Czech pledge of £34 million 'not enough' for sector

June 22, 2001

State universities in the Czech Republic are to get a cash boost of Kcs1.9 billion (£34 million) to help increase undergraduate admissions by 10,000 and pay off debts.

The money will help bring student numbers up to European ratios and combat over-subscription of popular courses.

The cash will come from the Labour and Social Affairs Ministry, which has been criticised for spending on job creation schemes and unemployment benefits for school-leavers at the expense of tertiary education.

Half the money will be earmarked for boosting student intake. The rest would go to support university development programmes and to clear debts, the education ministry said.

University rectors welcomed the announcement but said that more than twice as much was needed to bring the country's 30 state universities up to scratch.

Ziri Zlatuska, rector of Brno's Masaryk University, said the money was a good start but the way it would be paid and the structure of university courses and funding remained obstacles to essential reform.

"The problem is that the growth in different subjects varies and the ministry is relying on a flat increase of quotas for growth," Professor Zlatuska said.

Ministry estimates of an across-the-board rate of growth in student numbers of 6 per cent in all subjects for the first three years of studies had been revised to 9 per cent, with no increase in funding, in the expectation that not all universities would be able to increase admissions.

Professor Zlatuska said: "Here at Masaryk University, even with 9 per cent growth, we will have more students in October than there is available funding; universities need more like Kcs5 billion to bring them up to the level of spending across Europe. We would like to see 6 per cent of gross domestic product spent on education - similar to the European level."

Currently, some 5.2 per cent of Czech GDP goes to education, according to the ministry.

Professor Zlatuska said strict admissions quotas for subjects meant that many students opted for their second choice and subsequently dropped out or reapplied.

Flat-rate funding meant, for example, that technical universities keen to take up per capita funding allowances were considering opening social science or humanities departments.

Last year, leading sociologist Ivo Mozny, dean of Masaryk University's sociology faculty, criticised the government's industrialist mentality and lack of drive to reform universities. Czech university education made him "want to vomit", he said.

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