Structure of the education system

The education system consists of the following levels:

Preschool education,

General basic education (9 years)

General secondary education (2 years)

Vocational technical education (1-3 years)

Secondary vocational education (2-4 years)

First stage of higher education (4-6 years)

Second stage of higher education (master’s degree, 1-2 years)

Postgraduate education (graduate school, 3 years; PhD, 3 years)

Preschool Education

For pupils aged 3 to 7 years. In total, there are 384,000 children who are enrolled in 4,098 preschool education institutions.

Belarus leads in the number of preschool facilities among the CIS countries  (71.4%). The number of children from 3 to 6 years attending preschool is high – 93.3%..Starting from the age of 5, all children are guaranteed a place in an elementary school.  

There is a growing shortage of places in preschool institutions and a shortage of teachers. Teaching jobs are not popular because of very low wages, even when compared with the low wages in education in general.

General Secondary Education

According to the Ministry of Education, there were 3,516 educational institutions in Belarus in 2011. Of these, 2,265 (64.4%) were in rural areas, and 1,251 (35.6%) in urban areas. A total of 940,360 students are enrolled in educational institutions, of which 220,158 students (23.4%) are in rural areas, and 720,202 students (76.6%) in cities.

In 2008, the authorities stopped the transition to the 12-year schooling system and restored the eleven-year education system. Anti-Western rhetoric of this new reform policy has only served to hide the policy of reducing educational costs by at least $ 150 billion per year. The quality of education and its accessibility has suffered due to the economic crisis. Parents often pay substantial fees to pay for tutoring in subjects which will be attended by young people in a centralized testing. Since 2004, admission to universities has been based on the results of the centralized testing. However, test results show a consistently low level of applicants.

Belarus is one of the few European countries that does not use international assessment systems – TIMSS and PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) to assess students’progress.

Vocational Technical Education (elementary vocational training)

Currently there are 219 institutions of this type in the country, offering 102 courses to over 100,000 students. During 2006–2010, 236,000 skilled workers were trained at vocational education institutions to work in the economy and the social sphere. However, staff training in this system does not meet the needs of the labour market.

Secondary Vocational Education (secondary vocational education)

The economy and social sphere employs more than 900,000 workers with secondary vocational education (23% of the total working population).

Today Belarus has 121 state-owned secondary vocational education institutions and 11 privately owned institutions. There are 167,600 students at secondary vocational education institutions.

Higher Education (higher vocational education)

Belarus remains the only European country outside the European Higher Education Area due to its gross suppression of academic freedom, institutional autonomy and the lack of public participation in higher education. Belarusian universities are bureaucratic systems with centralized management. Principals appointed and dismissed by the President or a minister are not accountable to any collective self-governing bodies of universities.

A gradual transition to the Bologna process in higher education has just begun. The Soviet system has been replaced by a two-stage system “specialist – a kind of baccalaureate (4 years) and Masters (1-2 years)”.

Currently, there are 45 public and 10 private higher education institutions in Belarus. The number of private colleges is steadily declining and are discriminated against by the government. Students are offered 438 first stage specialties, and 192 second-stage specialties. Between1990 and 2010, the number of students increased from 188,600 to 442,900. Today there are 467 students per 10,000 of the population. This rise has been achieved by reducing the number of publicly funded places in universities and increasing the share of paid education by two thirds.

Graduate Professional Education

Graduate education has maintained the two-tier structure of Soviet academic degrees: Candidate (close to a PhD degree in the Bologna system) and Doctor.

As of January 1, 2011, 4,725 people were studying in the first stage at 119 institutions (universities and research institutes). 98 doctoral students were being trained at the second stage in 37 institutions. 

The structure and effectiveness of research training are still inadequate. There is a strong bias in favour of the humanities and social sciences, as opposed to more technical subjects. Only 4-6% of graduate students submit PhD theses on time. 

In violation of the principle of university autonomy, Belarusian universities do not have the right to provide final examinations or award academic titles and degrees. This right is given to the Higher Attestation Commission – a governmental body subordinate to the President. The authorities use a system of postgraduate education, as well as education in general, for ideological control and persecution of dissent to the detriment of education quality.