The Czech generation game

January 19, 1996

Prague School of Economics students Petr Polak and Jakub Mikulasek face a future which, like that of many of their classmates, seems brilliant. A western company has just offered them a job. They will earn three times as much as their lecturers.

Far-reaching changes in the Czech Republic since the end of communism have meant that economics students are more valued than their lecturers.

Vlasta Hlavickova, one of the school's most eminent academics, says: "The private western companies that invaded the Czech Republic after the fall of communism prefer to train young people and not to waste time trying to change the working habits of the old officials of the communist government."

The university is bursting to the seams with students who will have great opporunities after they graduate, Mr Mikulasek says. "If I had opted for philosophy or something like that, I wouldn't have any work when I finished. Everyone understands that our country is on the verge of joining the European Union and economists are more needed than ever."

This generation shoulders a huge responsibility, says Dr Hlavickova. "It was up to us to make radical changes to the content of the study programmes since 1989 but it is they, the students, who are going to be the new businessmen and women or the people who evaluate, inform and introduce new business people to the ways of the West.

"They are products of the first wave, that of rapid growth, which will drive the new Czech yuppies, aged 30 and 40, towards the consolidation of a market economy."

That is not to say that there are no eminent economists in the old guard, including prime minister Vaclav Klaus, trade minister Vladimir Dlouhy, and finance minister Ivan Kocarnik, all graduates of Prague School of Economics.

Former university rector Stepan Muller, is also one. He has just left his professorial career to head a private company where he will earn five times the salary he received from the education ministry.

According to Dr Hlavickova, a Czech academic earns a gross salary of between Kr6,000 (Pounds 150) and Kr12,000 a month. But almost no one earns Ks12,000 because that requires years of experience and the relevant scientific grades. "In general our real salary is no more than Kr9,000."

This explains why top academics jump at the chance of moving to the private sector while others moonlight to supplement income.

Dr Hlavickova says teaching staff are also under greater pressure because students attitudes have changed. "They now want to know everything new: theories, modern methods, how the EU works.

"This means lecturers have constantly to update themselves to go before an assessment panel every three years. If they do not pass the test they automatically lose their contract with the university."

Following the "velvet revolution" in November 1989 several private colleges of economics opened, but the Prague school retains its exceptional position because of the qualifications of its staff and the diversity of courses.

Founded in 1919 as the School of Commerce, it became a university in 1929 when the economics school was hived off from Prague Technical University. Under communism it was renamed the School of Political Economic Sciences.

There are at present 11,000 students in five faculties (finance, international relations, company administration, computing and statistical science and public administration). In 1992 a further study programme was added consisting of two semesters of English. This gathers students from the former socialist era to retrain them in the ways of market economies.

The school also participates in the Tempus programme by which they have links with 20 universities and higher education institutions in Europe as well in the United States and Canada.

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