Macedonia (Македонија / Makedonija) is a landlocked country in southeast Europe. Located in the Balkan peninsula, it borders Serbia and Kosovo to the north, Bulgaria to the east, Greece to the south, and Albania to the west. Per the 2002 census, it has a population of just over 2 million people: 64.2% Macedonian, 25.2% Albanian, 3.9% Turkish, 2.7% Roma, 4% other. The literacy rate is 96.1%. Macedonian is the official language and the most-widely spoken. Albanian is also an official language in areas with over 20% Albanian population.
The area of present day Macedonia has more than 2,500 years of complicated history. As one of the few places mentioned in the Bible, its name is the oldest surviving country name on the European continent. Its history spans the ancient period of the Macedonian dynasty with Philip II and Alexander, the subsequent decline of power and eventual inclusion into the Roman province of Macedonia. The medieval period is a mixture of independence during the State of Samoil, as well as subjugation under the Byzantine Empire. After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the country was part of the Ottoman Empire for nearly five centuries. With the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire following the Balkan Wars, Macedonia was partitioned in 1913 among Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Albania. Greece took the southern half of the country, Bulgaria took the eastern Pirin region, and Serbia took the central Vardar region. The state of Macedonia today represents the Vardar region, which attained statehood in 1944 and was incorporated as a constituent entity of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
Macedonia became an independent country on September 8, 1991. Due to Greece disputing the use of the name Macedonia, the country was admitted to the United Nations in 1993 under the provisional name Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). The constitutional name of the country was the Republic of Macedonia. In an effort to remove Greece’s diplomatic blockade and to facilitate Macedonia’s entry into NATO and accession to the European Union, the Prespa Agreement was signed in 2018 that changed the official name to the Republic of North Macedonia. The name change was not approved by a majority of voters in Macedonia during a failed referendum in September 2018 but took effect in February 2019. The name change remains a controversial issue and the new name is seldom used outside of official correspondence.
Beginnings of Education
Education in Macedonia traces its origins to the development of the Glagolitic alphabet by the Saints Cyril and Methodius, the first alphabet used to transcribe Old Church Slavonic, a language used by the clergy to translate liturgical literature. With the development of the Cyrillic alphabet by Saint Clement in Ohrid, and the opening of St. Clement’s university in the 9th century, education became more widely available to the masses, albeit mostly in religious subjects. The domination of Old Church Slavonic continued through the Middle Ages and the Ottoman rule. The first signs of language codification happened in the 19th century through the works of writers and poets in the Macedonian enlightenment. The written form of standard Macedonian was first codified at the end of World War II (1944-1946). The Macedonian Cyrillic alphabet has 31 characters. The language is written the way it is heard: one letter equals one sound.
This profile examines the educational system of modern Macedonia (1991-present). Educational documents issued prior to 1991 follow the educational system of Yugoslavia. See archived country study on Yugoslavia.
At the primary and secondary levels, the school year begins in the first week of September (traditionally September 1), and ends during the second week of June. This corresponds to 38 weeks / 180 days of instruction. The year is divided into two terms (полугодие / polugodie) with a winter break in January. In higher education, classes begin on October 1 and end on May 31. There are three examination sessions: session 1 (January-February), session 2 (June), session 3 (August-September).
The main language of instruction at all levels is Macedonian. Minority students who live in an area where more than 20% of the population speaks a language other than Macedonian, can attend school in their native language, namely Albanian, Turkish, and Vlach (in one municipality). University education at the state institutions is delivered mainly in Macedonian, although there are programs in Albanian at the University of Tetovo and the University of South Eastern Europe. Many technical programs at the state universities are partially delivered in English.
