for Higher Education Systems in Post Communist Societies:
The Current State of Czech Higher Education
SPEAKING NOTES HANDOUT
Bill Weldon, Ph.D.
Czech higher education
is in need of someone who can build on the foundations of the rich Czech
cultural heritage and merge it with an eye to the future of the twenty-first
century. Czech higher education is in need of a
champion to lead it
from its current state to a state of vibrant educational motion.
This is a naturalistic
study using the personal interview as a method of acquiring information.
The questions are at the end of the handout .
Twenty interviews were
conducted over a period from 10 October 2002 through 24 February 2003. The
people interviewed are at the end of the handout.
THE CURRENT STATE OF CZECH
HIGHER EDUCATION AND THE ISSUES IT EVOKES
There were expressed concerns
over the process or rate of change. Some responses were, “…even with
the reforms of the last ten years, the system is far from being reformed
sufficiently” [Kotasek], “…very old but change is occurring ever so slowly”
[Hoza], “Too much remnant from Communist past - expected change to be more
rapid” [Zlatuska]. Others expressed similar concerns, “…state of flux with
everyone having expected the speed of changes to be much faster” [Ripkova],
“…it is larger but not improved/ it is still not a priority” [Jarab], and
“…not enough change has been made” [Zieleniecova].
There were also comments
that neither reflected a positive nor negative state but merely offered an
observation of higher education’s current condition. Such were the
comments of [Sokol], “it is growing slowly,” [Kotasek], “…not as broad as
in the West,” and [Pehe], “it is in a state of flux.”
Another response seemed
worthy of special consideration. Sebkova noted, “CR higher education
should be careful not to be blinded by pride…. We should be thinking balance
and looking for harmonization and convergence…. Compared to other EU countries
Czechs are okay.” Harmony and convergence would always be preferable
to discord and divergence but how does one achieve these two allusive concepts?
Are Czechs okay compared to other EU countries?
An Idea to Consider:
The tertiary educational system needs to be restructured or renovated.
After a review of the system, a comparative study presenting an impartial
view, the government should then make education a priority.
An Idea to Consider:
There seems to be a problematic “disconnect” in the Czech higher education
system. One solution offered is to “connect the dots” and see the big
picture [Hoza]. This implies, at the least, that the component parts
may be present for a successful, efficient system, but no one appears to
be looking at the system as a whole.
Issues of Curriculum
The challenges of the integration
of the bachelors degree
There are many issues concerning
a structured degree approach to curriculum. Historically, a mindset
exists in the CR that the Masters degree is the terminal degree. Anything
less than a "magistr" is not considered acceptable.
Changing an educational
structure can be done through legislation, but changing the mindset of a
culture is more difficult. The Bachelors degree will not be accepted in the
culture until there has been established a valid reason for its existence.
This validation should come from the business community where most university
graduates go after finishing their tertiary degree.
The tertiary degree process
becomes a 3+2+3 design and aligns with most tertiary systems of education.
The 3+2 design was seen as important by a number of interviewees [Hoza, Sebkova,
Spilkova, Sokol, Wilhelm]; they also recognized the importance of the Bachelors
degree as a practical way to address the problem of access into the tertiary
system. Wilhelm alluded to this when he stated, “We need to finalize
the structure of the three degrees for accessibility for a larger number
of students.” Sokol was more specific when he stated, “Push more to
the division of study of 3+2 and have more students in Bachelors programs.”
The current distribution
of students in tertiary education reveals that there are 17% enrolled in
Bachelors degree programs, 5% in „short“ Masters degree (after Bc), 71% in
„long“ Masters degree and 7% in the PhD programs [Ripkova]. The ideal would
be more along the lines of 70% enrolled in the Bachelors, 25% in the different
Masters programs and 5% in PhD programs. [Benes]
While there is a movement
for more Bachelors degrees, the process is taking much too long. There
needs to be a reckoning that will establish the Bachelors as a terminal degree.
