Prof. Dr. Sérgio Machado dos Santos – president of the Confederation of European Union Rectors Conferences
Dr. Inge Knudsen - director of the Confederation of European Union Rectors Conferences
Prof. Ing. Ivan Wilhelm, Csc. – rector of the Charles University in Prague
Prof. Jiří Zlatuška – rector of the Masaryk University in Brno
Doc. Ing. Josef Koubek, CSc. – – rector of the Institute of Chemical Technology in Prague
Doc. Dr. Petr Dub, CSc. – vice-rector of the Brno University of Technology
Prof. Ing. Emanuel Ondráček, CSc. – Brno University of Technology
Doc. Ing. Eva Münsterová, CSc. – vice –president of the Council of Higher Education Institutions
Doc. Ing. Josef Průša, Csc. – vice-minister for higher education and research, Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports
Dr. Vladimír Roskovec, CSc. – advisor to the minister
Ing. Josef Beneš, CSc. – director of the Higher Education Department, Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports
Ing. Helena Šebková, CSc. – director of the Centre for Higher Education Studies
Dr. Věra Šťastná - Higher Education Department, Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports
The participants were cordially welcomed by the representatives of the Ministry, especially by the vice-minister for higher education and research Mr. Prusa. He welcomed the meeting bringing opportunity to see our problems in the context of other European countries development.
The debate focused on :
a) The Czech higher education system, Act No.: 111 on Higher Education Institutions from 1998 (Higher Education Act) - explanation of complicated issues to foreign partners, and
information about the higher education systems in other European countries
b) The Amendment of the Higher education act No 111/1998, ideas and comments of foreign partners
At the beginning the foreign partners stressed that our Higher Education Act is extremely free giving probably the highest degree of autonomy to institutions in comparison with countries of EU (may be the others as well).
Ms. Knudsen put several questions regarding:
• procedure for appointment of professors and "habilitation" procedure within the Czech higher education system. The discussion showed that our procedures are different from those applied in many other countries and it was explained that in the Czech Republic the academic titles doc. and prof. do not ensure working position for their holders.
• national system of student support. It was explained that in the Czech Republic there are still higher education studies free of charge (except entrance fees and fees paid by students studying longer than one year beyond the standard length of the relevant study programme). However, it was explained that foreign students attending courses taught in foreign language are charged tuition fees. Ms. Knudsen and Mr. Machado were surprised that the maximal amount of fee settled by the institution is not limited by the law. Types of student scholarship provided by the institutions were described.
• the mechanism of money allocation to the higher education institutions, formula funding, its gradual modifications and comparison with other European countries.
Mr. Machado gave a short introduction concerning the implementation of the Bologna Declaration and the development of a European higher education area. He expressed his opinion that the Czech law is a good frame for implementing the objectives of the Bologna Declaration.
He also mentioned the follow up structure after Prague (organisational) - which should not be the same as it is now. The Reference group (up to now consisting of a governmental representative of each signatory country, European higher education representations - Confederation and CRE - EC, EURASHE, students' representative and a representative of the European Commission; the Council of Europe has a status of an observer to the group) should be changed. The representation of each country should involve an academic/higher education and a governmental representative. In this way, the awareness of higher education institutions towards the Bologna process would be improved and better synergies could be established between the Rectors Conferences and the Ministries.
Further, he underlined that his participation in this meeting could hardly go beyond the point of providing references to some experience in other countries and could not include pointing at solutions to the problems under discussion in the Czech Republic.
He started with a short overview of the higher education system in Portugal. In particular, it was referred that:
• the system of financing in Portugal is based on the number of students in each subject;
• the freedom in the use of the budget - the budget allocations are made as lump sum allocations which give the higher education institutions a freedom in the ways in which they spend the budget, but the price to be paid is the acceptance of a comprehensive system of external evaluation and bi-annual audits by expert firms;
• the system of a lump sum allocation creates incentive to good management and gives space to internal institutional priorities. Nowadays there is a discussion on performance indicators and how to include them into the system of financing.
He also responded to a question regarding the students/teacher ratios which was comparable with the situation in the CR.
Regarding strategies to implement political priorities, he referred out the Portuguese view that it is better to allow for a high degree of autonomy and initiative at the universities rather than to establish administrative constraints by law. This means that higher education policies can be steered through incentives, e.g. by allocating some extra money to certain initiatives which are in line with (explicitly) established government policies. In this way different solutions may be found in different parts of the system.
