On its 655th anniversary, Charles University ponders its future in Europe


On Monday, Charles University in Prague - the oldest university in central Europe - celebrates the 655th anniversary of its foundation on April 7th, 1348, by Charles IV, then Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia. From its establishment, Charles University was endowed by the emperor with the privileges enjoyed by older European universities, and these days Charles University again seeks to define itself in the context of an integrated Europe.

Charles University is celebrating the 655th anniversary of its foundation on Monday, and a theme of the celebratory events is the university's role as a major scholarly centre in an integrated Europe. On Friday the rector of Charles University, Ivan Wilhelm, kicked off a series of events marking the anniversary by chairing a panel discussion with ambassadors from European Union member states, who discussed the role of European universities in the future. I spoke to Mr Wilhelm about the impact that European integration will have on Czech universities, and he mentioned that the positive effects of European integration on student mobility and degree accreditation are not such new phenomena after all:

"It is interesting to know that the founding charter establishing the university, which was declared by the Holy Roman Emperor and Bohemian King Charles IV, together with the permission of the Holy Roman pope, was a very important statement that, by the way, gave the students and masters of the university a full guarantee for their free movement to a university and back, in the framework of the Holy Roman Empire. That means from Turkey to Portugal. So we find that what is now observed as student mobility already existed in the fourteenth century."

While many Czech students are already taking advantage of the opportunity to study in other European countries, students from all over Europe are also attracted to Charles University because of its long history and academic reputation. Furthermore, studying in Prague gives them the opportunity to observe first hand the political and social developments taking place in the Czech Republic just before it enters the European Union. Students Benjamin Tallis, from the United Kingdom, and Thomas Wrigglesworth, from Norway, are currently studying for part of their masters degrees at Charles University, and I asked them why they had chosen to study in Prague:

"My name is Benjamin Tallis. The Czech Republic, and Prague specifically, was one of the options in our European masters course. And having previously been to Prague, I'd fallen in love with the place completely, and it was a very good opportunity to learn much more about the forthcoming enlargement of the European Union to the east. Those were my primary reasons for coming here."

"My name is Thomas Wrigglesworth. I've always been interested in Central and East European politics, and with the situation today, with the forthcoming enlargement, I thought that Prague would be a good place to study it, where it is actually happening."