Resources should be placed behind this idea and businesses need to be consulted
or involved in the process of determining the goals and objectives of the
Bachelors degree. The quality of the product should be adequate to meet the
needs of the labor force.
A MULTILEVELED DEGREE
PROGRAM – AS ONE OPTION
An alternative view
of the current degree program could be to see the Bachelors degree as a process
step in the long Masters degree program. An option point would
be inserted which would allow a student to leave the university when the
Bachelors qualifications were met. This would allow for progression
to the Masters and/or Doctorate but would also allow an alternative option
currently not available to students who do not wish to continue past a Bachelors.
An even more radical approach
would be a long Masters degree with an Associate of Arts degree built into
the process at the end of one and one-half years for those who did not, or
could not, continue on for another one and one-half years. At the end
of the third year, for those who did not or could not continue on for another
two years, a Bachelors degree would be granted. An additional two years
would then earn a Masters degree.
Post Secondary beginning
► One and one-half years later a student opts out of the program (Assessment
test is given) Associate of Arts degree granted ► One and one-half later
a student opts out of the program (Assessment test is given) Bachelors of
Arts degree granted ► Completed fifth year, (Assessment test is given and
a thesis written) Masters of Arts is granted.
Issues of Curriculum and
One theme concerning curriculum
development was the need for an effective, language based program to prepare
the CR for its entry into the EU and to bring it to equity with other excellent
There was also noted a
lack of certain characteristics common to educational systems that are considered
to be advanced, for example, a weakness of programs in the social sciences,
arts, and humanities. This is of particular concern as one of the most attractive
features that can draw exchange students to the CR is its arts and humanities
as well as its architecture. Another example came from Pehe who said,
“Students are not being educated to fit into the global economy.”
Other missing common curricula
in Czech tertiary education are a moral based education, cultural diversity
and problem solving.
Potential growth limitations
exist due to the lack of professional training in general didactics and curriculum
development. To a certain degree, this might be predictable as lack
of funds for education has been a hallmark of Czech government.
Over the past few decades,
an interactive curriculum has been favored internationally over the older
style of curriculum that depends on a lecturer speaking to a group of passive
students. The labor market of today seeks men and women who have interactive
skills as well as an adequate knowledge base. The “how to work
with people” is just as important as “what I know about my job.”
In addition to an adequate knowledge base, today’s educated person needs
the skills of observation, integration, correlation, and application.
In addition to reforming
academic curricula, there is a need to structure a strong and visible curriculum
for life-long learners.
Students learn best when
they are actively involved in the learning process. More independence
is needed for students to explore their own best learning acquisition mode
and in so doing become actively involved in higher order thinking skills,
active participation in research to increase research skills, and practical
skills development for use in the business community.
There seems to be no accountability
of professors such as evaluations by the students and peer observations.
Professors are experts
in cognition. Yet, knowledge is considered the lowest level
of cognitive learning. How are professors doing at teaching comprehension,
application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation; the higher levels of the
cognitive domain? What is being done with interactive teaching techniques?
Research indicates that students learn best when they are actively involved
in the learning process but the interviews showed that the passive learning
style is the dominant mode of instruction in the CR at the tertiary level.
occurs when learning results! If you only teach for knowledge and
the students only know the materials, then what you have is a student population
that talks and tests well but cannot make application in order to be useful
in society. They may not understand it; nor can they apply it, break
it apart, construct it, nor decide on it as a value judgment. Yet,
they may know it!
As a step toward the reconstruction
of the Czech higher educational system, a series of seminars should be offered
to the instructors of higher education and a certificate be awarded for those
who attend six sessions; two sessions on how people learn, two on effective
teaching and two on curriculum and design. An evaluation of instructors
by students, peers and professional educators should be established (triangulation
assessment). Professors who do not pass the triangulation assessment
at a predetermined level of acceptance would be required to go through special
training until they pass with minimum efficiency.
An Idea to Consider
: Both faculty and students need to be given an opportunity to increase their
quality of education with a program of effective didactics at the tertiary
Issues of Educational Leadership,
Structure, and Policy
Student Access to Tertiary
One of the salient issues
addressed in the interviews was that of accessibility into tertiary education.
