This is a best prospect industry sector for this country. Includes a market overview and trade data.
Population: 6.9 million (July 2021 est.)
GDP (Purchasing Power Parity): $155.1 billion (2020 est., in 2017 dollars)
Currency: Leva (BGN)
UNESCO Student Mobility Number
Bulgaria has 24,794 students studying abroad according to UNESCO.
CIA World Factbook
23.92% of the population in Bulgaria is under 25 years old.
On one hand, being part of the EU has greatly improved mobility opportunities for Bulgarian students and nowadays a significant number of young people choose to continue their higher education abroad. Some EU countries provide free university education and many incentives. On the other hand, Bulgarian students are not very informed about the U.S. as an education destination compared with the EU and UK universities, which are spending a substantial amount on information campaigns and expos promoting their universities.
According to the latest data from Eurostat, the Bulgarian government expenditure on education is 4.1% of GDP. Education costs in Bulgaria are one of the lowest in the EU as only EUR 250 (approx. $286) are spent per inhabitant, on average.
As a member of the European Union since 2007, Bulgaria benefits from various programs. Operational Program Education 2021 to 2027 helps to develop and strengthen innovations in higher and general education, as well as vocational training. The fund amount exceeds approximately $890 million and is expected to advance the students’ opportunities for knowledge, skills, and competencies by supporting laboratories and pilot centers, various activities, and scholarships. In addition, in February 2021, the Bulgarian council of ministers adopted the strategic framework for education and training for the period 2021-2030. It corresponds to the vision and general objectives of the National Development Program Bulgaria 2030 and outlines the main principles and priorities for the development of education and training in Bulgaria.
Higher Education: The 2021 IIE Open Doors Report showed that the number of Bulgarian students in the U.S. decreased by 15.2% over the last academic year, from 690 students during the 2019-2020 academic year to 585 students in the 2020-2021 academic year.
The only U.S. university in the country — the American University in Bulgaria (AUBG) – is located in two cities, Blagoevgrad and the capital, Sofia. It offers excellent service to international students and strong academic programs. Since its opening in 1991, AUBG has consistently ranked number one among universities in Bulgaria for its business administration, management, and PR/mass communications programs. AUBG has approximately 1,000 students. In 2017, AUBG started the first Executive Master’s program in banking, finance, and real estate at its campus in Sofia, as a joint venture program in cooperation with the SDA School of Business, Bocconi University in Italy.
AUBG has an active international student exchange program and currently has an agreement with The University of Maine, in Orono, Maine for semester- and year-long programs. Incoming students must be enrolled at the University of Maine, Orono, Maine or the State University of New York, Fredonia, New York. The academic credits are recognized in Europe and in the U.S.
Colleges: There are a total of 54 higher education institutions in Bulgaria. 22 out of the 54 are colleges for professional education in sectors such as tourism, business and management, and marketing. College education in Bulgaria lasts approximately three years, and some institutions provide diplomas that are equivalent to a university degree.
Secondary Education: Another established American education institution in Bulgaria is The American College of Sofia (ACS), a secondary school based in the capital, Sofia. The college was founded in 1860 and is one of the oldest U.S. education institutions outside the United States. Every year, ACS students score the highest results in the final state exam.
Since 2018, a new trend in secondary education in Bulgaria is distance learning. American High School in Varna partners with a Florida-based school to provide an online program that gives Bulgarian students the opportunity to earn a U.S. diploma by taking the courses required by the State of Florida’s Education Department. When enrolled in the American High School program, the students are able to sign up for the whole gamut of middle and high school subjects, which vary from English literature, to business, to programming, to psychology and anthropology.
Most Bulgarian students willing to study abroad are proficient in English and are usually very well-prepared academically, which facilitates their learning experience abroad. About 98% of high school students study a foreign language (usually English) and 73% study a second language (mainly German, French, Spanish, Russian).
In Bulgaria, there are many public schools that are fully licensed for teaching in the English language. There are 42 foreign language schools in the country (mostly English language schools plus other foreign languages). Examples are First English Language School and Secondary English Language School, “Thomas Jefferson” based in Sofia, and the English Language School in the town of Plovdiv. In these high schools, the students’ first year is fully focused on intensive English language study. Grades 9 to 12 study almost every subject in English and have the opportunity to learn a second language (German, Spanish, Russian). The majority of the graduating students prefer to continue their studies abroad.
Online Programs: Online programs were not popular in Bulgaria until 2020. Leading universities, such as Sofia University, Varna University, and New Bulgarian University already provided various online education programs. Traditionally, online programs have been an alternative for many students with full-time jobs. The prices for these programs vary from $700 to $5,000 per year.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, schools and universities in Bulgaria were forced to have classes online. Preferred online platforms include Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Shkolo, Moodle, Ucha.se, and Google Classroom. Of these, Shkolo and Ucha.se are Bulgarian online platforms. Shkolo (https://www.shkolo.bg/) is used by 70% of the schools in the country, and it was developed in March 2020. Ucha.se (https://ucha.se/) has more than 16,000 video lessons. DOX.bg, Microsoft Teams, Google Classroom, Zoom, and Moodle are mostly used by Bulgarian universities.
