Slovenia: More Scholarships or More Problems?

more scholarships or more problemsLJUBLJANA, Slovenia | In the last year, Slovenia has witnessed sharp increases in the prices of basic necessities like food, gas and electricity. An inflation rate of 5.6 % means that it is becoming harder for ordinary workers to get by on their monthly salaries – even more so for retired citizens subsisting on their pensions.  Students are also feeling the crunch, especially since the number of scholarships given out by the government over the past five years has steadily decreased, according to data released by the Statistical Office in August (see box below).

A new law on scholarships, first discussed in 2006 and adopted in 2007, aims to reverse this trend, says the Minister of Labour, Family and Social Affairs, Marjeta Cotman. The main changes include the creation of new institutions responsible for dispensing scholarships.  Before, there was only one institution overseeing the entire process; now there are three.  The law also sets stricter criteria for winning scholarships and new ways to apply for grants.  At the same time, the three main types of awards remain the same: “National scholarships” for students from low-income families, “Zois scholarships” for students who have made special achievements or displayed exceptional talent, and “Cadre” sponsorships by private companies and public institutions.

According to Minister Cotman, alongside this restructuring, the Ministry plans to give out 137 millions euros in scholarships during the 2008-09 academic year, 35 million more than last year. “Last year there were altogether more than 50 thousand students receiving scholarships.  The estimation for this year is 62 thousand,” claimed the Minister.

Skepticism Among Student Groups

But not everybody believes the good news. The Slovenian Student Union, in particular, is concerned that government figures may be exaggerated. During a meeting with State Secretary Romana Tomc at the Ministry of Labour, Family and Social Affairs, only a few days before the Minister Cotman’s speech announcing the higher number of scholarships, they were told that in this academic year 37 thousand National, 13 thousand Zois scholarships and around 6 thousand Cadre scholarships will be given to Slovenian students. “When you add up these numbers, we end up with 56 thousand scholarships and not 62 thousand as promised,” Tomaž Černe from Slovenian Student Union explained.

Furthermore, the Student Union of the University of Ljubljana has accused the Minister of misleading the public when she said on television in early August that the law on scholarships was prepared and adjusted in cooperation with the student unions.  They claim that the Ministry dictated the substance of the law and dismissed their suggestions.

Student representatives also say that the administration of these scholarships under the new law is dysfunctional.  Only one category of scholarships remains untouched, that of Cadre sponsorships given by some large private companies or public institutions.  For example, the Ministry of Public Administration sponsors 92 students from different educational backgrounds, who are then required to work in public institutions after graduation as a return of service.  This type of scholarship is less common, but tends to involve larger sums of money.

The other two categories of scholarships, national and Zois scholarships, face significant changes that have students and parents worried that they will now be beyond their reach.  National scholarships, formerly dubbed “Republic scholarships”, are intended for pupils and students whose family incomes do not exceed 60% of the baseline salary in their town (called a “census” income) if they go to school in their hometown, and 60-65% for those studying outside of their hometown.  The new law, however, raises the minimum salary one must fall below in rural areas, thus privileging candidates from very remote parts of Slovenia studying outside their hometowns.  The family incomes of students from urban and more developed regions of Slovenia must not exceed a much lower amount, making it more difficult for them to prove they are in need.

The Ministry believes that, because of the redefined census amounts, the number of scholarships handed out will be automatically higher than in previous years.  However, Tomaž Černe of the Slovenian Student Union is not so sure, pointing out that, unlike before, all incomes of all family members are now included in the calculation, including any other state support received by parents for their children, which was previously excluded.

Stricter Criteria

The second category involves the Zois scholarships.  In order to be eligible, a candidate has to fulfill three criteria: maintain a high average mark, obtain good results on a final examination, and have made some special achievements.  The scholarship can be held at the secondary through post-secondary level.  One positive change brought about by the new law is that a student can apply for the scholarship on his or her own initiative, whereas before he or she had to be nominated by educational institutions.  Zois scholarships are much higher than the average National scholarship, which was around 150 euros last year, while Zois scholars received 90-250 euros per month (see box below).

