Chances to study at university remain low

In a few months' time thousands of young people will nervously await a verdict that might have a major impact on their future. The results of Czech university entrance exams will be released. Pavla Horakova has the story.

In 2001 as with every year in the last decade, more than 50 percent of young people who wished to obtain a university education were denied the chance to study at a Czech university. The chances of being accepted at a state university in the Czech Republic are no bigger this year. Although the number of students accepted has been rising slightly every year, 2002 will break this trend. The capacity of Czech universities just can't cover the huge demand for higher education, which followed the fall of communism. To cope with high demand, Czech universities select their students through entrance exams. These exams have many opponents who question their objectivity and relevance. Many say that during the hour or so the actual exam lasts, it is impossible to assess the candidate's talent, abilities or motivation. What many young people do after they fail these exams is that they choose another university, where they don't intend to study, but where the chances of being accepted are perhaps greater. Then they leave after one or two years, to transfer to their first choice university. In the meantime they were blocking other students' places.

One of the most outspoken critics of the Czech education system is opposition MP Petr Mateju, who is also putting forward a new law on the financing of university education. Mr Mateju says that the tens of thousands of young people who wish to study but cannot is a great loss for the country in terms of human resources. To fail the entrance exam is a great letdown for a young person but it is even worse, he says, to receive a letter from the university saying "Congratulations, you have successfully passed the exams but we regret we cannot accept you for capacity reasons".

While OECD countries allot 1.6 percent of their gross domestic product to education, the Czech government allocated only 0.7 percent of the GDP to finance the education sector this year. The Rector of Masaryk University in Brno Jiri Zlatuska says this fact does not only influence the number of students each university can accept but also the quality of the tuition. He says teachers are underpaid and have to have two jobs, at the expense of quality. However, the country can expect a turn for the better - the government has acknowledged the necessity to increase public expenses in education to the level of 6 percent of the GDP in order to keep up with the rest of developed countries.