The tertiary level of education is not open at entry point noted Mateju.
“The system does not accommodate more than 50% of those who apply even when
they pass the entrance exam with a reasonable score.” [Mateju]
There needs to be accessibility
for at least 70% of the students who apply while now only 50% of those who
qualify can get into the system. [Kotasek] However, a larger
number of students can be accommodated if the three level degree program
is finalized and implemented [Wilhelm]. One way of easing access into
tertiary would be to allow liberal laws concerning private colleges and universities.
Perhaps one statement can
summarize this issue in tertiary education: We need to make higher education
more accessible to more students in the Czech Republic. [Sebkova]
Student entrance into tertiary
The concept of entrance
exams for higher institutions with a higher number of applicants provokes
the use of very selective procedures, tests examining the quality
of knowledge rather than the experience and grades in secondary education.
The image of the educational
professional in tertiary education
The problem for faculty
in tertiary education is not money alone. There is also the issue of
social status. Kotasek said that the new law on teaching is for social
status as well as financial status. Professors in the CR are not viewed
by the State or by the public as important in the same way professors are
in countries like the Netherlands or Finland.
While professors are paid
by the higher education institution, the money is provided from the state
budget but the government does not put enough pressure on the quality of
A Lost Generation of Educational
An entire generation was
lost after the Prague Spring of 1968. When the change came in 1989
and some professors were able to return to leadership opportunities, they
had lost 20 years of research and resources. Disruption of a society
for fifty years caused the lost of two generations of educational leadership.
(1939-1989) [Ripkova]. There is a whole generation of teachers
with major gaps in their education. [Pehe]
An Idea to Consider
: The admissions process should be changed to include preliminary screening
tests. Higher education needs to be more accessible to more students
and to provide quality evaluations and a standardized accreditation system.
TESTING FOR ENTRY INTO
A possible solution for
tertiary entry is the following: Step one: Implement a National Standard
exam prepared by CERMAT that will predict the potential for success in
the first two years at the tertiary level of education as the first differentiator
of possible candidates. Those who pass this exam are placed in a pool
for future considerations in tertiary education (multiple attempts at passing
allowed during last two years of secondary). Step two: Faculty
entrance exams should be developed by a professional testing agency in conjunction
with each faculty thereby establishing test validity and reliability of parallel
exams and eliminating potential faculty bias in the student selection process.
This is to ensure the best candidates reach the best potential faculty for
their probability of success. Step three: After an established
protocol is developed by the State, a personal faculty examination given
by the desired faculty and certified by an outside-of-faculty observer as
to the candidates’ suitability could be conducted. This would ensure
that national standards, faculty diversity and peculiarities in expertise
are all met, thereby establishing a form of accountability for State spending
on higher education.
THE NEED FOR A MODEL
TEACHER TRAINING CENTRE
A teachers’ academy is
needed in the CR with new techniques, higher pay and a staff that combines
the best Czech professors with a cadre of international specialists.
As a nation has no greater
resource than its children, and as stated by educators in this article, there
is a need for quality teaching to replace the weaknesses of the past.
The CR needs to look forward to the future and to becoming a leader in that
future. It can help to do so by establishing a state-of-the-art teacher-training
program that Europe and the rest of the world would look to with envy.
An Idea to Consider
: Libraries need to be open for research [Zlatuska].
An Idea to Consider
: A think tank needs to be put together on educating people to lead toward
Issues of Tertiary Funding
The strings are too tight
on the State money; they are ridiculously strong, added Zlatuska. More
specifically, Sokol added, “There is a lack of funding for fine arts and
The strongest power comes
from the university itself. They are financed by the State but the
governing of the universities is autonomous [Kotasek].
Ideas to Consider
: Specifically the issue of tuition was addressed as follows: Provide
a new system of finance by 2003 based on tuition and loans [Mateju].
