WENR

WENR, January/February 2004: Czech Republic

 

Legislative Framework
In 1992 the Czech and Slovak Federation was dissolved and each republic became independent. In both republics the same higher education reform was passed in 1991. The new law abolished central planning by the ministries and re-established institutional autonomy, including the authority to establish curricula, regulate student numbers and create new faculties. The reforms also introduced the bachelor degree and an independent accreditation system. Student enrollments increased rapidly after 1991 — doubling in the first eight years. By 1998, the Czech system of higher education consisted of 27 universities and other more specialized institutions offering degrees after four-to-six years of study. The system did not include a recognized non-university sector.
The Higher Education Act of 1998 and its amendment of 2001 allowed for more sweeping reforms including the creation of a binary system of university and non-university education, the establishment of private institutions, the creation of a two-tiered system — bachelor’s and master’s — alongside the traditional four-to-six year integrated programs, and the increased importance of the independently run Accreditation Commission in the validation of study programs.
Under the 1998 Higher Education Act, higher vocational schools can apply for accreditation to award degrees at the bachelor’s level (or higher), either in their own name or under the umbrella of a university. Currently the Czech Republic has 57 institutions of higher education: 24 public, 4 state (military and police), and 29 private institutions of higher education.
1. Easily Readable and Comparable Degrees
The Czech Republic has signed and ratified the Lisbon Convention on the Recognition of Degrees, the provisions of which legally came into force in 2000.
The diploma supplement [1] was introduced into the Czech system under the Higher Education Act of 1998, which states that the supplement must be issued upon student request. The language of the diploma supplement is not prescribed. The European model of the diploma supplement was promoted during two NARIC seminars in 1999 and 2000. Feedback from institutions suggests that they have not had much experience with the supplement and the number of applications for it has not been too high. Ultimately, they intend to issue it to every student automatically in Czech or English.
The Center for Higher Education Studies [2] operates as the Czech ENIC/NARIC offering consulting and advisory services for institutions of higher education and the Ministry of Education [3] in the recognition and evaluation of academic credentials.
2. Degree Structure
Stage I: Bachelor’s-level programs lead to the academic degree of Bakalár (Bc.) or Bakalár Umení (BcA) in the field of Arts (introduced 1999). These degrees are generally awarded after three-to-four years of study at a recognized institution of higher education and prepare students to be admitted to a Magistr degree program. At the same time, they prepare graduates for a profession. A final state examination (Statni Rigorozni Zkouska), part of which is the defense of a thesis, is required to graduate. It should be stressed that many stakeholders in Czech education (employers and students alike) are still skeptical of the bachelor’s as a qualification in its own right. Therefore, a 2001 White Paper set the target of getting fifty percent of graduates from bachelor programs to enter the workforce rather than continue into a master’s program.
Stage I & II: Despite the introduction of bachelor-type degrees, universities continue to offer one-tiered, integrated master’s degree programs that take between four-to-six years, although these long programs are now an exception rather than the norm. Post-graduate programs that follow the Bakalár take one-to-three (most commonly two) years of study, and lead to the Magistr in the humanities, natural sciences, mathematics and theology. The title of Inzenyr is awarded in technical, agricultural and economic fields. Finally, the title of Doctor Medicíny as the result of a first degree is now awarded in the medical sciences (medicine 6 years, dentistry 5-6 years, veterinary medicine and pharmacy 5 years). The fields of architecture and law also only offer integrated programs.
Stage III: Doctoral programs (Doktor) have a standard length of three years of full-time study beyond the master’s level. Doctoral programs require the defense of a dissertation and the passing of an Examen Rigorosum.

Short master’s programs of the kind that build on a first university degree, were formally added to the traditional one-tiered programs in 1990 and described in more detail in the Higher Education Act of 1998 and the 2001 amendment. The amended law of 2001 makes it compulsory to complete undergraduate studies before beginning postgraduate studies. Only over the last five years have a majority of Czech higher education institutions begun to introduce “short” master’s programs. The delay in the implementation of bachelor programs was a result of the realization by higher education institutions that simply dividing the existing curricula would not meet the criteria of a genuine two-tiered system defined by learning outcomes.

