The link between the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) and the European Research Area (ERA), as two pillars of the knowledge based society, was recognized by the Education Ministers in the Berlin Communiqué in 2003 and Bergen Communiqué in 2005. Doctoral programmes, as the third cycle in the Bologna Process, became a new “action line” and one of the key priorities in defining the role of universities in Europe. Designing and restructuring of curricula in the scope of research became henceforth a key priority in building the European knowledge society. Institutions of higher education were encouraged to take account of the development of their research strategies through the organization and structure of their doctoral programs, thus acknowledging their pivotal role in the training and employment of young researchers. The accountability of universities in meeting the society’s increasing need for scientific and technological information and the demands of the global labour market had brought the third cycle of education into the main focus of university reforms. A great number of conferences and projects started addressing doctoral training through analyzing the current European landscape of doctoral programmes and identifying best practices. The need to exchange experiences with outside partners and to establish cooperation in the development of doctoral programmes, especially in the case of institutions that only recently started implementing them, became greater than ever.

After the adoption of the new Law on Higher Education in September 2005, the Universities in Serbia started preparing for the widespread implementation of doctoral curricula and the structure based on three main cycles (Bachelor, Master, PhD) for the academic year 2006/2007.

New Law on Higher Education.

The Republic of Serbia is nowadays crossing a transitional period towards the future integration into the European Union. Serbian society, economy and industry are rapidly evolving towards EU standards and the higher education system is required to evolve consequently. The new Serbian Law on Higher Education is in accordance with the Bologna Declaration. The Law foresees undergraduate/master’s courses and assigns credits in accordance with ECTS: from Core academic courses (180-240 ECTS credits) to Master’s degree (60-120 ECTS credits). Total novelty in the Law (Article 29 - Scope of Studies) is the “Doctoral Core academic courses (which are allotted 180 ECTS credits at least, with a compulsory previous total of at least 300 ECTS credits earned through the core academic and master’s degree courses)”. No University in Serbia has had experience in structured doctoral curricula since up to now there were no doctoral schools at the Universities in Serbia, which was in accordance with the previous Law on Higher Education. Higher education was organized through undergraduate studies (4-6 years) and postgraduate studies (2 years) with a written Master’s thesis. The continuation of individual study and research via the supervisor/student mode led to the Doctoral thesis. The duration varied from few months up to a couple of decades. These individual study programmes (“apprenticeship model”) are shown to be inappropriate to meet the new multiple challenges of research training for careers in a competitive labour market in Europe, with an increasing tendency in Europe towards structural programmes in doctoral schools. The faculties in Serbia implement the new Law starting from the current academic year (2006/2007). Structured doctoral programmes in accordance with ECTS are about to start this year (2006) for the very first time. While the reform of the first two cycles is well under way in Serbia, the transformation of doctoral education presents a different order of magnitude. The urge to organize and clearly structure the form and content of Doctoral programmes according to latest European standards is not only a need but also a must.

A particularly important field where this problem is even more perceived is that of Computer Science and Information Technology (IT). As it is witnessed by many actions of the European Commission, such as the 6th and 7th Framework Programme, the development of an integrated and accessible society of information is of strategic importance for the future of Europe. However, this long-term goal cannot be achieved by any country, and Serbia is not an exception, without an adequate support by the higher educational system.

It is possible to individuate the following general structural and strategic problems:

  • Absence of experience in structured Doctoral programmes in all academic areas at Universities in Serbia that are both in accordance with the Bologna Declaration and the New Law on Higher Education.
  • Lack of integration among Serbian universities and EU university system.
  • Insufficiently suitable higher education in information technologies.
  • Insufficient coordination among Serbian universities and changing demands of non-academic sector. LONG-TERM needs that arise from these problems are:
    • Need to establish Doctoral programmes according to the new Serbian Law on Higher Education, principles of Bologna declaration and recognized by EU universities.
    • Need for integration of Serbian universities in the European Higher Education Area-EHEA and the European Research Area (ERA).
    • Need for extensive regional cooperation.
    • Need to bridge the gap between growing demands of industry and academic research. SHORT-TERM needs:
      • Need to establish a Doctoral programme in information technologies which is both in accordance with the new Serbian Law on Higher Education and Bologna Declaration.
      • Need for upgrading existing post-graduate courses and creating new doctoral courses in information technologies according to the principles of ETCS.
      • Need for more mobility - exchange of teachers and students between EU and Serbia.
      • Need to bridge the gap between academic research and ever changing demands of IT practice in non-academic sector.

The present project aims to satisfy some of the short-term needs listed above and contribute to the realization of the long-term goals of higher education reforms in Serbia in general, and Universities of Novi Sad and Belgrade in particular, through disseminating results and experiences to a wider academic public.

The main goal of this project is to establish a joint Doctoral School at the University of Novi Sad (UNS) and Mathematical Institute, Belgrade (MI-SANU), that would implement the existing International Doctoral School jointly run by the Universities of Udine, Siena and Pisa CNR (Italy), the Technical University of Valencia (Spain), the University of Nice and INRIA Sophia Antipolis (France), which are offering research studies at the highest international standards.

The project proposal has been elaborated in several steps:

  • It was initiated immediately after the adoption of the new Serbian Law on Higher Education, when members of universities of Udine and Novi Sad carried out the analysis of problems and needs arising from the new legislation and discussed the possible actions towards a short-term intervention.
  • The general strategy was discussed by the partners involved during a meeting in Nottingham (UK) in April 2006.
  • The specific actions where discussed in detail during a meeting in Lucca (Italy) in November 2006.
  • The proposal has been set up after intensive online discussions of all parties involved.