About VFU "Chernorizets Hrabar"

Prof. Anna Nedyalkova, D.Sc. for Stroitel newspaper: The essence of the modernization of higher education is in its relation with the business

Bulgaria - VFU "Chernorizets Hrabar". It is also the first private university accredited to train in the specialties of Architecture and Construction. How have these specialties developed over the years?


Varna Free University "Chernorizets Hrabar" is really the first private university in Bulgaria, accredited to train in the professional area of Architecture, Civil Engineering and Geodesy, in which we have been training students since 1995. Studies are organized in all three educational degrees: bachelor, master and doctor.


What is specific about the Faculty of Architecture at VFU "Chernorizets Hrabar" is that it unites specialties related to architecture, construction, design and arts. This allows for the training to be interdisciplinary, and the work with students is on a cluster basis.


Over the years, this faculty, as well as the other two – The Faculty of Law and the Faculty of International Economics and Administration, has developed very dynamically. Many things have changed for 22 years - in the profession of architects and civil engineers, and in the way we train them, because it is very important for us the education to be in compliance with both the new trends in the sector and the needs of the business . Twenty years ago concepts such as smart cities, sustainable urban environment and integrated urban governance did not exist at all. In the past 10 years, we have met our students with some of the brightest names in the field of construction and architecture, such as the Japanese architect Ryue Nishizawa, Prof. Masud Esmailo and Prof. Eng. Mario de Miranda of the Higher Institute of Architecture of Venice, Prof. William O’Brian of Harvard University, Prof. Jan Gehl - the creator of the Cities for People concept, Doctor Honoris Causa of Varna Free University and mentor of the newly-created student lab "Varna - A City for People ".


Since its foundation, our university has embraced the challenge to bring the training out of the framework of theory and to give the most of practical skills in architecture, design, construction and fire safety. Along with the teaching activities, the teaching staff of the Faculty of Architecture engages the students with numerous competitions, workshops, seminars and conferences, where they can implement their original creative ideas and support their future professional realization.



Can you briefly present your vision for the development of VFU "Chernorizets Hrabar" and its place among the other educational institutions in the field of Architecture and Construction in Bulgaria?


If I try in one sentence to answer your question, it will be that we build the new generation of Bulgarian constructors and architects - innovators with respect to traditions.


I would not like to make comparisons between our university and the other educational institutions because I do not think it is right. I think the successes of our graduates speak for themselves. We strive to train the specialists needed by employers, which is why we are in constant dialogue with them. For example, the master’s degree programmes on Civil Engineering and Preservation of Cultural Heritage are unparalleled in the other higher education institutions in the country.


The programme on Civil Engineering was designed on demand of the business and has been working successfully for three years now. In it students acquire competencies related to the pricing, bidding and management of projects in the field of construction.


The training in the master’s programme on Preservation of Cultural Heritage offers specialization in the field of immovable cultural values, the importance of which grows in the conditions of the global society and the stimulation of the cultural identity and diversity. The curriculum includes the acquisition of traditional and modern methods of preservation and revitalization of cultural heritage.



You are flexible in regard to the introduction of new specialties in this professional area.

Where do you get experience from and what good practices can be introduced or at least serve as a model?

We are flexible in introducing new specialties not only in this professional area, but in all in which we train students. The reason is very simple - we are in line with the dynamic changes in the environment - with the demands of the business and the labour market. We gain experience from the practice of prestigious Western universities that are our partners, but let us not forget that the best opportunity to make the right decisions is the analysis of our own experience - we have been part of the Bulgarian educational space for more than 25 years. For these years we have accumulated knowledge, skills, bitter but also very successful experience. All this gives us the opportunity to develop good practices, not to copy them one to one, because in order to apply such kind of successful examples, they must necessarily be adapted to the peculiarities of the Bulgarian environment.



As a result of the demographic crisis, have you seen a drop in the number of candidate students? What is the secondary school training of the newly enrolled students at the university?  

The demographic crisis of the early 1990s is something that affects all higher education institutions, especially the private ones. I want to clarify this because, despite the reduction in the number of graduating secondary school students, places at the state-funded universities grow every year; moreover, they have the opportunity to accept students in paid modes of study. This puts private higher education institutions in a competitive environment that is far from fair competition.

I will only say that this year the secondary school graduates are about 45,000 and the university places are 70,000. In addition, an average of about ten thousand of the graduates continue their education abroad, and still almost an equal number of those who do not want to continue to study higher education. In the end, places at universities in Bulgaria are nearly more than double than the potential candidates. What we can boast about is that the admission in the specialties from the professional area of Architecture, Civil Engineering and Geodesy has been sustainable in the last 5 years despite the negative trends of the external environment.

Regarding the secondary school training of the newly enrolled students, I can say that it is such as it is acquired in the secondary school. Ultimately, the assessment of the graduates' preparation is that of the state matriculation exams. And however furious the criticism of the quality of secondary education is, we must note that there are many knowledgeable and capable young people. Proof of this is the results of the scholarship programme of Varna Free University "I will study and succeed in Bulgaria". Every year we award a scholarship, which amounts to 100% of the annual tuition fee to 20 young people with excellent results who have written an essay on the subject. These young people are the glimmers of hope for the future of our country and we are glad to accept them in our academic family.



How do you implement the relation with the business that is so much talked about - are graduates more and more prepared for real work?

The whole essence of the modernization of higher education is precisely in the interaction education, science, business. Varna Free University has embedded this understanding in its new philosophy and is implementing new, working models of this interaction. The learning process involves business experts with whom we work. Our goal is to create new opportunities for student internships and placements as this makes our students one of the best specialists who acquire practical skills during their studies and become the preferred candidates for job vacancies.

For our students in the professional area of Architecture, Civil Engineering and Geodesy, our policy is to ensure the possibility of acquiring a rich portfolio of certificates for additional professional knowledge and skills through participation in international sustainable development workshops, architectural conferences and international plein air workshops on current themes. Students can extend their experience by participating in Erasmus student mobility programmes and in different placements in partner institutions across Europe. Among the partners of the Faculty of Architecture of Varna Free University are Roca Bulgaria, Rehau EOOD, Planex Holding, EDIMO Group, Green House - Italy and many others.



What is the interest of young people in the specialties in the field of architecture and construction and how do your graduates realize themselves professionally?

University policy can hardly overcome the damage caused by the global economic crisis - unemployment, the gray sector, and rapid wealth patterns. However, I can point out some good data about the realization of our students. We have many graduates in key places in the state - in the Parliament, in the central and local administration, in the judiciary, in the security authorities. About 18% of our graduates occupy prestigious positions abroad - architects, construction engineers, managers, bankers. Many students have found their professional realization within the university - both as part of the administration and as university lecturers.

The new thing that we have seen in recent years and on which most of our efforts are concentrated is to work for the self-confidence of young people. They seem to be lacking in this, to feel that they are able to succeed, to be struggling in pursuit of their goals and to be resistant to hardships. Maybe this is, according to some, not a task of education but we perceive it as our own responsibility and we will continue to look for adequate ways to solve it. Students' work in international teams for solving research tasks, their participation in international plein air workshop and competitions, learning along with our visiting Erasmus students - all this is the basis for awareness of their competitiveness and the formation of attitudes to defend positions, formation of initiatives and entrepreneurship.


Georgi Sotirov, vestnikstroitel.bg     

by ВСУ Черноризец Храбър