1) Charles University: The oldest and most prestigious university in Czechia
Established in 1348 by Emperor Charles IV, Charles University is the oldest university in Central and Eastern Europe. The university enjoys international prestige and 20 percent of its students are from abroad.
The year was 1348, the monarch on the throne was Charles IV, and the goal was to establish a university that was similar to those in Bologna and Paris and gain international attention and recognition.
Charles University quickly became a flourishing institution for higher thinking, and maintains its high reputation to this day. The university ranks in the top five Erasmus+ destinations, and is ranked amongst the Best Global Universities for many of their programs.
Home to 17 faculties and 50,000 students, 20% of Charles University pupils are internationals. The institution offers quality education, with an affordable price tag attached.
Among the most popular study areas for internationals, is the Faculty of Social Sciences. With its main building located right next to the National Theater, with a picturesque view of the Prague Castle lying across the river, it’s the perfect place for students to get inspired and fall in love with all the city has to offer.
Michal Semian is the International Degree Programme coordinator for the Faculty of Social Science, and he says international students come to the faculty for many reasons.
“There are multiple reasons why a student would come to study in Prague, everyone is an individual. But in general, what we’ve found is that students decided to come to Prague for the mixture of our quality of education, which is recognized within the European Union and of course gives access to the European job market. But also, the affordability of living costs in Prague and our tuition.”
Within the faculty of Social Sciences, many programs attract students, and they can pick from a wide range of topics to specialize in.
“The programs that attract the most interest nowadays are our Bachelor programs in politics, philosophy and economics- which are structured according to the Oxford style programs. Thanks to the changes in the UK and the world, our quality education with the affordable price tag is very appealing to students.”
But it is more than affordability and quality education that attracts students to Prague and Charles University. Semian says the programs offered within the faculty about international security are timely and important, especially given the current situation with the war in Ukraine. This gives international students the chance to learn hands-on and in real time about world issues.
But given the state of current affairs and Czechia’s proximity to the war, the university has been pressed to promote the safety of students to it’s potential international candidates.
“We have to employ a lot of effort to explain that Czechia is a safe state, and that Prague is one of the safest cities in the world. We have to put in a lot of effort to remind people that we are not Ukraine, and we are safe. Thanks to our efforts, we cannot see any drop in data that indicate less students.”
In fact, the number of international students is continuing to grow for the faculty, as Michal explains.
“What I can see from the data is that the number of students is increasing rapidly, and that the Czech international education market is rebuilding itself. There were quite a lot of international students before, even in the communist era, but the context was different. After 2000, Czech universities started exploring the market of international education again. Now they are restructuring and reconsidering the possibilities that it brings.”
While the number of international students may be growing, one piece of the puzzle that is difficult to bridge is the interactions between Czech and international students. This is something that Michal acknowledges as an area of improvement for the faculty.
“This is one of the most difficult parts of our job, and to be honest, we still have a long way to go in this area. We’re trying to make students meet within their courses, and that they do group work together, also by employing social activities or clubs that help them engage with each other. But in the long run, it’s up to the students, it is their decision if they want to interact or not. So we’re trying to make these interactions, but we know it can be better.”
But while bridging the gaps between the Czech and international students may be a work in progress, the commitment to inclusion and diversity on the part of the faculty is the most important pillar for Michal and his team.
“What we’re trying to build here is that we don't lean on the colonial past of the Western world, we’re trying to be open to diversity. Inclusion is a core part of our values, and we are trying to promote it everywhere in all of our work.”
And the diversity and inclusion efforts have paid off. Amalina Shamsun Nahar is a 24-year-old student from Singapore studying at the faculty of Social Sciences. She’s been living in Prague for two years while studying for her Bachelor’s in Social Sciences.
“I came to Czechia because my mom actually remarried a Czech man, and they moved here eight years ago while I was still studying in Singapore. So when I would visit them in Prague in the summer, I could always see myself living in the city, it’s like a fairytale in real life. I really like the lifestyle- it’s busy but calm, a good mix of both, unlike Singapore. Charles University is also a great university, it’s pretty well established.”