Mr. Wilhelm stressed the necessity to promote mobility of teachers and students;
Mr. Koubek spoke about close connection between research and education activities and underlined how important it is that there is close co-operation among higher education institutions, ministry and law makers;
Mr. Zlatuska remembered the participants that our system of higher education is underfunded.
Ms. Knudsen gave some examples of South- European countries (Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain) in which they succeeded in attracting extra money from European Union, mainly to support research.
Furthermore she stressed the necessity of having a governmental policy, supported by all the actors in the field (HEIs, government and the deputies in the Parliament) to invest into human resources, “to invest in the future”. All partners have a responsibility when implementing such policies, including members of Parliament. She underlined that a transformation to or development of a democratic system is costly, however, absolutely necessary.
• Introduction of three cycle studies – Is it an obligation or not? was done by Ms. Sebkova
Mr Machado expressed the view that the most sensible solution is to go step by step, making the system as flexible as possible and implementing the policy goals via competitive money.
Ms. Knudsen introduced her experience with the German, Finnish and Danish approach to changes. The Germans have established a system of bachelor and master degree programmes which for a number of years will run parallel to the “old” long diploma studies. The changes are to gradually bring the best from the old experience into the new degree structures. She stressed the risk if there is not invested sufficient time in the changes, giving concrete examples. She especially referred to the situation in Denmark and Finland when the two–tier system was introduced in the early 1990s (bachelor and master study programmes). The change was introduced quickly, without a genuine content and curricula transformation, and the changes were seen as a total failure in both countries. She mentioned also the Dutch intention to introduce bachelor studies next year, a move on part of the government which has made the universities confused as they do not have any indications as to what to do. There is a concern that the bad experience from Denmark and Finland could be repeated.
The following discussion among all participants came to practically common conclusions: the laws should open the way for activities but should not dictate to institutions what to do and how to do it. It was also mentioned that any definition (especially within a law text) is always a limitation. Any limitations to the high degree of institutional autonomy in the Czech Republic could bring about confusion and lack of co-operation. Doc. Koubek underlined the necessity to have time to implement the Act from 1998 and be able to analyse the experience. Prof. Ondráček remembered the situation when the first law from 1990 was prepared quickly as a response to the changes in the society in 1989. He stressed the eight years of analyses, big discussions among academics, ministry and law–makers, and mentioned the gathering of experiences when the present law was prepared.
Prof. Zlatuska commented that the programme changes suggested in the Amendment of the Higher education act are seen as a limitation for the institutions but will be a benefit for students by giving them more guarantees.
The opinion shared was that these changes will not bring more guarantees for students.
Prof. Wilhelm emphasised that it is necessary to establish a policy which is able to form the higher education system and reminded participants about the problems of the Czech higher education system concerning the ageing of the academic staff, the lack of money to support younger staff, the number of professors frozen in last 10 years and the discrepancies between the expansion of higher education (twice the number of students, eight times more scientific projects) and the same amount of funding as in 1995. The money is enough to survive but not to develop.
Ms. Knudsen stressed that problems arise if political objectives are not clear. She added that it is necessary to talk to employers, to students and to discuss with colleagues from other countries, to think about changes for 3-4 years and undertake pilot projects before decisions are taken. All agreed that the higher education system should make it possible to obtain a diploma after a reasonably short time (relevant bachelor degree), to enable graduates to get a job and to support mobility during studies as well as enable graduates to come back to higher education (either for master's degrees or for further education) after obtaining job experience. It was also agreed that it is of extreme importance for any student to have "a piece of paper - certificate, diploma, degree or whatever" to be free to continue somehow - according to his/her own decision in any time during her/his life. Nobody should be pushed to do anything.
Ms. Munsterova expressed the opinion that as regards Bologna declaration and its recommendations the higher education institutions in the Czech Republic, having a great degree of autonomy according to the law, do not like to be forced by anybody to do what they are prepared to do of their own free will, calmly and patiently, after thorough discussion of all the problems connected with the prepared changes.
An important warning regarded to frequent changes of legislation (not to change things every 2 years or similarly and not to change immediately after originating a new idea).