Two of the biggest publishing houses in the country announced that they would guarantee free access to the electronic versions of all textbooks they publish for grades 1-12. Electronic diaries, email, and social media are also used in order to provide students with instructions on how to better prepare their e-learning activities and homework exercises.
A1, which is one of the leading providers of digital services and telecommunications solutions in Bulgaria, teamed up with Prosveta Publishing House to give Bulgarian students, parents, and teachers fast, convenient, and secure access to modern digital education. They offer over 425 interactive textbooks covering all subjects from first to 12th grade, as well as manuals, dozens of notebooks, and over 33,000 additional resources to help the student, teacher, and parent, including videos, audio files, presentations, photo galleries, 360-degree panoramic photos, animations, puzzles, crosswords and 3D visualizations, interactive tests, and tasks and exercises. Prosveta also offers hundreds of video tutorials on the curriculum and tests for testing knowledge.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, U.S. Ivy League universities have offered 500 classes that students could take online to improve their knowledge on different topics. Many Bulgarian students took advantage of this unique opportunity.
Research and Development: Another EU funded program, in addition to the Operational Program, is the Research and Innovation Performance and Horizon 2020, which is focused on national research programs and innovation systems. Research and development investment is mainly supported by private businesses in Bulgaria. In 2015, 0.96 % of GDP was spent for R&D, less than 0.4% from public spending. The goal of the Horizon 2020 program is for R&D investment to reach 1.50% of GDP by 2020, equally shared by government and business.
In the new seven-year EU budget framework, Bulgaria is set to receive around $33.2 billion. The sum is also meant to help with the recovery from Covid-19. Bulgaria is able to apply for an additional $237.3 million for its underdeveloped regions.
The Ministry of Education and Science and the European Institute of Innovation and Technology signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to support the development of innovation through education in natural sciences, digital technologies, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) to shape the skills of the future and prepare future generations to be successful in their careers. The activities in implementation of the MOU will support Bulgaria’s more active participation in the Framework Program, as well as in the “Horizon Europe” program in the future, the most ambitious program for research and innovation in the European Union.
In 2020, Bulgaria applied for funds from “React EU” to buy at least 80,000 tablets, 20,000 for teachers and a minimum of 60,000 for students. They were distributed for e-learning purposes only and will guarantee access to education for those who do not have the opportunity to acquire their own devices.
The best prospects for Bulgarians to study in the U.S. include intensive English language training programs (e.g. summer programs for both students and adults); programs in business administration; Work, study, and travel programs (around 5,500 Bulgarian students participated in 2019); e-learning; and undergraduate and graduate degrees.
Summer courses in the U.S. and year-round online courses could present good opportunities for U.S. universities and schools looking to attract Bulgarian students. Summer English language programs are suitable for local students and fit well with Bulgaria’s semester structure. Distance learning courses and e-learning are getting more popular among younger generation students.
Educational consulting agencies in Bulgaria provide great assistance to Bulgarians who plan to study abroad. The opportunities for students are numerous, from attending boarding school or pursuing an undergraduate degree, to seeking internship opportunities abroad. These consulting agencies inform students about requirements and documentation, while facilitating the study abroad process. They include such entities as Integral Educational Programs Ltd., Darbi ESH Study Abroad, Orange Education, Skylines Ltd. SRT, Edlanta Education Abroad, Miotrade/Edumarket, and more.
To assist U.S. universities in promoting their programs to Southeast European (SEE) countries, the U.S. Commercial Service in Bulgaria supported and organized five regional Virtual Educational Fairs (VEFs) in 2015, 2016, 2018, 2019, and the latest one in December 2020, in cooperation with the U.S. Commercial Service offices or U.S. Embassies in Albania, Greece, Romania, Serbia, and Slovenia. These VEFs attracted over 120 educational consultants, universities representatives, and college counselors from the SEE region.
World Education Fair
March 26-27, 2022
- U.S. Commercial Service – Bulgaria: https://www.trade.gov/bulgaria
- U.S. & Foreign Commercial Service Global Education Team: https://www.trade.gov/education-industry
- Industry and Analysis, Office of Supply Chain, Professional & Business Services: https://www.trade.gov/professional-and-business-services
- Ministry of Education and Science: https://www.mon.bg/en/
- Fulbright Commission: http://www.fulbright.bg/en/
- National Statistics Institute: http://www.nsi.bg/en
- OP Science and Education for Smart Growth 2014-2020: http://sf.mon.bg/?go=page&pageId=84
- Horizon 2020: http://horizon2020.mon.bg/en
- American University in Bulgaria: https://www.aubg.edu/
- American College of Sofia: https://www.acs.bg/
- Eurostat: https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat
U.S. COMMERCIAL SERVICE CONTACT
Peter Delin, Commercial Specialist
U.S. Commercial Service – Sofia, Bulgaria
Phone: +359 2 939 5784