When it comes to the quality of education at the Faculty of Social Sciences, Angelina is impressed.
“I think the quality is pretty good, the only thing is it’s a new course, so we were the first batch of students to take the class. But the teachers are super friendly, super accommodating, they will help you if you need anything. Even the international office, they are super nice and very reliable. We know them all by name, so the quality is great, and they really take international students into consideration. The only missing part would be student life, which I think was pretty hard to re-establish post-Covid.”
But when it comes to student life and satisfaction, Amalina and her friends are on a mission to make things better for the international community. Together alongside other students, they’ve started the FSV Circle, a platform for international students to find out what’s going on in the faculty and in the city.
“The project is called the FSV Circle and we started it in October 2022. Our main aim was to increase international engagement in the faculty. So we are trying to find English speaking events for internationals to participate in, because it’s really hard to find events and it’s always scattered around different platforms. So we’re trying to centralize everything. Now we’re going to create events for English speaking students, and we’re trying to make it sustainable as well.
There have been clubs in the past, but once students graduate the activity dies down. So now we’re trying to make it last. I think it’s really cool. We meet people in class who know the FSV Circle and attend our events. We recently recruited new members and one of the girls told us that she had been following our page from day one, and was so happy to be making content for us now. It’s really helpful when you can see people talking about your work and making a difference, even if it’s small, it still helps.”
When it comes to what Amalina loves the most about studying in the faculty and in Prague, the diversity amongst international students, takes the cake.
“I think it’s the diversity for me. I was naming to someone how many students I know from different countries, and I really think I know someone from almost every country. I know more than 30 or 40 students from different countries, so I think that’s the unique part - it’s super diverse. Everyone is willing to talk to each other and help, there’s no sticking with only your country or region, everyone is friends with each other. I think that’s really unique about Charles University.”
That diversity, according to Amalina, translates directly into the classroom and the discussions the students have.
“The diversity transfers when you talk about your home country and the experiences from your home country. We have a classmate from Kazakhstan, and his father actually ran for president. So when we were talking about political systems, he would talk about his country. We also have students from China, so we get these first hand experiences from different countries, which we wouldn’t normally get in a text book or a YouTube video, it’s real personal experiences and I think that’s really important.”
Angelina Duaa Hashir is a 24-year-old Masters student in the Society, Communication and Media program at the Faculty of Social Sciences. Originally from Pakistan, to her, living in Prague and studying at Charles University has given her a new sense of freedom and independence.
“Prague is so beautiful, it’s just an amazing city. I didn’t even know it was an option to come and study and live here and it’s not too expensive and the cost of living is affordable. A friend of mine suggested I look into Prague, and after watching some videos I realized it’s a pretty great option, and what’s better than living in the heart of Europe and getting to travel all around.”
For Angelina, coming to Prague was not the typical path people from her home country of Pakistan would normally take if they wanted to study abroad. But it was a chance that paid off in the end for her.
“In Pakistan, people don’t really opt for Europe, they usually go to Canada or America. But over there, they get stuck with their own people, they’ll find a Pakistani community and they will stick with them. Over here, there are barely any Pakistani people, and that’s a good thing, because I wanted to meet new people who were not a part of my culture.”
In terms of the quality of education Angelina is getting at Charles University, she is impressed with the faculty and its professors.
“I think the quality of education is pretty good here, the professors are very well accomplished and knowledgeable, they help out a lot. Even the administration, and the international office. Throughout my entire visa process they were helping me through every step, and that’s pretty cool.”
When it comes to her favourite part about studying abroad in Prague at Charles University, the diversity is the keystone of her educational and social experience.
“The diversity of it, for sure. I feel like I know people from all around the world. When we talk about our friend group and someone asks me where my friends are from- all of my friends are from different parts of the world. So you get to know about their culture, country, and lifestyle, and it’s really interesting. And you get to share your lifestyle with them as well.”
With the projection of continued growing numbers of international students within the Faculty of Social Sciences and the university as a whole, Charles University will continue to be a popular destination for affordable and quality education, right in the heart of Europe, keeping the tradition of bringing great minds together, like its founder wanted back in 1348.