18 Jun 2014

On the waves of innovation: higher education in the Czech Republic

flag-czech-republicAs our attention turns to Prague for the 2014 EAIE Conference, we’re taking a look at higher education and its evolution in the Czech Republic. Home to one of the oldest universities in Europe, Prague will provide quite a treat for us this September. So why not take a peek into the history books to discover how this landlocked country in the heart of Europe developed its higher education offerings, attracting tens of thousands of foreign students each year.

Education in the Czech Republic is deeply embedded and goes far back into the depths of the nation’s history. Monastic and cathedral schools emerged during mediaeval times and education was highly valued. Education was also of great importance to the Czech King and Roman Emperor Charles IV: in 1348, this exceptionally wise and educated monarch established a university in Prague, Charles University, the oldest academic institution north of the Alps. By that time, Prague had become an important European centre of education and culture and the university soon gained worldwide recognition. The members of the academic community were Czech and, to a considerable extent, foreign staff and students. A second university was later established on the eastern side of the country, in Olomouc, in 1573.

Early pioneers

An outstanding personality who played an important role in the development of education was the Czech scholar, philosopher and writer John Amos Comenius. In the 17th century, he laid the foundations for modern pedagogy and in his works the idea of lifelong learning appeared for the first time. The years that followed saw significant developments in education at all levels. Other higher education institutions, especially those focusing on technology and the arts, originated during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Challenging history

An important milestone in the development of Czech higher education was the establishment of the independent Czechoslovakia in 1918. Over the next 20 years, the independent artistic, commercial, agricultural and veterinary higher education institutions were founded. In the years to come, due to the Second World War and the political circumstances that followed, the situation was not overly favourable for education itself. The Czech higher education system developed further after 1989, in a period of extensive changes. The broken international contacts were gradually renewed, as was scientific collaboration. New opportunities for study abroad emerged for both staff and students. The network of higher education institutions also expanded to include regional and, later, private ones, thus making higher education more accessible. New faculties and study programmes were added to the existing higher education institutions. Following on from the Bologna Process a three-cycle system of higher education – Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctoral – was gradually introduced. The European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) and Diploma Supplement (DS) were also implemented.

The number of students studying at higher education institutions in the Czech Republic has grown from 113 000 in 1989 to around 380 000 students today, with 88% of students enrolled at public higher education institutions. There are currently 26 public, 44 private and 2 state higher education institutions in the Czech Republic.

A new era in mobility

Higher education institutions strive to develop international collaboration within their activities, in both the joint science projects and also, to a great extent, in the support of mobility of international students and academic staff. The number of foreign students from European and non-European countries studying in the Czech Republic continues to grow; as well as Czech students acquiring new knowledge and experience in foreign higher education institutions. There are currently around  40 000 foreign students studying in the Czech Republic and some 12 000 Czech citizens studying at higher education institutions abroad.

Research and development

Public higher education institutions play an important role in research and development. Their success in this field can be seen, for example, in new treatments for cancer and haematological and urological diseases, the development of new construction technologies, advanced materials and cooperation on international projects (eg in collaboration with CERN and the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna). The Czech Republic has achieved international recognition in fields such as non-woven nanofibres; the Nanospider, a unique manufacturing facility, is now sold all over the world. European Union funds are also helping to further develop higher education research infrastructure, including the construction of centres of excellence in research focused on the development of laser systems, biomedical and materials science, energy research and complex mathematical modelling in the natural, medical and technical sciences.

Those interested in studying in the Czech Republic are also attracted by the names of famous Czech scientists, such as the Nobel Prize winner and founder of polarography Jaroslav Heyrovský, or Otto Wichterle, the inventor of gel contact lenses. Another prominent figure in Czech science was Antonín Holý, who developed a number of effective antiviral drugs, eg for the treatment of viral type-B hepatitis or HIV.

Little big country in the centre of Europe

The Czech Republic has a strategic position in the very heart of Europe. Although small, it is one of the most attractive countries in Europe. It is home to a number of cultural and historical monuments, twelve of which are in the UNESCO World Heritage List. Of these, the historical centre of Prague deserves a mention.

Prague is the political, economic and cultural centre of the country. It is the seat of the president, parliament, government and other central bodies. It is also home to a number of Czech higher education institutions. This historical centre, as well as other parts of the city, boast a number of remarkable buildings, including Romanesque rotundas, Gothic and Baroque churches, Renaissance palaces and gardens, and Art Nouveau, cubist, functionalist or purely modern buildings. Prague is also associated with a number of famous musicians: Antonín Dvořák and Bedřich Smetana; famous artists: Alfons Mucha; renowned writers: Karel Čapek and Franz Kafka, and established filmmakers: Miloš Forman, Jiří Menzel and Jan Svěrák, to name just a few.

The EAIE Conference in September provides the ideal opportunity for you to explore the higher education offerings of the Czech Republic and Prague itself. Take a look at the various campus tours on offer and spend a day discovering a Czech higher education institution, meeting staff and students and viewing the facilities at one of six different Czech establishments.

Text courtesy of Jana Halamová, Helena Pavlíková & Sofie Doškářová, Centre for International Cooperation in Education, Czech Republic & Vladimír Vojtěch, Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, Czech Republic.

Useful links

Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports

Study in the Czech Republic

Centre for International Cooperation in Education

Eurydice – EURYPEDIA

Ministry of Foreign Affairs – Czech Republic

Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Information about Prague

Register for EAIE Prague 2014