Diversify the sources of income tuition fees using that as the key way to
do finance reform [Ripkova]. A tuition system is necessary [Jarab].
In addition to the issue
of tuition fees is the concept of funding. Finances must be first,
stated Ripkova. Financing must be improved and we must find other sources
of funding education [Kotasek]. Manifestation of educational reform
as seen in the budget is important [Jarab]. Increase the budget for
higher education (increase the salaries of teachers), and redistribute the
financial sources [Spilkova]. As the money is not needed in the same
way for each university, all university financing should be based on per
capita of students [Wilhelm].
FUNDING HIGHER EDUCATION
In a nation of limited
resources, funding must be secured, not only through the State but also through
alternative means. Here are a few common ways to acquire money through
alternative sources: the universities can lease some of their properties
and some of the land and buildings can be sold. Income can be derived from
the issuance of patents by professors who develop and create concepts that
become marketable; international partnerships can be arranged as they have
been but they need to be developed to a fuller potential and monies can be
derived from the research that the universities conduct and also from the
results of that research.
Perhaps there is value
in the hiring of professionals to solicit donations from wealthy people,
corporations and foundations. Especially those groups of people and
companies who want to see a reformed educational system. This can be
done both inside and outside of the country.
The EU should help by making
finances available. What is needed is a sustainable source of revenue.
There are a number of excellent seminars on this subject offered every year
throughout Europe. Funding for higher education is not only a Czech
problem and a European problem, but also a worldwide problem.
Issues of Integration
The topic of integration
is one of concern for Czech educators. Wilhelm said, “Practitioners
said we must have permeability with networking to adequately supply the need
(for the Bologna document).” There seems to have been very little progress
made in agreeing to any permeability between levels of education or within
the tertiary level of education.
Between the Academy of
Science and the University
If the current model is
maintained, the two will remain separate, i.e. separation of research and
teaching identified here as the Academy of Science and the University.
Some claim the separation now exists simply because it always has been that
way, and there is no need for change. Strong voices for merger come
from Zlatuska and Mateju, while others see the possibility of a dispersion
of the Academy of Sciences onto sites of individual faculties where they
would exist in cooperation. There would exist the possibility of adding
instruction to the Academy of Sciences.
The current state is that
the two exist as mutually exclusive entities that many feel need to become
one entity with multiple functions.
Between public education
and private education
There does not seem to
be a great deal of support for private education in the CR. This might
be considered a tragedy as private institutions could add a degree of relief
for the current accessibility problem. A minimal funding by the Ministry
of Education for private institutions that meet State requirements might
add a potential for establishing an outstanding educational offering.
A degree of freedom could be granted, as indeed it has been in some cases,
to those institutions that apply for and meet the government’s requirements
to provide educational opportunities for a variety of student populations.
Consideration might be
given to an integration of private and public systems since both exist on
parallel tracks serving the same population but are not permeable in their
Within the tertiary level
Horizontal and vertical
integrations are important, but nothing threatens success more than the lack
of internal integration of the tertiary level itself.
The current flexibility
of programming is not satisfactory for students. The Faculties at Charles
have not integrated their studies. Each faculty is closed, and there
is no cooperating within study fields.
Noted also by Ripkova,
Spilkova and others is the lack of “flexibility in passing from lower college
to higher college.” There are too many “blind alleys” like diplomas
with absolutely “no” value. The Ministry of Education could eliminate
the problem by redefining schools and placing them in different categories
[Ripkova]. There is low flexibility in the CR and therefore low transfer.
The permeability or mobility diversification is weak. [Spilkova] Permeability
within the system is needed [Zieleniecova].
Spilkova noted that there
are serious problems in internal integration because faculties have great
autonomy for curriculum development. National standards are missing, so there
is no accountability.
Wilhelm pointed out that
“zero” co-operation with the university and other Czech private institutions
has resulted in a failure to bring together the fields of study. There
is a noted lack of universality, said Mateju. The system is non-integrated,
added Kotasek. Jarab pointed out that not much is done to bring together
research with teaching.