• Lifelong education - connection with accredited study programmes, paid/not-paid – brief introduction was done by Ms. Stastna
Mr. Zlatuska stressed that the solution suggested by the Amendment of the Act No.: 111 in Article 60 is the only solution. He would consider the tuition fees being better solution, however, it is not possible now politically. There is demand concerning higher number study places for students, especially in humanities and law, who do not have any other chance.
Mr. Koubek pointed out that the main problem is not in the content of the studies but whether the graduates can get a certificate or a diploma.
Ms Knudsen explained in details the Danish approach with specially prepared study programmes at the open university. The open university idea is based on the "folk high school" ideas from the 19th century (Grundtvig), i.e. schools for adults, not higher education, where formal basic education could be obtained in core disciplines such as Danish language, arithmetic, history, etc. The open university offers study possibilities at higher education level as part time studies. Another possibility is to apply directly to universities to obtain a place in a certain discipline/study programme, but this procedure is often made difficult because of the numerus clausus system in Denmark which does not make "free places" available in most disciplines. But if there are places in the higher education courses they could be attended by adult students. Open university and other adult students accepted for "free places" can take between half and one third of a normal study programme per year, which means that the length of studies is doubled or trebled compared to normal studies. Students pay for these courses, but the fee is very low as it only covers basic expenses.
It was jointly agreed that credits received in lifelong learning courses should be transferable into formal education. A necessity of one national credit system was also mentioned.
Mr. Machado spoke about the credit system in Portugal, which is very different from ECTS because it only takes into consideration the contact hours, making no provision for students' work loads. As a consequence, most universities present the study programmes with both with the national as well as the ECTS credit system description.
He stressed the necessity to have credit accumulation in life long learning in a way in which a sequence of short advanced courses could lead to the award of post-graduate diploma or even to a degree. He also mentioned that lifelong learning courses may represent an important additional source of income since different sources of financing are becoming increasingly available to lifelong learning.
Ms. Knudsen explained the functioning of the Danish open university which offers any type of education including degree programmes; a fee is obligatory. She spoke about "virtual universities" and said that it is an extremely expensive form of education at least during the "first twenty (even more?) years". It needs big investments and a sponsor or state financing is needed. The study programmes and materials are very expensive to develop and need permanent updating. One way of benefiting from the new technologies is to establish such courses by co-operation among several institutions, public authorities, private sponsors, e.g. by establishing a consortium to manage and share the resources.
It was highly appreciated that all the participants found free time to come. The atmosphere of all the discussion was open and all of the participants tried to discuss and see the problems in wider consequences. From the discussion and presentations of our foreign guests some important views arose:
Higher Education Act
• the Czech Higher Education Act is free giving probably high degree of autonomy to institutions; it is a good frame for implementing the objectives of the Bologna Declaration.
• importance of close co-operation among higher education institutions, ministry and law makers;
• there is a necessity of having a governmental policy, supported by all the actors in the field (HEIs, government and the deputies in the Parliament) to invest into human resources, “to invest in the future”. All partners mentioned have a responsibility when implementing such policies, including members of Parliament;
• the legislation cannot be changed too often; it is necessary to have time for implementation of the contemporary law and for gathering and analysing experiences to be able to bring the best from the them.
Transformation of studies
• the law should open possibilities rather than to prescribe what to do and how to do it;
• a sensible solution is to go step by step, making the system as flexible as possible;
• the higher education institutions analyse and discuss the problems from their free will and have been looking for optimal solutions;
• the higher education system should make possible to obtain a diploma after a reasonably short time (relevant bachelor degree), to enable graduates to get a job and to support mobility during studies as well as enable graduates to come back to higher education (either for master's degrees or for further education) after obtaining job experience.
• a possibility of credit accumulation in life long learning in a way in which a sequence of short advanced courses could lead to the award of post-graduate diploma or even to a degree is important; credits received in lifelong education should be transferable into formal education (with regard to the admission demands of the receiving institution);.
• one national credit system (ECTS) is important;
• lifelong learning courses may represent an important additional source of income since different sources of financing are becoming increasingly available to lifelong learning;
• it is necessary to be careful to relay on open (virtual) universities; it is an extremely expensive form of education at least during the "first twenty (even more?) years; the study programmes and materials are also very expensive to develop and need permanent updating.
2nd January 2001