Early skepticism from institutions, students and the labor market over the adoption of the two-tiered system is waning. Hence, more and more short-cycle master’s programs are replacing the one-tiered programs, especially after they were more clearly defined in the 2001 amendment to the Higher Education Act (one-to-three years compared to two-to-three previously) and have been promoted and supported by the Transformation and Development Program since 2000.
Non-university higher education institutions continue to offer bachelor’s-level programs, and only a few have been accredited to offer master’s programs. They may not, however offer doctoral programs. All private institutions are currently of the non-university type.
3. Credit Transfer
Most Czech universities use their own credit system, as there is no unified system at the national level. Credit systems are less common in non-university institutions of higher education. No legal provisions oblige institutions to use credit systems and there is no general rule as to how to allocate credits.
Since October 1997, the Czech Republic has been successfully participating in the Socrates, Erasmus and Leonardo da Vinci programs. The ECTS system was established at most higher education institutions as an instrument for international mobility through the SOCRATES-ERASMUS [4] programs and the transfer of foreign-earned credits. All universities use ECTS for transfer. Some non-university higher education institutions (colleges and polytechnics) also use ECTS for transfer. As a rule, institutions that wish to participate in the Socrates international mobility programs have introduced ECTS for transfer.
Traditionally, credits have been used as a means of measuring student workload while their utilization as an accumulation tool has been minimal. The latest Bologna report from the Ministry states “the number of institutions, namely university-type institutions, which use the accumulative function to enable their students more flexible paths within a respective study program has been growing.” The use of ECTS for accumulation is especially popular at technical universities, whereas in the non-university sector programs tend to be less adaptable.
A national team [5] has been established by the Council of Higher Education Institutions and since the beginning of the current academic year has been providing consultative services nationally and internationally regarding the implementation of ECTS.
The Charles University (Prague) Law School [6] ECTS information package offers the following ECTS/Czech grade equivalency:
Czech Grade
ECTS Grade
Expected % of Passing Students (ECTS only)
1 (Výborne, Excellent)
A
10%
1-
A
2+
B
25%
2 (Velmi dobre, Very Good)
C
30%
2-
C
3+
D
25%
3 (Dobre, Good)
E
10%
4 (Nevyhovel, Fail)
F/FX
10%
** Charles University [6] Law School ECTS grade equivalency
4. Mobility
When the changes came in 1989, there was a widespread desire to rejoin the Western European educational community. EU-funded Tempus [7] projects under the PHARE [8] program provided funding and established partnerships for educational reform. However, universities for a long time were more likely to talk the talk about reform than to take measures.
The promotion of international mobility is described by the Ministry of Education as “a priority of national strategic development.” Most academic mobility is realized through international programs or on the basis of direct bilateral cooperation organized by the individual higher education institutions. Today, all public institutions of higher education are involved in Socrates programs, and some of the newly established private institutions are also beginning to participate.
About three-to-four percent of Czech students study for at least a period/semester abroad and the foreign students constitute approximately three percent of the student body at Czech universities (to meet Bologna and Sorbonne goals, the rate of outgoing students should be closer to 13 percent.) The ministry cites funding as the main obstacle to increased mobility of Czech students and staff.
From the 1998/99 academic year to 2001/02 academic year the number of outgoing students participating in the Erasmus program has risen from 879 to 2533, and for incoming students the number has risen from 290 to 800. The ministry attributes the rapid increase in numbers to the introduction of the national co-funding scheme in 2000.
Institutions in the Czech Republic have a number of bilateral agreements with higher education institutes abroad. Charles University, the Czech Technical University [9] in Prague, and Masaryk University [10] in Brno have the largest number of bilateral agreements.
5. Quality Assurance
By April 2002, most university faculties had undergone the accreditation procedures of the new three-level model. Thus, as of 2002/03 and especially 2003/04 most faculties will adopt the three-tier model for most of their programs.
The Czech quality assurance system includes self-evaluation, external evaluation, peer review and accreditation (based on previous evaluation). For additional information please go HERE [11]
The Higher Education Act determines that higher education institutions have to regularly provide internal quality assurance and to specify details of the process in its internal regulations.
External evaluation is conducted by the Accreditation Commission [12] and its working committee. Accreditation is awarded by the Ministry of Education on the basis of positive assessment from the Accreditation Commission. All study programs must have accreditation to be permitted to award academic degrees. Programs are re-evaluated at least once every ten years, or twice the nominal length of the program.
Any private institution wishing to offer study programs in the Czech Republic can only do so once it has gained accreditation from the Accreditation Committee.
Various other scientific or educational institutions may apply, in co-operation with a higher education institution, for accreditation of their study programs. In connection with these developments the importance of the Accreditation Commission, which is an independent expert institution, has been increasing since its inception in 1990.
The Accreditation Commission became a member of the European Network for Quality Assurance in Higher Education [13] (ENQA) in 2001.
6. Promotion of European Dimensions in Higher Education
Aside from participation in above mentioned mobility programs, a number of Czech institutions have created common study programs with foreign partners. The latest Bologna report from the Ministry of Education offers the following examples:
  1. Under the CEEPUS [14] program a Joint Central European PhD program has been developed in adapted physical activities. Students use resources and attend classes in a number of different countries depending on their specialization. The program is recognized in all participating countries.
  2. The Neisse University [15] is a collaboration of three institutions of higher education from Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic: University of Wroclaw [16], Hochschule Zittau/Görlitz [17], Liberec Technical University [18]. The three institutions combine to offer a three-year bachelor’s and two-year master’s program in information and communication management with students spending a year studying at each institution. The language of instruction is English and one foreign language of the region is included in the study program. At the end of the current academic year, the university will graduate its first students.
  3. There are some common master’s-level programs offered in connection with French institutions in the fields of economics and law where graduating students are awarded both French and Czech credentials.
In addition, many institutions have introduced tuition-based, short-term and degree programs for international students. Others have set up joint-degree programs with foreign universities to offer business and management programs to Czech students.
Nick Clark
January 2004
References
Survey on Master Degrees and Joint Degrees in Europe, Christian Tauch and Andrejs Rauhvargers, September 2002
The State of Implementation of ECTS in Europe, European University Association, October 2002
Diploma Supplement — State of Implementation, European Commission, June 2003
Lisbon Convention Status Reports, Council of Europe, Aug. 29, 2003
The Information Network on Education in EuropeEurydice [19], European Union, 2001/2002
Erasmus Mobility by Country 2001/2002 — ECTS Workshop, Feb. 20-21, 2003, UK Socrates Erasmus Council [20]
Implementation of the Bologna Declaration: The Czech Republic and Hungary, World Education News and Reviews, Robert Sedgwick, October 2001
General Information About Higher Education in the Czech Republic, Center for Higher Education Studies
Czech Republic: National Report, Implementation of the Bologna Process, Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, August 2003