Perhaps Pehe’s statement
best summarized the issue. Czech higher education is in a state of flux and
searching for an appropriate shape.
An Idea to Consider
: Research should be established within the university and at least two new
research universities should be provided outside of Prague. By allowing
private universities to increase would increase the number of degree granting
An Idea to Consider
: Study programs need to be structured adequately and uniformly providing
easy and efficient permeability. The curriculum should include more
programs to be taught in English and should include an enlarged capacity
in higher education institutions, especially in humanities studies.
A SEAMLESS SYSTEM OF
PROGRESSION TO GRADUATION
Unified but diversified
– Simple but complex – Comprehensive but limited. All of these are
needed to describe a full system of comprehensive education. A factor
often noted in the interview responses was a concern over the lack of permeability
within the system of higher education. As previously noted, there were
too many dead ends and too many blind alleys. All of this may be tied
up in the arguments over national vs. regionalized standards and decentralization
vs. centralization. The reality of this, however, is often played out
in the lives of the students who suffer needlessly because the educational
leadership cannot progress to a system that takes into account the students
and their needs. This is not to infer that the current system does
not see or take into account the needs and desires of students.
The Ministry of Education
might consider taking an action to see that “gaps” are corrected and replaced
with a “seamless” curriculum. This needs to be “top” down and “bottom”
up driven by leadership that knows and understands the nuances and ramifications
of curriculum decisions. Curriculum design and implementation is not
an easy task. To make wise curriculum decisions “good” research is
needed, but to implement wise curriculum “good” educators (professors/teachers)
are needed. A seamless curriculum is needed as soon as it can be developed.
THE POTENTIAL INFLUENCE
ON CZECH HIGHER EDUCATION IF ENTRY INTO THE EUROPEAN UNION IS ACCOMPLISHED
It is inevitable that education
and politics merge since education is a function of the State. If the
CR does not join the EU in 2004, the current educational goals will continue.
Non-EU entry would not diminish Czech higher education but it would limit
the growth and potential of Czech students and professors.
The Expectations of the
The following seemed to
represent the expectations of those interviewed. There will be a demand
for higher standards, “the standards will be higher but some are already
high like in the sciences” [Ripkova]. There is a concern for the quality
of work and the transferability of credits [Zieleniecova]. Mateju believes
that the EU does not seem to be interested in the research and development
section of Czech higher education, so not much is to be expected in this
area. Appropriate partners for the interchange of students with other
EU universities will be expected [Wilhelm]. There will be both positives
and negatives, noted Kotasek.
The Bologna Process and
Josef Benes, the Director
of Higher Education for the Ministry of Education, is responsible for the
alignment of the CR into the EU (The Bologna Document or Process) and he
is currently preparing for the Berlin Summit (2003).
The Bologna Document will
have influence on new thinkers more than current leadership [Kotasek].
Kotasek goes on to say that there will be greater opportunities for study
abroad. The Bologna document will require that the university align
with a standard credit system.
Additional Positive Comments
Concerning Entry into the EU
What does the CR have to
offer the EU? “It has research,” stated Zlatuska. The CR can offer
Central European culture, although the Jewish influence sadly has been diminished
[Jarab]. EU entrance will be positive [Spilkova, Zieleniecova, Mateju,
Kotasek]. “Every Czech should spend one term abroad,” said Kotasek.
Kotasek also pointed out that the emphasis should be on a democratic education.
Wilhelm noted that Charles students are highly respected when studying abroad.
Bringing quality to teacher education is imperative [Jarab]! There will be
contributions from internationals (excellent educators) that can come here
to teach. [Pehe] Spilkova made an excellent point when she stated that
enlargement of international organization collaborations for finding solutions
in common experiences of higher education will occur.
An Idea to Consider
: Czech Universities should willingly become a part of the European area
higher education and push
for more diversification, as well as promote more student exchanges.
