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Considerations for Higher Education Systems in Post Communist Societies:
The Current State of Czech Higher Education


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.


Overall State

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.

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 Instructional Development

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 educational systems.

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.

Teaching ONLY 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 level.

Issues of Educational Leadership, Structure, and Policy

Student Access to Tertiary Education

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 education

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. [Spilkova]

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 teaching. 

A Lost Generation of Educational Leadership

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.

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.

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 change [Pehe].

Issues of Tertiary Funding

Under 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 language.”

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].


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 coexistence. 

Within the tertiary level itself

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 institutions.

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.  

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.


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 European Union

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 Document

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 of
higher education and push for more diversification, as well as promote more student exchanges.


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 leadership.

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, Zlatuska]

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.

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 Prince:

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

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 to happen?
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 senator
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 European Affairs

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