For both categories, individual considerations, such as a student’s marks and achievements, the distance between his or her home town and the city he or she is studying in, as well as family incomes, are factored in after all applications have been received, and represent additional funding beyond the basic amounts of both scholarships.  The calculation of these “additional points” is now codified in the new law.  However, the amount of these scholarships can only be changed with another new law and therefore cannot be easily adjusted to inflation. Zala Praprotnik, a representative of the Student Organization of University of Ljubljana lamented: “If the inflation rate is going to stay so high in the years to come, soon the amount that pupils and students will get in two years’ time will not be sufficient.”

There are supposed to be 13,000 Zois scholars this year, 400 more than last year.  But according to the School Student Organization of Slovenia, in October of this year, 400 Zois scholars entering secondary education will lose their support because the grade average needed to qualify for a Zois scholarship has been raised from 3 to 4.1 out of 5.  Marks required to obtain the scholarship at the university level have also risen from 7 to 8.5 out of 10.

“I got good results on my final examination after secondary school and I got accepted to university, but my final marks in my last year of high school are too low to keep the scholarship when I will be studying in a faculty,” explained Rok Hodej, who will become a first-year university student in October.

Hodej says that he and many other students were not given sufficient warning about the changes and the higher standards for maintaining the scholarship. The new regulations were published in late May of this year, too late to give students a chance to improve their grades, claims the School Student Organization of Slovenia.  However, Minister Cotman has rejected this complaint, saying that students were given fair warning: “One year is enough time to consider the new criteria and the candidates were informed several times before.”

The new regulations also affect Zois scholars wishing to study abroad. Even if a pupil has finished secondary school with very high marks, he or she can lose the Zois scholarship if a similar program is available in Slovenia.

This is what happened to Ajda Kljun, a music student who wants to attend university in Graz, Vienna. She told the national daily newspaper Dnevnik: “I think that the Graz program is better, but the authorities are saying that if I want to keep my Zois scholarship, I should go to the Music Faculty in Ljubljana. I could understand it if I lost the additional points for calculating the scholarship, but to lose the entire scholarship just does not feel right. And we are in the European Union, where the free flow of knowledge is supposed to be one of its principles.”

As this school year begins, many students are left with the simple question:  “Will I get a scholarship or not?” Secondary school students will get their answer in November, possibly later depending on how quickly their applications are reviewed. There is no deadline to apply for the National scholarship. Until all the applications are in and have been considered, it is difficult to determine  whether the new law on scholarships has brought more benefits than headaches to Slovenia’s students.

This article was produced as an assignment for the “Improving Coverage of Education Issues” online distance learning course organized by TOL and developed in cooperation with the Guardian Foundation and the BBC World Trust, enabled by the generous support of the Open Society Institute Education Support Program.

Number of Scholars and Average Scholarship Amounts in the month of December by Type of Scholarship, 2003-2007

Type of Scholarship
SKUPAJ Sponsorship National Scholarship Zois Scholarship Other Funds
Number of Scholars 54,630 7,309 34,581 12,571 169
Average Scholarship Amount (in Euros) 169,00 210,00 156,00 178,00 438,00
Number of Scholars 57,427 5,829 37,750 12,823 1,025
Average Scholarship 37.9 =
158,15 euros*
43.4 =
181,1 euros
36 = 150,23 euros 40.9=170,67 euros 43.1= 179,85
Number of Scholars 58,563 5,726 38,919 12,877 1,041
Average Scholarship (1000 SIT) 36.2 42.3 34 39.7 48.7
Number of Scholars 60,691 7,077 40,659 12,920 35
Average Scholarship (1000 SIT) 35.1 39.3 33.4 38.3 50.5
Number of Scholars 61,207 6,864 40,971 12,956 416
Average Scholarship (1000 SIT) 32.8 37.7 31 36.2 30.4
Number of Scholars 60,957 7,000 40,802 12,750 405
Average Scholarship (1000 SIT) 31.2 35.9 29.4 34.2 33.4

Source: Statistical Office of the Republic of Slovenia.

* Author’s calculations: 1 euro is roughly equivalent to 239,64 tolars (SIT), Slovenia’s former currency. Slovenia went on the euro in 2007.


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