THE FORMAL AND INFORMAL
EDUCATIONAL LEADERS IN THE CZECH REPUBLIC
Leadership can often be
elusive and difficult to identify. However, it is important to identify
the leaders in an educational system. If reforms are to take place
in higher education in the CR, they must be led or supported by educational
The Czech Rectors’ Conference
was consistently identified as the holder of leadership in Czech higher education.
[Mateju, Ripkova, Sokol, Spilkova, Hoza, Wilhelm, Zlatuska, Sebkova]
As Wilhelm is the head of the Rectors’ Conference, he was also identified
as being an important person in leadership. [Zieleniecova, Spilkova, Hoza,
Another two groups were
identified as having a leadership profile. They were the Council of
Higher Education Institutions and the Accreditation Commission.
In addition to Wilhelm
being the most often mentioned leader, others mentioned were Mateju, Zlatuska,
Jarab and Sokol.
A CHAMPION FOR THE CAUSE
– THE HAVEL COMMISSION
There is probably one person
who can be a champion of the Czech people at this time, Vaclav Havel. Why
could there not be a Havel commission on higher education? Havel need
not conduct such a commission personally, unless he wished to do so, but
rather he could call together such an entity and give it guidance and focus.
With Havel as the guiding light money could be raised and designated to accomplish
the task of highlighting the “good” things of Czech education and prescribing
solutions to any needs that are identified. Perhaps it could be said
the commission could offer to the Czech people a lasting legacy of practical
and workable solutions to learning and teaching in the “new world” of the
twenty-first century. Havel could convene such a group composed of
many of the members of this survey and others. The choices, of course,
would be his.
From Machiavelli’s The
It ought to be remembered
that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct,
or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction
of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those
who have done well under the old conditions and lukewarm defenders in those
who may do well under the new.
Bill Weldon, Ph.D. is a
university lecturer, researcher and consultant.
He can be reached at email@example.com.
Table 1 - The Interview
Questions on Czech Higher Education
1) In your words, describe
the current state of higher education in the Czech Republic.
2) What has caused this
3) Who are the educational
leaders (formal and informal) in the CR?
4) How will the Czech Republic's
inevitable entry into the EU affect Czech Higher Education?
5) What three (3) things
should be done NOW to improve Higher Education in the Czech Republic?
6) What are two (2) long-range
ideas for improvement in Higher Education?
7) Can I use your name
and/or position in the article? If so how?
8) What other questions
would you ask that I did not ask and how would you answer them?
Table 2 - People interviewed
1. Josef Benes – Director
of Higher Education – Ministry of Education
2. Pavel Hosek - Acting
Academic Dean at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Prague
3. Ignac Hoza – Rector
- Military University of the Ground Forces in Vyskov Czech Republic
4. Josef Jarab – Former
rector at Palacky University and of the CEU in Budapest, currently a Czech
5. Jan Jirak – Pro Dean
– Social Sciences Faculty in Prague
6. Jiri Kotasek –
Former director of the Institute for Research and Development of Education
– Consultant to OECD
7. Hanka Kymlova – Fourth
year student at the Institute of Chemical Technology
8. Peter Mateju, – Chairman
- Institute for Social and Economic Analysis. Vice President of Research
at Anglo American College – Consultant to OECD
9. Jiri Pehe – Director
– New York University - Prague
10. Pavel Raus - Clinical
Psychology - Head of an NGO
11. Hanka Ripkova
– Head of the Fulbright Commission in the CR
12. Helena Sebkova – Director
- Center for Higher Education Studies
13. Jan Sokol – Dean –
Faculty of Philosophy - Human Studies – Charles University
14. Vladimira Spilkova
– Department chair, early childhood and elementary education – Charles University
15. Martin Jan Stransky
- Czech physician and editor of The New Presence a top magazine on Central
16. Eliska Walterova –
Director - The Institute for Research and Development of Education
17. Ivan Wilhelm
– The 506th Rector of Charles University
18. Mitchell Young
- Vice President for Academic Affairs - Anglo-American College
19. Paula Zieleniecova
– Director, Institute for Information on Education
20. Jiri Zlatuska – Rector
– Masaryk University in Brno