The chief educational oversight body is the Ministry of Education and Science (Министерство за образование и наука / Ministerstvo za obrazovanie i nauka). The academic curriculum at the primary-secondary levels is developed by the Bureau for Development of Education (Биро за развој на образованието / Biro za razvoj na obrazovanieto). The vocational/technical curriculum is administered by the Center for Vocational Education and Training (Центар за стручно образование и обука / Centar za struchno obrazovanie i obuka). Vocational training is delivered in collaboration with regional chambers of trade (регионални занаетчиски комори / regionalni zanaetchiski komori) and the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy (Министерство за труд и социјална политика / Ministerstvo za trud i socijalna politika). The state maturity examination (државна матура / drzhavna matura), and the school-administered maturity examination (училишна матура / uchilishna matura) are handled by the State Examinations Center (Државен испитен центар / Drzhaven ispiten centar).
At the higher education level, accreditation is done by the Institute for Accreditation of Higher Education (Институт за акредитација на високото образование / Institut za akreditacija na visokoto obrazovanie). New and existing higher education programs are developed in accordance with the guidelines of the Macedonian Qualifications Framework – MQF (Македонска рамка на квалификации / Makedonska ramka na kvalifikacii). All official laws, regulations, credential templates, and all manner of procedural guidelines can be accessed through the Official Gazette (Службен весник / Sluzhben vesnik) in Macedonian. Links to relevant institutions are provided in the resources section.
Documents issued from 1946 to September 1991 bear the coat of arms of the Socialist Republic of Macedonia (Социјалистичка Република Македонија / Socijalistichka Republika Makedonija), then a constituent republic of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Социјалистичка Федеративна Република Југославија / Socijalistichka Federativna Republika Jugoslavija). Credentials issued from 1991 to 2019 include the coat of arms of the Republic of Macedonia (Република Македонија / Republika Makedonija). Following the signing of the Prespa Agreement with Greece, and its official coming into force on February 12, 2019, a gradual shift towards using the new constitutional name Republic of North Macedonia has begun. Per the agreement, there is a 5-year transition period for changing the names of all governmental institutions and state-funded entities. The names on educational documents should be changed when official accession talks with the European Union begin, and the education chapter is opened. With EU talks pending and the accession process uncertain, it is possible to receive documents under the old or the new constitutional name.
Pre-School Education (Предучилишно образование / preduchilishno obrazovanie)
Pre-school education in Macedonia is for children aged 0 to 6. The curriculum focuses on language competency, rudimentary mathematics, drawing, coloring, singing, dancing, and developing social skills. Pre-school education is delivered at both public and private facilities, or by state-certified in-home daycares. Kindergartens are regulated at the state level by the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy and offer a mix of full-day, half-day, abridged, and pilot programs. The learning programs in kindergartens are developed by the Bureau for Development of Education and are designed to prepare students to enter grade 1.
Primary Education (Основно образование / Osnovno obrazovanie)
Until the implementation of the 2008 Law on Primary Education, primary education in Macedonia followed a 4+4 pattern, divided into two stages: stage 1 (grades 1-4), and stage 2 (grades 5-8). Once the new law came into effect, the length of primary education was extended by one year, and it was structurally redesigned into three stages: stage 1 (grades 1-3), stage 2 (grades 4-6), and stage 3 (grades 7-9). The reforms were meant to shift the focus of learning away from rote memorization and towards development of critical thinking skills. An adapted curriculum, especially in mathematics and natural sciences, was introduced in collaboration with the U.K. International Examinations Center.
Of the 360 primary schools, most are managed at the municipal level (335), some are administered by the central government (10), and others are specialized (music, special needs, institutes, public childcare institutions, and adult education). Following the reforms, a limited number of municipal schools have implemented the international baccalaureate (IB) curriculum in the primary and middle years program. There are three main credentials issued in primary education. After each completed year, students receive a Certificate for Completed Grade (Свидетелство за завршена година / Svidetelstvo za zavrshena godina) which lists the courses taken in that year with their corresponding results. Students who wish to transfer from one school to another are issued a transfer certificate (преведница / prevednica). Students who complete the entire curriculum (8 years until 2008, 9 years since) are issued a Certificate of Completion of Primary Education (Свидетелство за завршено основно образование / Svidetelstvo za zavrsheno osnovno obrazovanie), which enables them to enroll in secondary education.
