Despite pandemic number of foreign students studying full-time in Czechia grew in 2020

Photo: StockSnap / Pixabay CC0

New data from the Ministry of Education shows that while there were fewer Erasmus students in the Czech Republic last year, the number of foreign students studying full-time degrees grew by more than 8 percent. I asked Jakub Tesař, the head of the Higher Education and Lifelong Learning Division at the Czech National Agency for International Education and Research, what is behind this rise in the middle of a pandemic.

“[Growth in full-time foreign student numbers] is a long-term trend. These numbers have been growing for a period of 10 years. Last year it was probably influenced by universities being able to adjust their admission processes. It may have been easier to pass through admission exams and the whole surrounding procedure.

Photo: The Open University,  Flickr,  CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

“A particularly important factor was that they were able to start online, did not have to deal with so much paperwork regarding the visas in the initial stage and then started arriving later on during the year. This might be a reason for why the numbers went up even during the pandemic.”

Appart from making it easier for foreign students to study here, is there any other reason why Czech universities are increasingly popular among international students, or is it just a wider trend noticable across Europe?

“The largest growth and the largest changes in numbers came among students from Slavic speaking countries, such as Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and some Central Asian states. This is again a long-term trend.

Photo: Martina Klímová / Czech Radio

“One of the reasons behind this is that they can study in Czech and therefore without having to pay tuition fees. I would say that students from Slavic speaking countries have really discovered the Czech Republic as a very good and smart option, which is cost effective and provides a quality education.”

“Nevertheless, we also noticed a growth in numbers of students attending English language courses who came from India or Iran, so the Czech language study opportunity is likely not the whole story.”

What is the current ratio between foreign and native students in the Czech Republic?

“Currently, 17 percent of all students are international students.”

Is there any ideal ratio that you are looking for in this respect, or are you just waiting to see how it works out?

“We think that we can reach up to 20 percent. That would be very good.

Photo: Dipesh Parmar,  Pixabay / CC0

“One aspect that we should really pay attention to is diversity, because currently a large segment of foreigners studying here is filled with Slovak students. Their proportion fell slightly in 2019, but increased again in 2020, so it is relatively stable. However, we also see growth in the number of students from other countries, especially from Slavic speaking ones.

“It is very good for schools to have a diversity of students, but it is not a good sign when the majority of foreign students just come from one country. Diversity plays a huge role.”

What are the benefits of diversity?

“It is beneficial for domestic students, because they can encounter colleagues from different cultural and educational backgrounds. It certainly enhances communication and it is also very well known that diverse teams, not just in schools but in businesses too, deliver better results.

“Furthermore, not all Czech students travel abroad and this diversity at home gives them a taste of the world outside. This makes them better prepared for a globalised and international environment.”

You have also noticed a drop in the amount of short-term students last year. Are there any other interesting trends that you are noticing so far in 2021, or are things developing largely as you expected?

“The reason why there is such a big difference between short-term and long-term student numbers is of course the commitment they have to take and the possibility to postpone.

“It makes it much easier to change plans when they involve a shorter study period. I think that the future will really depend on how the pandemic evolves. If it calms down and it will be easier to cross borders, we expect the numbers will get back to normal levels quite easily.”