Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Boom of Czech private universities, colleges declining

ČTK |
4 October 2012

Prague, Oct 3 (CTK) - The boom of private colleges and universities in the Czech Republic will be soon over as they have already fulfilled a high demand for degrees that politicians, policemen and other civil servants needed for their work, the daily Hospodarske noviny (HN) writes Wednesday.

Two years ago, private universities and colleges registered a record high number of students, over 57,000, while last year the number of the enrolled at them was 4000 lower and private higher education facilities are awaiting this year's figures with fears, HN says.

The financially most successful of them is the University of Jan Amos Komensky (UJAK). Its pre-tax profit amounted to 347 million crowns last year, while other private colleges and universities reach the annual proceeds of tens of millions, the paper adds.

However, now they must prepare for a lower profit than they were used to.

"The postponed demand for university education has been met. It means secondary-school graduates aged over 30 who wanted or needed to achieve university education," Jiri Smrcka, secretary of the accreditation commission, told the paper.

HN recalls that private universities and colleges started to be established, most often as business or public benefit companies that received an accreditation from the Education Ministry, 13 years ago when public schools were not able to satisfy a high demand for diplomas in the country.

There are 44 private colleges and universities now out of the original 47 and others are to be closed, and 26 public universities and colleges in the 10.5-million Czech Republic, HN writes.

The private higher education facilities usually focus on economic fields, such as management and banking, and humanities, while they practically do not offer technical study lines, since their teaching is expensive and tuition would be high, HN writes.

The exception is the new Prague Architectural Institute (ARCHIP) opened last year where students pay 90,000 crowns per semester, HN says.

It writes that at present private educational facilities face a strong competition of public universities that have increased the number of admitted students recently and do not collect tuition.

The accreditation commission also criticises a low quality of lecturers at private universities.

Moreover, the number of potential university students is decreasing due to the demographic development as people born in the 1990s, when the birth rate was very low, have reached the age of university students, HN writes.

Under these circumstances, Czech private universities and colleges more and more rely on foreign students, primarily from Russia and other Eastern countries. Most of them place the same weight on a diploma from a university in an EU country as Czechs do on diplomas from Britain and the United States, HN notes.

"If the Czech Republic wants to be competitive in the long-run, it must try to expand and export even university education where we have the know-how and where there is demand for us," Pavel Mertlik, Rector of the private Banking Institute, told HN.

He forecasts that in five years only some ten private universities and colleges could survive in the country.

Along with foreign students, Mertlik's institute plans to develop lifelong learning courses.

HN notes that another possibility is to create a whole educational system under "one trademark." The University of Finance and Administration, the first private university of economics in the Czech Republic, has decided to secure education from its own kindergarten via its vocational school to university, HN writes.

Besides, representatives of some private universities and colleges have started considering mergers but so far only two facilities have merged, it adds.

Another obstacle that private universities face is their bad reputation caused by some cases of dubious studies of influential people and a too quick granting of decrees. Two private schools were even mentioned in connection with cronyism in the annual report of the BIS counter-intelligence service, HN writes.

Consequently, some potential employers do not trust the quality of their graduates, it says.

Yet the biggest scandal of this kind erupted at a public university - the Law Faculty of the University of West Bohemia (ZCU) in Plzen, where some prominent students, above all politicians, police officers and state administration officials, completed their studies and received doctorates suspiciously quickly and under unusual circumstances. The Education Ministry therefore did not allow the faculty to enrol new students.

"The state is treating private universities and colleges unfairly. When it needed to raise the number of university graduates, it supported them but it is acting against them," said Vaclav Starek, president of the Association of Hotels and Restaurants that founded the College of Tourism, Hotel and Spa Management University.

The state accreditation commission rejected its request for accrediting three new study lines, he noted.

On the other hand, HN's commentator Julie Hrstkova writes that private universities and colleges do not have to fear any decline in their profits since Europe is pushing for the "knowledge economy" and plans to double the share of university and college graduates to 40 percent, while the United States reckons even with 60 percent.

Yet only about 21 percent of the population are capable of studying at university, according to their IQ level, Hrstkova recalls.

"The knowledge economy's requirement for the production of tens of thousands of 'functional illiterates' will secure golden times of (private) universities and colleges in the future as well," Hrstkova concludes ironically.

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