For some time now there have been protests among scholars and students at public universities in the Czech Republic. The protesters aim to force the Minister of Education, Pavel Dobeš, to stop his proposal for new university legislation even before it could be debated in government. That means, right at its very beginning. The proposal is considered to be chaotic, of no benefit to the sector, and even harmful and worthless by representatives of the Czech public universities and their students.
In the Czech Republic, public universities constitute the core of the education system. There are 78 graduate schools of different types, but only very few are taken seriously, probably about 5 to 10, depending on strictness, and all of them in the public sector. The others are known as what in the Czech environment is called a degree factory or “Pay-per-paper”.
As a result, many affected parties, from universities with a good name such as Charles University to the Accreditation Commission, are calling for the establishment of legal instruments to differentiate quality between these institutions. It is then thought that such instruments offer the government the possibility to cut the budget of the worst ones, raise it in the better cases and simultaneously achieve savings. That means cutting the whole budget without harming the valuable core of the system.
Minister Dobeš´s proposal however contains no trace of such an instrument. On the other hand it introduces various student fees, regardless of the Minister´s attempts to hide this effect by changing the names of these fees over time (from tuition to enrollment fee). Therefore, among other things, the so-called “Dobeš Reform” is considered to be an introduction of the Pay-per-paper system, well known in the first place from Czech private education, into public education as well.
Amongst other things, the main concern of both universities and students is that the reform would introduce a level of centralization and political influence in Czech universities, unprecedented since the abolition of the bolshevik legislature in 1990. The steel claw of government and business officials in the form of newly established ministry-appointed university councils would replace academic senates elected equally by and from students and teachers as the universities´ decisive bodies, and this would change the universities, according to their own representatives, into state- owned corporations with all the eastern implications of such a status.
The need for some change is generally accepted by all parties. For some time, the Accreditation Commission has been the only body able to achieve some degree of quality differentiation at least by granting or refusing accreditations to institutions. However it has always been a lengthy process to get rid of the worst pretenders of universities, and the Commission succeeded in a few cases.
It is also true that the notorious Pay-per-paper syndrome has not been introduced to Czech public education entirely by Minister Dobeš since it has been there already in the case of the Pilsen Faculty of Law. This Faculty not only allowed many eastern-style business hustlers, rotten cops and Czech political prodigies to fulfill its five-year study programme in the framework of a few months under rather clear circumstances, but also a Faculty which at the same time has not been able to meet the formal criteria of accreditation for some time already.
The Accreditation Commission finally refused the accreditation of Law studies programme to this Faculty on March 6, 2012. Minister Dobeš decided on March 9 to grant accreditation to the Faculty claiming that the Commission was only a consultative body. However, both the claim and the decision of the Minister are questionable and these will be the subject of a court decision very shortly, as the Commission announced it will not only dispute the decision but will probably also sue the Minister for abuse of power.
There is also the bigger picture: failure to draw down European subsidies, processing a law which does not respond either to the needs of Czech education or to other legislature, unilateral decision making excluding those affected. And even more: students protesting, universities organizing strikes, academic institutions suing the Minister. Although it would contain several rather separate problems one could easily get the impression that there is a full-scale war between the government and the remains of academic institutions in the Czech Republic.
Jakub Wolf is editor of Přítomnost and The New Presence journals.
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