Russians set sights on Czech venture

August 5, 2005

A Russian businessman has offered to create a private university in a small town in the Czech Republic near the border with Germany at a time when the number of foreign students in the country is on the rise.

The businessman represents a group of private investors that has already developed universities in Finland and Russia, according to Czech press reports that did not identify him. He approached local authorities in Vejprty, a town near the German border, a local daily newspaper reported.

At a meeting with local councillors, the businessman offered to buy four buildings and to establish a private university in the town.

The offer - which Mayor Jitku Gavdunova admitted had left her puzzled as local trends indicated that entrepreneurs were leaving the region rather than investing in it - comes at a time when official figures show a rise in foreign enrolments at Czech universities.

Last year, 14,200 foreign students - mostly Russians, Ukrainians and Slovaks - were studying at Czech universities, up nearly 30 per cent on the year before, Prague's Institute for Information on Education said last week.

This is about about 5 per cent of total university enrolments in the Czech Republic.

The majority of students are Slovaks keen to take advantage of tuition-fee free courses taught in the Czech language offered to students fluent in Czech, but numbers are also rising for other nationalities attracted by high-quality higher education at costs substantially lower than in Western Europe.

Some 1,100 students - foreign and Czech - are enrolled in English-language-taught courses at Czech universities, which are charged at the same local rates to home and overseas students.

Most foreign students head for the country's most famous institution, the Charles University in Prague - where 5,200 are enrolled, including 1,100 in the world-renowned medical faculty. Some 2,200 foreign students study at Brno's Masaryk University and 1,900 in Prague's Economics University.

Russian interest in entering the lucrative private European university sector is growing in line with a national trend for Russian students to seek higher education abroad.

Russian university officials count the lack of a world-class infrastructure and the lack of equivalence between Russian and Western degrees as among the key problems in both attracting foreign students and retaining home students.

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