Czechs lay the ground for reform

April 16, 1999

The Czech Republic is at last reforming its higher education system and opening it up to some private sector participation.

In 1990, Czechoslovakia was among the first countries in Eastern Europe to adopt new educational legislation, which was implemented quickly and with many limitations. In the long term, this may have been a blessing.

In the past ten years, only a handful of new universities has been established, compared with the wild growth in some neighbouring countries. In relative peace, the country worked on a new law that came in on January 1.

The law opens the field for badly needed non-university higher education. Previous legislation did not allow universities to market courses and earn money from part-timers. As a result, they largely stayed dependent on government for their main income.

Entrepreneurial individuals or organisations could not start up universities and grant degrees.

Competition between state universities was also limited as budgetary growth was restricted by law to 3 per cent a year. That led to a culture of inter-university cooperation.

Until now, universities could block innovations. Vice-minister of education Vladimir Roskovec conceded: "Rectors aren't blind. They can see how scarce teaching staff are and how hard it will be to set up such a sector without paying dearly in terms of quality."

Yet the ministry will now allow institutions outside the state university sector to seek accreditation for undergraduate studies. The catch is that courses cannot begin until accreditation is received.

"In practice this means that it will mostly be foreign universities, industrial conglomerates and upgraded professional schools that will end up bidding for accreditation," Mr Roskovec said.

University property has been transferred to universities, and faculties have lost their status as legal entities. Deans will lose much of their independence.

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