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Meet Gordana Nikolić – the only woman to own a higher education institution in Croatia

Meet Gordana Nikolić - the first woman to own a higher education institution in Croatia

Gordana Nikolić (Photo: Dear Leader Joe, Flash.hr)

Founded a decade ago and located in Rijeka, PAR University College is the first private higher education institution in Croatia’s Primorje – Gorski Kotar County. 

It has been conducting a bachelor programme in Business Management since 2012 and two years ago it launched a master programme in Business Management. Another interesting fact is that PAR is the first private university college in Croatia owned by a woman. 

Josip Novosel from Flash.hr sat down with owner Gordana Nikolić to find out more. 

How did you come up with the idea to open a private university? 

You know that saying “I have a dream”. There is a small and in my opinion beautiful picturesque place in Dalmatia where I like to charge my batteries. One summer’s day, back in 2006, I had enough of everything and everyone and I spent my time in that special place called Posedarje. I was sitting on the beach with my friend. We have this ritual where we watch a small island in front of us at dusk and quietly enjoy the view. 

That summer I suddenly interrupted the silence and said: “You know what? I will open a private University in Rijeka!” My best friend looked at me, sneered and said: “Pff…yeah right!” I just thought to myself that if I can work for others and do a great job and earn the respect and be trusted with difficult tasks, I could work for myself as well. I guess if you have a vision and you go towards it, your goal comes closer somehow. Only ten months after what I said at the beach, I had my first presentation of the University in Rijeka. Meanwhile I realised that if you really want something, possibilities start to manifest.

I had a coffee with a woman and I told her my “dream”. She introduced me to another woman and soon I started teaching at a German University. After a few months, I got contracted to open up another University just like this one based in Rijeka.

What do students get at PAR?

Our students have the opportunity through professional practice and a career centre to get to know potential employers already during their studies. As it is a professional study, our students, in addition to theoretical knowledge, get a lot of practical work, extracurricular activities, as well as international experience. Employers are looking for people with education and experience, and our graduate students have that. We have been pioneers of dual education in Croatia since 2007. Back then they looked at our German model of education strangely, but today everyone is talking about it. Mentoring approach, working in small groups, innovation, applicable knowledge in teaching and as many as 600 hours of practice through study creates successful individuals ready for the job market.

PAR students, in addition to the knowledge they acquire during their studies, also have the opportunity to participate in international conferences and workshops, develop their creativity through projects and business incubator, participate in international short and long programs and develop new business models in collaboration with international students.

In addition to foreign Erasmus students studying at PAR, our students often participate in short international mobilities and summer and winter schools, working on joint projects with international students from around the world.

Meet Gordana Nikolić - the first woman to own a higher education institution in Croatia

Josip and Gordana (Photo: Flash.hr)

How much does a school year cost at PAR University cost?

The school year costs HRK 25,000-27,500 depending on the payment model. We are cooperating with commercial banks and also have cooperation agreements with many institutions as well as professional associations and unions. We have developed a scholarship model that encourages the development of a new generation of entrepreneurs, rewards excellence, helps vulnerable groups and people with lower financial status. We were the first in Croatia to start a dual career model for athletes in 2008 and developed an education model adapted to top athletes, which was recognised and awarded by the European Commission.

Students at PAR will not only get a Croatian, but also an internationally recognised diploma and much more, provided that they attend all lectures and pass all exams.

Gordana’s outstanding success has been recognised in Croatia and internationally. Which awards have you won?  

I received the Entrepreneur of the Year Award in the Republic of Croatia in 2014, the Primorje-Gorski Kotar County Award for Outstanding International Achievements in Promoting Entrepreneurship in 2015 and the 2016 City of Rijeka Award for Outstanding Contribution to Higher Education. All of this gave me confirmation and faith that what I do, I do well. 

Each award is dear in its own way, but when you take the stage in front of more than 2,500 people like me at the 2018 Women’s Economic Forum in New Delhi, where I was awarded the “Exceptional Women of Excellence” award, you realise that miracles are possible and that it is possible to work locally and act globally. And as Đole said in one of his poems: “… someone sees it all from above and draws the cards of destiny…” Success follows the brave… This is a reward for women who are pioneers in what they do in their local community… I am still the only woman to own a higher education institution in Croatia. It took both courage and madness to embark on such an endeavour. Like any entrepreneur, I had no idea what was waiting for me, but I didn’t even think about it, I had a vision and a goal and I followed it.

The following year I became a senator for Croatia in the World Business Angels Investment Forum (WBAF) and that year I served as vice president of the Global Women Leaders Committee, which brings together women in the World Business Angels Network. I also got the chance to help out a few excellent Croatian startups.

For years I have been active through a number of associations and projects that encourage women entrepreneurs – WED Ambassador of Croatia to the UN, EU Ambassador of Croatia to the European Commission, President of Business Women KRUG Rijeka, President of the Association for Education HUP and recently elected to the G-100 women in the world representing particular areas. I personally lead the Global Chair for Higher Education, and I believe the G-100 initiative is yet to be heard of. We were presented in September in Geneva at the UN, in November in the EU Parliament, and now in early December at the UN in New York.

Meet Gordana Nikolić - the first woman to own a higher education institution in Croatia

(Photo: Dear Leader Joe, Flash.hr)

What do you do in your free time when you are not working? 

I probably started entrepreneurship like most with the idea that I will have more freedom and then you realise that you have no more free time because entrepreneurship is a way of life for me. You work on the weekend, you work when you sleep and when you eat, you work when you are on vacation. 

There is also the good side and that is in entrepreneurship you are constantly working on yourself and pushing your boundaries even when you are not aware of it and do not know how. Always some new idea, some new situation, some new action. But I also have my moments when I disconnect from everyone. In the crowd of people that your job brings, I have my “small circle of great people” who are there even when I don’t have time for them and for whom I am there, wherever I am. 

I love the sea and boats. I like to go out to sea in summer and enjoy good company and dear people by the sea and the sun. I like to hang out with positive people, travel, combine the comfortable with the useful. I am happy that my job has given me the opportunity to meet so many new places and people who have helped me to be what I am today. I still believe that there is no better place to live than where I am and yes, it is beautiful everywhere, but home is the most beautiful.

More information about PAR University College can be found on the link HERE

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