Czech rectors told to raise more cash

December 14, 2001

Czech education minister Eduard Zeman has told universities to treble the amount of money they raise from independent sources to help meet demand for wider access to degree courses.

Mr Zeman, whose failure to pay an extra 2 billion koruna (£38 million) to public universities earlier this autumn sparked staff and student protests, said that rectors should be more aggressive in taking advantage of commercial opportunities.

"Only 5 per cent of university budgets comes from their own commercial activities, from exploiting the enormous property they have, which has been transferred to them by the state. They should be raising 10 or 15 per cent," he said.

The minister blamed the weakness of a minority government shored up by an opposition power-sharing agreement for the failure to pay the money.

"The issue has now been resolved and the money will be paid next year," Mr Zeman said.

"Higher education funding has risen more than a third in the past three years and the ministry has a long-term plan to expand access and get the balance between the numbers seeking access to arts and humanities degrees and places at technical universities, where there are too few applicants. Universities sometimes are a bit impatient," he said.

Jiri Zlatuska, rector of Brno's Masaryk University, dismissed the minister's comments as "very much misguided".

The drop in funding per student in real terms since 1994 had progressed "twice as fast as in Britain during the same period" and funds had come "mostly from sources linked to education, not from cross-financing", he said.

The ability of universities to subsidise their activities from commercial ventures was restricted by rules requiring any surplus to be set aside against future budget deficits, compounded by a lack of tax incentives to encourage such activity.

Masaryk University has already raised more than 20 per cent of its own budget.

"The task of universities is not to sell or lease their property in order to make more money for allowing more students to study, but rather to use their resources for teaching and research, and it is very sad that the minister in charge of the higher education sector refuses to understand this," Professor Zlatuska said.

Ivan Wilhelm, rector of Charles University, struck a more conciliatory tone, but said that root-and-branch reform was needed to modernise higher education.

"We need to double income across the sector and change the internal as well as external culture of our universities to bring them in line with western European institutions."

The unscripted remarks by the education minister came last month at the official opening of an education ministry English language learning centre, one of two established for use by education and interior ministry officials with the support of the British Council.

The self-access centre, part of a Foreign Office English for Europe campaign designed to promote the learning of English across the expanding European Union, has been equipped with £20,000 of computers, paid for by the British Council, and will be staffed by council tutors.

David Green, director general of the British Council, who was in Prague for the opening, said: "These centres should allow people to manage their own learning in their own time and way and so have a better chance of success."

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