WENR, January/February 2004: Slovak Republic
The Higher Education Act of 1990 introduced a structure of higher education featuring a two-tiered system of undergraduate and graduate degrees in contrast to the pre-1989 system based on the five-year integrated Soviet model. It also guaranteed fundamental academic rights and freedoms consistent with those enjoyed by western universities. In 2002, a new Higher Education Act was adopted, which, among other things, outlined the legal status of higher education institutions and their fields of study; allowed for the creation of higher education establishments other than universities; established accreditation procedures; distinguished the bachelor, master, doctorate cycles along “Bologna” lines; and introduced a system of credits (see below for details). The new laws were promulgated in April 2002, and divided higher education institution into the following legal entities:
• Public higher education institutions
• State higher education institutions
• Private higher education institutions
There are 24 higher education institutions in the Slovak Republic, of which, 19 are public, four are state owned and one is private. The only higher education institutions that have remained under complete state ownership are two military, one police and one medical school. City University, the only accredited private institution of higher education, offers bachelor-level qualifications only.
1. Easily Readable and Comparable Degrees
• Currently, some higher education institutions are issuing a diploma supplement upon request from students. In accordance with the new Higher Education Act, the diploma supplement will be appended to all qualifications earned from accredited programs of study. It is anticipated that the diploma supplement will be a mandatory addition to all credentials issued to students from the class of 2005 and beyond.
• Slovakia has signed and ratified the Lisbon Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications.
• The Institute of Information and Prognoses of Education is the Slovak ENIC/NARIC body responsible for the recognition and evaluation of foreign credentials.
2. Degree Structure
• The new Slovak Higher Education Law of April 1, 2002 distinguishes between study programs of the first stage (bachelor’s), second stage (master’s) and third stage (doctoral). It states that tertiary-level education occurs through study programs on three levels: bachelor, master and doctorate.
Stage I: The Bakalár is awarded after three to four years of full-time study. The requirement for admission to bachelor- or integrated-level studies is the Maturita examination.
Stage I & II: The duration of second-tier studies is one to three years, and the combined duration of first- and second-tier studies should be no less than five years. The basic requirement for entry into a master’s program is the successful completion of the bachelor. Despite the introduction of bachelor-type degrees, universities continue to offer four to six-year integrated master’s programs, although they are offered only in special areas and cases (see below). Graduates of second-level programs (both “short” and “long”) are awarded the academic degree Magister, graduates from engineering programs are awarded the academic title Inzinier, and graduates of integrated medical programs are awarded the title Doctor Mediciny. All institutions of higher education that have received accreditation for postgraduate programs can offer master-level programs. However, they remain more typical for universities than for the non-university type institutions introduced by the Higher Education Law of 2002.
Stage III: The standard length of doctoral studies is between three and four years. Graduates are awarded the title PhD. Completion of a second-level program is required for entry into a doctoral program — there is currently no provision for entry into a doctoral program directly form a completed bachelor’s program.
• Integrated bachelor/master programs are still recognized by the Accreditation Commission in subject areas such as medicine, pharmaceutics and veterinary science, all of which are explicitly excluded by law from the ‘Bologna’ format. Only in exceptional cases and after authorization from the ministry may universities combine programs of the first and the second levels into one long program. Integrated programs are particularly favored by forestry, architecture and certain fields of study at military higher education institutions.
3. Credit Transfer
• The implementation of a credit system was stipulated in the Higher Education Act of April 2002 and details are outlined in a related decree. According to the law, all higher education institutions are required to introduce a credit system based on the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) by September 2005.
• The guidelines of the law allow for the student to complete – within the framework of his/her program – periods of study in another domestic or foreign faculty or university.
• Currently, ECTS or other credit point systems are largely used for the first two cycles and to a lesser extent at the PhD level throughout the whole tertiary sector.
• Prior to 2002, several higher education institutions used a credit point system but there was no standard model.
• ECTS has been used as a support tool for student mobility within the Socrates/Erasmus programs. The other credit systems in use have been introduced in most – mainly traditional – universities.
• The Tempus program had already played a part in reforming higher education in Slovakia and laid the foundations for cooperation with higher education institutes in the European Union. Community programs such as Socrates and Leonardo da Vinci were opened to Slovakia in March 1998.
• Figures supplied by the Ministry of Education show that in academic year 2001/2002 four percent of the Slovak student population spent time studying abroad — primarily in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Austria and Germany. The ministry goes on to state that to fulfill the requirement that each student spend at least one semester in a foreign higher education institution, a significant increase in financial resources would be needed to raise the proportional number of students studying in foreign higher education institutions from the present four percent to 12 percent.
• From 1998 through 2002 student and teacher mobility experienced rapid growth, supported by co-funding from the PHARE program. Since academic year 2001/02 there has been no PHARE co-funding. The number of outgoing students in the Erasmus program has increased from 59 in 1998/99 to 578 in 2001/02, and the number of incoming students over the same timeframe has increased from four to 85.
• At present, out of 24 higher education institutions, 18 are involved in the Socrates/Erasmus program. One newly established institution will join the program this year.
• Slovak institutions of higher education have also participated, since 1998, in the Leonardo da Vinci program. In the period 1998-2002 more than 2000 Slovak students took advantage of the Leonardo practical placements and exchanges, of which 17-20 percent were higher education students and teachers. Slovak institutions also participate in the CEEPUS program.
• Slovakia also has a number of bilateral agreements, an example of which is the Austria-Slovak program which awards scholarships and research grants for cooperation between the two countries; and regional cooperation between the so-called V4 countries (Slovakia, Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic).
5. Quality Assurance
• The system of quality assurance for higher education in Slovakia is based on internal quality assessment, external evaluation and accreditation.
• Internal evaluations are supposed to occur at least once a year. Institutional external evaluations are part of the accreditation process and are carried out by the Accreditation Commission. After an evaluation is completed, the commission submits proposals to the ministry. Statements by the Accreditation Commission are the basis for decisions made by the Ministry of Education to recognize study programs; and the Slovak government to give consent for the validation of private institutions.
• The Accreditation Commission carries out regular evaluations of all higher education institutions in six-year intervals.
• The academic community would welcome an independent, preferably international accreditation authority to help foster quality.
• The Accreditation Commission is a member of the European Network for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA) and a member of the International Network for Quality Assurance Agencies in Higher Education (INQAHEE).
6. Promotion of European Dimensions in Higher Education
• The application of the Bologna recommendations has brought about the intensification of cooperation between Slovak and foreign higher education institutions in the creation of joint study programs. An example is the effort to create joint study programs at the University of Economics in Bratislava with a partner from Germany, which would allow students to complete equivalent study at both universities.
• Current Slovak regulations do not allow the issue of double diplomas or joint diplomas.
• According to the new Law on Higher Education, degrees awarded by foreign universities at which students defend their theses are recognized in Slovakia, while Slovak universities in turn may award doctorates to foreign university students who defend their thesis in the country.
• Joint degrees in the non-university sector are theoretically possible, but no such initiative has been reported.
• To increase the attractiveness of Slovakia as a study destination, it is required by law that all higher education institutions publicize in both Slovak and English the possibilities for study at that institution.
— Nick Clark
• 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
• National Report — Slovak Republic, Ministry of Education, Aug. 31, 2003
• The Bologna Process in Higher Arts Education: an Overview, Truus Ophuysen, Autumn 2002