Poorly paid Czechs to upset exams

April 18, 2003

Lecturers at a leading university in the Czech Republic are threatening to disrupt entrance exams in June as dissatisfaction grows at the lack of action by the government to tackle pay and other funding issues.

Teaching staff at Palacky University in Olomouc will hold a series of demonstrations in the run-up to a strike planned to coincide with the annual entrance exams when thousands of would-be students will be in the city.

The action was part of a growing wave of anger at chronic lack of university reform, organiser Petr Bilik said. It is supported by university, teaching and education trades unions and a petition signed by nearly 2,000 teachers and lecturers across the country.

"We've received nothing but promises since 1989, and teachers' living standards today are even lower than then," said Mr Bilik, who is a higher assistant lecturer in film, theatre and literature at Palacky.

Public university lecturers earned more than the national average - about 130 per cent more - but only about 65 per cent of the average salary of university graduates, Mr Bilik added. "A young teacher at philosophical, pedagogical or law faculty earns only 70 per cent of the national average salary - about £160 a month. His living standard is comparable to that of an unemployed person. Before retirement, the salary of a professor is only slightly above the national average. It is scandalous."

Mr Bilik said the demonstrations and what he termed a "warning strike" were prompted by the poor response he and other protesting lecturers had received to a petition submitted to education minister Petra Buzkova demanding pay rises and better financing for universities.

Ms Buzkova admitted that university finance was in need of reform but said that institutional autonomy meant that the universities, not government, determined salaries.

Ms Buzkova entered office last year with a promise to champion a campaign by university leaders to bring higher education spending up from 3.8 per cent of gross domestic product to the European Union average of 6 per cent.

She has said she will push for more spending but doubts whether the 6 per cent target can be reached next year.

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