New academic year starts amidst financial concerns


Universities across the country were buzzing with activity on Monday as thousands of students found their bearings for the new academic year ahead. For university staff the new school year presents a major challenge. Reforms in public spending have cut back on planed expenditures, leaving universities with much less than anticipated with which to carry out key reforms.

At a gathering of academicians, marking the start of the new school year, the operative word was money. Like any other institutions, universities are expected to meet the challenges that EU membership will bring - they must improve the quality of study programmes on offer, they should devote more time and money to research and enter into joint programmes with other European centres of learning. Although many Czech universities have a long tradition and some very good academicians they have relied too long on state funds, a situation that has brought about a crippling brain drain. Prof. Miroslav Vlcek is pro-rector of the Czech Technical University.

"Unfortunately we are behind the top league of universities in Europe in the ability to produce an adequate number of post graduate students, those who are real scientists -would be scientists, would be researchers. We only have standard scholarships for them and not all the tutors, not all the professors have adequate resources so many of them take part time jobs outside of the university. And they are just disappearing from the scene."

Having requested an extra 5 billion crowns for Czech universities, the Education Minister Petra Buzkova was only able to deliver 1,7 billion. Not enough by far to carry out the planned reforms. Nevertheless, they will go ahead on what is available -focussing first and foremost on the needs of students and university maintenance. In order to improve the financial position of staff and afford modern research centres universities must find alternative sources of financing : mainly from private sponsors and European Union funds. For this they are seeking know how from universities and institutions in western Europe. The pro-rector of the Technical University of Vienna, professor Hans Kaiser who visited Prague recently, explained that money is available if you know how to tap it.

"There is enough money for research but it is not given by the state any more. You have to be entrepreneurial, you have to be creative, you have to find other sources of financing, mainly by the EU. And as I mentioned to your rector here, I think one of the future strategies will be to get as much -together, in joint projects - to get as much money out of Brussels as possible."