Elementary school education costs per pupil in Serbia

System of education in Serbia is both inadequate and inefficient. This situation is best depicted by Serbian students results on PISA testin...

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System of education in Serbia is both inadequate and inefficient. This situation is best depicted by Serbian students results on PISA testing. According these international tests organized by OECD, Serbian students aged 15 get lower scores than their European peers – on the last test they got 437 points while the OECD average was 500, which shows that Serbian students are two years late in educational sense. Inadequate encyclopedia knowledge and the lack of practical knowledge and skills is a fact that is impossible to hide.

But how much does education of a elementary school student in Serbia cost? And what are all the cost that should be included in the calculation? Are these costs high? These issues are not even mentioned in the public discourse, accept for the fact that “the big proportion of funds is allocated to salaries of the employees in the system”. In order to determine these facts, it is necessary to calculate the costs of “free” education.

The first number to take into account is the cost of Ministry of education, which can be incorporated from the Annual state budget for the current year. These costs are 73 575 839 000 RSD1 (867 640 000 USD). These funds include financing of education process realization, elementary schools infrastructure improvements, raising the expertise level of teachers and all other costs borne by the Ministry of education. The overall number of elementary school pupils in Serbia in the current school year is 562 556.2 When divided, these numbers show that cost per student is 130 000 RSD (1530 USD). This number is equivalent to most of university tuition fees in Serbia, both private and public ones. But when the fact that universities bear much higher direct costs due to higher level of premises, equipment and expert educational staff comes to minds, all of which does not apply to public elementary schools, the discrepancy of these costs become evident. But these are not all the costs needed to be calculated.

The next set of costs that needs to be taken into account are those borne by local government (municipalities and cities). Since 2004, local governments are partially responsible for some of the ducational costs: facility maintenance, electricity and gas bills, educational equipment etc. These costs are estimated to be additional 11, 7 billion RSD in 2014.3 Therefore, total expenditure of local authorities per elementary school student education is 20 800 RSD (245 USD).

Accordingly, total direct costs of per elementary school student in Serbia are 150 000 RSD (1770 USD). This is the overall sum that is paid from the budget (partially state budget and partially local government budget) for each of elementary school students in Serbia. But, indirect cost borne by parents should also be included into this calculation.

During 2006 - 2007. school year, private households paid 98 RSD per student for maintenance of school facilities, schoolbooks and other equipment 4302 RSD.4 Adjusted for inflation, these funds are at 150 RSD (1,8 USD) and 6700 RSD (80 USD) per student respectively. These costs have been borne by private households because the current system does not cover them in the appropriate level. Further education costs paid by private households are private lessons - 1/3 of the overall students in Serbia takes advanced private courses while 1/4 takes private lessons for students lagging behind their peers. These cost per student are 21 463 RSD.5 Adjusted for inflation, this would be 33 600 RSD (400 USD) in today’s money. Therefore, total indirect costs per student are 40 450 RSD (480 USD). It is only uncertain if these indirect costs should be included in the overall education system costs. The arguments against the inclusion state that the principal objective of the elementary education system is to guarantees the minimum level of education, and is not responsible for tailor made education for each of the children. On the other hand, the first two expenses (schoolbooks and facility maintenance) are incurred by cost sharing because of the lack of adequate system financing. Private tutoring expenditures is incurred due to the low level of education performance in the elementary schools – due to the teachers, school curricula, education process itself or something other, elementary school students do not acquire the knowledge they need and therefore have to take private lessons in order to do so. If the current education system was of high quality (as it is not, which is shown by PISA results), mass private tutoring would not be in place, or it would be restricted only to courses which are usually not associated with elementary schools (p.e. ballet lessons) and not with core subjects, such as first language and mathematics. Most of students taking private classes engage in these two subjects, which further diminishes arguments contra including these expenses in the overall costs.

The total sum of direct and indirect costs of education in Serbia shows that educating an elementary school student annually costs more than 190 000 RSD (2240 USD). This definitely is a high amount and is comparable to most of tuition fees on private and public universities in the country. This proves the case that the existing education system is not only inefficient but also expensive. In order to alleviate these problems, major reform measures are necessary and not minor changes on the surface.

  1. Annual state budget of Republic of Serbia for 2014, pg 127.
  2. Data from the online database of Statistical Office of Republic of Serbia, available at:
  3. Last data available are those from 2009. (Levitas, 2010). these data were adjusted for inflation for the following years, in order to maintain their purchasing power.
  4. OECD, "Strengthening integrity and fighting corruption in education: Serbia (Serbian version)", 2012, pg 45.
  5. OECD, "Strengthening integrity and fighting corruption in education: Serbia (Serbian version)", 2012, pg 45.