Secondary Education (Средно образование / sredno obrazovanie)
In Macedonia, secondary education is offered in three tracks: general (гимназиско образование / gimnazisko obrazovanie), vocational/technical (стручно образование / struchno obrazovanie), and arts (уметничко образование / umetnichko obrazovanie).
In the general track, students take college-preparatory subjects: Macedonian language and literature (or minority language), mathematics, English, second foreign language, history, geography, physics, chemistry, biology, fine arts, and computing (ICT). The curriculum in year 1 is standard across schools. In years 2-4, students can pick elective subjects. Availability of electives depends on the individual school. Detailed curricula for each year can be found on the website of the Bureau for Development of Education.
In the vocational/technical track, students can pick from three options: a) 2-year vocational training, b) 3-year vocational training, and c) 4-year mixed academic and vocational education. The 2-year option is pure vocational training (стручно оспособување / struchno osposobuvanje) in disciplines such as mining, construction, electronics, healthcare, textiles, machinery, agriculture, and others. The complete guide to disciplines offered can be found on the Center for Vocational Education and Training. Graduates of the 2-year option receive a certificate of vocational training (уверение за стручна оспособеност / uverenie za struchna osposobenost) and can enter the labor market.
In addition to the vocational training, the 3-year option includes general education. Students pursue programs closely matched to industry needs in pre-defined occupations. The assessment is done continuously by teachers, mentors, and employers providing practical training. At the end of the cycle, students must pass both internal and external examinations. Successful candidates are issued a Diploma for Completed Final Exam (диплома за завршен испит / diploma za zavrshen ispit). Graduates can continue their education to specialized training or transition to the 4-year technical option.
The 4-year option is a blend of general academic and vocational subjects. Graduates of the 4-year option receive the same exit credential as their 3-year peers i.e. Diploma for Completed Final Exam. The main difference is that 4-year graduates are eligible to take the state maturity examination and thereby gain access to higher education.
The third track of secondary education is open to students who want to pursue a career in the arts, namely fine arts, music, or ballet. Previous training in the arts at the primary level is recommended but not required for entry. The curriculum is a blend of general subjects and arts subjects. Education in the arts is tailored to the individual interests of the student and assessed through public performances, colloquiums, and examinations in front of a board. Graduates are eligible to take the state maturity examination and continue to higher education.
The three tracks described above are the most common pathways to higher education. Schools for athletes, students with disabilities, and adult students exist but are not common.
Admission to Higher Education
Prior to the educational reforms of 2007/2008, students entered university by presenting a 4-year exit credential from a recognized secondary school and by passing a university entrance examination (приемен испит / priemen ispit). Since the reforms, the government has instituted a maturity examination as a prerequisite for entrance into university, which has entirely replaced the entrance examination. There are three types of maturity examinations: 1) state maturity examination (државна матура / drzhavna matura), 2) school maturity examination (училишна матура / uchilishna matura) and 3) international maturity examination (меѓународна матура / megjunarodna matura).
The maturity examination is a final test that students take after finishing the fourth year of secondary education. The examination consists of a mandatory section in Macedonian language and literature, or a minority language. The elective section consists of tests in three academic subjects, chosen by the candidate according to their further education interests. Candidates who have passed all the parts of the maturity examination, including the external testing portion, with a minimum grade of two (2) are awarded a diploma for passed state maturity examination, which leads to higher education.
Candidates who have passed some parts of the examination but not all, are awarded the diploma for passed school maturity examination. This exit credential does not lead to higher education and serves to certify that the student has passed secondary education. Select schools have implemented the international baccalaureate (IB) curriculum. Candidates who earn an IB diploma are awarded a state credential of passed international maturity examination and can also continue to higher education.
The maturity examination is used internally within Macedonia to determine eligibility for admission to higher education. Admission to U.S. higher education should be based on the student's performance in the 4 years of secondary school, as evidenced by the academic transcript (свидетелство / svidetelstvo).
