system, but it should rather be adapted.
The implementation of dual education in Serbia’s education system began in 2013 through pilot projects supported by Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The coordination of these project activities, first done by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry and then through constructive cooperation with the Ministry of Education, a common goal was established which is the incorporation of a dual model into the education system of Serbia.
In the first three years, 400 students were enrolled in the dual education system, who had attended classes for three job profiles in 16 schools and 40 companies. Today, in the 2019/2020 school year. 6,100 students are enrolled in dual education and attend classes for 35 job profiles at 72 schools in 48 cities and municipalities and about 800 companies, of which about 80 per cent are micro and small businesses.
Following the initiative launched by the business community and with great involvement of the CCIS, Serbia became the first country in the region to adopt the Law on Dual Education in 2017, which has been in force as of the 2019/2020 school year. This law meets all 14 criteria of the European Council recommendations for quality and effective learning through work.
Dual education in Serbia today is seen as one way to build a competitive economy, but many challenges lie ahead. Involvement of more micro and small businesses should be facilitated, as well as classes with less than 30 students should be created, if there is a need for a particular job profile, which will help companies to improve their selection of students.
What can Serbia learn about dual education from Switzerland, a country that exemplifies the success of this type of education?
Flexibility and patency in the education system are key principles of the Swiss education system. Their model is a form of public-private partnership where the key partners are state (cantonal) schools and private (small and medium-sized) enterprises. The state plays the role of a mediator by providing the best conditions for companies, encouraging job creation for students and helping young people choose their profession and the company to work for.
In Switzerland, about 40% of companies that qualify for dual education are involved in dual education. Because of the benefits of this type of education model, Swiss companies cover the costs of student training for three to four years, generating a profit in the final year of schooling. Salaries range from about 11-13% of the average wage of a skilled worker in a suitable workplace but are not legally limited. Swiss companies are also influencing the development of curricula, and they innovate every five years to keep pace with changes in production technology.
The basic feature of the Swiss model of dual education is a high degree of patency in the system. After passing the additional exam, students are eligible to enrol in regular universities or state polytechnic colleges. The reforms of the education system in Serbia, which have been implemented over the last few years, are slowly but surely moving towards the implementation of the two principles of Swiss education – flexibility and patency.
What are the benefits of dual education that should motivate young people to opt for this type of schooling?
The students who were among the first to attend dual education were educated in the manufacturing professions – industrial technician, machinist, welder, electrician. Their experiences are very positive, especially since they were able to implement in practice what they have learned in theory very quickly and found out that working in production does not necessarily entail hard physical work. The public is still insufficiently informed about changes in the status of artisanal and technical jobs in the labour market. Today, these occupations are both sought-after and generally well-paid compared to the average salary in Serbia. At the same time, modern production is based on a high degree of automation and implements safety standards, which means that working conditions are significantly different than they used to be.
Also, these students point out that how quickly they socialized, i.e. got accustomed to the industrial culture, and acquired working habits and self-confidence, so that they were able to propose some improvements and changes in the production process. It is a good thing that older colleagues took their suggestions seriously. Being in a real work environment, they learned responsibility and teamwork and realized that other members of the collective could be in jeopardy due to them not working hard enough or performing poorly.
The quick and easy adjustment to work upon graduation is another important advantage. The best part is that they have more options – to work immediately or to continue their education, often with the support of these same companies.
Can you tell us which well-known companies have joined the dual education system and what they offer to students?
Dual education in Serbia today rests on the companies that make the majority in the businesses world that is small and medium-sized enterprises, although, initially, it was mostly large companies, especially foreign ones that were the most interested in dual education.
The Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Serbia has submitted to the Ministry of Education a plan for employers to engage more in dual education. Over the next school year, about 900 companies will participate in student education. Close to 350 companies will work with first-grade students. In addition to the ability to acquire functional knowledge and facilitate the development of skills, companies in dual education give students cash compensation equal to 70% of the minimum hourly wage spent on employer-led learning, with associated contributions of 2% for health insurance and 4% for pension and disability insurance. Besides financial compensation, employers are required by law to provide protective equipment, insurance, transportation and food for each student.
In what areas should the cooperation of educational institutions and businesses be improved to better plan the staffing needs of the domestic economy?
The experiences of developed countries show that it is not enough for students to be and learn in a real work environment to have better education. For teachers and professors to be able to adequately prepare students for continuous learning in companies, they must be familiar with modern technical and technological solutions in companies. It is not good when students know more about the relevant production technologies than their teachers. Therefore, companies should also provide teaching staff with periodic short-term training. Also, the success of dual education requires good cooperation between schools and companies, not only in education but also in promoting dual education job profiles.
To what extent are higher education institutions capable and willing to advance the quality of studies to keep up with Europe and the world?
A stimulating regulatory framework has been created. The Law on Higher Education stipulates that all colleges should have Employer Councils. We expect that their concrete contribution should be reflected in better harmonization of curricula with the needs of businesses and the labour market, that is, employers should be more involved in curriculum development.
Additionally, the new solutions in this law create the opportunity for teachers, researchers and students to form spin-off and start-up companies, as well as the opportunity to engage an industry expert in teaching. This is extremely important for the development of entrepreneurial education in the higher education system.
The Law on Dual Studies was passed last year. Dual studies are expected to contribute to the development of research and innovation because smaller companies are often unable to form research and development teams, primarily because of a lack of appropriate staff. Dual education students can be a link that would demonstrate to companies latest achievements and foster collaboration between universities and companies on the implementation of scientific research projects. Establishing a network of employers in a higher education institution forms a local or regional network of companies that, through the implementation of the dual model, will get to know each other, network and start discussing cooperation, which can contribute to regional development.
Do you think that our pupils, students and young professionals can compete with their peers and colleagues from abroad?
They can and the numerous accolades they have received in competitions around the world are the best indication of this claim. Our young people are interested, energetic and eager to know. It is up to us to provide them with opportunities for them to develop properly in Serbia. Various studies show that, when choosing a job, our students are primarily guided by the opportunity for their employer to help them to develop their skills. Another criterion for choosing an employer is the ability to work on interesting projects and then the possibility of career advancement, while salary is only in the fourth place.
Also, young people want to do the work that they were educated for – to be experts rather than executives. Most value permanent employment in the form of a permanent job contract with one employer, making them loyal employees. They would also like to have flexible working hours and the option of working from home.
The Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Serbia is engaged in the development of the dual model of education precisely because of the possibility of forming early links between companies and students and the possibility of young people becoming independent and getting involved in the business world as soon as possible.