Shuffle cheers Czech rectors

August 16, 2002

Czech higher education is likely to see a shift in research resources away from old Soviet-style institutes to universities in a shake-up of the education ministry after June's election of a new left-of-centre government.

The appointment of tuition fees advocate Petr Mares as deputy prime minister, responsible for science, research and human resources, signals better times ahead, rectors believe.

Mr Mares has not yet formally been given a ministry. The division of responsibilities for higher education and general education between him and new education minister, career politician Petra Buzkova from the majority Czech Social Democrat Party, remains fluid. But university chiefs see it as a positive move for the sector.

Jiri Zlatuska, rector of Brno's Masaryk University, a leading champion of university reform to bring the Czechs up to the European level of spending and student admissions, said: "I think the government will see the universities as a genuine priority and higher education will see more funds allocated to it."

The decision to divide responsibilities between Mrs Buzkova and Mr Mares suggested the coalition government was prepared to grapple with thorny issues holding back the development of Czech higher education, Professor Zlatuska said.

Mr Mares's position emerged at a late stage during coalition party negotiations to form a cabinet and initially he is likely to assume a coordinating role between existing ministries. But his early public statements suggest that the former university vice-dean will adopt a wider troubleshooting brief.

Mr Mares wants to forge closer links between universities and the Academy of Sciences - the old Soviet-style state-sponsored research institutes.

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