Post-Secondary Technical Education
Graduates of the 3-year and 4-year vocational tracks who are not planning to continue to higher education, may attain an advanced technical credential in a trade offered by accredited public and private institutions. Two exit credentials are available: Diploma for Specialized Education (Диплома за специјалистичко образование / Diploma za specijalistichko obrazovanie) and a Diploma for Master Exam (Диплома за мајсторски испит / Diploma za majstorski ispit). Curricula are developed in collaboration with the regional chambers of trade and approved by the Ministry. Examples include car mechanic specialist, goldsmith, master builder, etc.
Higher Education (Високо образование / Visoko obrazovanie)
Macedonia joined the Bologna Process in 2003 and has gradually been reforming its education to match Bologna principles. The first programs that fully complied with the three-cycle Bologna structure were offered in the academic year 2008/2009 at the bachelor (first-cycle) and master (second-cycle) levels. Doctoral education was reformed in the academic year 2011/2012.
Prior to the implementation of the Bologna process, first-cycle programs lasted for 4 years. Programs in professional fields, such as architecture, were longer. In the early days after independence, there were a number of schools that offered short-cycle programs of 2-3 years in duration. This type of institution, known as a higher school (виша школа / visha shkola), was established in the former Yugoslavia to expand access to higher education and to train specialty workers, such as teachers, engineering technicians, machinists, etc. Students of both types of programs were given a diploma and professional title (диплома и стручен назив / diploma i struchen naziv) upon graduation. The length of the program was noted on the diploma.
Second cycle programs were offered at the specialization level (специјалист / specijalist) and at the master level (магистер / magister). Specialization programs were common in regulated professions (such as medicine), and in technical professions (such as engineering). Master programs were slightly broader in nature, and available in more subjects.
Third cycle programs were research-based and varied in length. They led to the doctor of science (доктор на науки / doktor na nauki) academic title.
As of the academic year 2008/2009, Macedonian universities have fully implemented the Bologna process. This includes, among other things, usage of ECTS credits to measure value of coursework / degree, issuance of a diploma supplement, and harmonization of degree lengths with European norms. The Bologna process envisions three cycles of higher education: a) 3-4 year first cycle, b) 1-2 year second cycle and c) 3+ year third cycle. To aid the implementation of European standards across the educational system, the government has developed a Macedonian Qualifications Framework – MQF (Македонска рамка на квалификации / Makedonska ramka na kvalifikacii), which mirrors the levels of the European Qualifications Framework.
The first cycle of tertiary studies in the MQF includes three types of credentials: 1) 1-2 year short programs (60 – 120 ECTS) at level V-A, 2) 3-year bachelor’s degrees (180 ECTS) at level VI-B, and 3) 4-year bachelor’s degrees (240 ECTS) at level VI-A. The short vocational programs lead to the issuance of a certificate (сертификат / sertificat) and a professional title. Evaluators should note the number of ECTS credits on the front of the certificate. Both the 3-year and the 4-year bachelor’s degree options lead to the issuance of a diploma and grant access to the second cycle.
Second cycle studies are at level VII and include two credentials: 1) 1-year specialist degrees (60 ECTS) and 2) 1-2 year master’s degrees (60 – 120 ECTS). The length of the master’s degree is determined by the entry credential i.e. 3-year degree holders typically take a 2-year master’s, while 4-year degree holders take the 1-year option.
Third cycle studies (level VIII) are nominally three years in duration (180 ECTS) but may take longer due to their research nature. Candidates who satisfy the curricular requirements and defend a doctoral dissertation earn, depending on the academic discipline, a Doctor of Sciences (доктор на науки / doktor na nauki) or Doctor of Arts (доктор на уметности / doktor na umetnosti) degree.
Programs in regulated professions did not change duration due to the Bologna reforms. These professions are medicine (6 years), dentistry (5 years), pharmacy (5 years), veterinary medicine (5.5 years), and architecture (5 years). Technical disciplines (engineering, computer science, electronics) also largely kept the 4-year first cycle degree. Some of them started offering 3-year versions of their curricula, while retaining the longer degree. Social sciences and humanities disciplines largely transitioned to the 3-year bachelor’s degree. Teacher education programs have kept their 4-year structure.