Ondrej Liska counts drawing on EU funds among main tasks in new post as education minister

Ondrej Liska, photo: CTK

Ondrej Liska was appointed the Czech Republic’s minister of education two weeks ago, following the resignation of his Green Party colleague Dana Kucthova, who had failed to draw fully on all the available EU education funds. On his first day in the post, the new minister was greeted by striking teachers, protesting in demand of higher funding. When Ondrej Liska outlined his priorities to reporters at the Ministry of Education on Tuesday I asked him what changes he was planning.

Ondrej Liska,  photo: CTK
“In the first place I wouldn’t say changes, I would say steps that need to be taken. My first big task is to stabilize the leadership body at the ministry, which has already happened – I have invited respected personalities from the academic sphere into my closest team.

“Secondly, I feel it is necessary to finish the negotiations and preparations for the implementation of European funds. I believe this process has to be finished in March or April next year at the latest, so we can offer money that will bring quality to the Czech academic sphere.”

Your predecessor as minister and party colleague Dana Kuchtova resigned after failing to properly and fully draw on all the EU funds that were available. Are you confident that you and your team can get your hands on all the available money?

“I am absolutely sure that we will manage. I have invited the best people I know in this area…And I myself have spent three years in the European Parliament as an advisor for cohesion policy and European funds. So I have certain knowledge in this area, and I believe my team and I will definitely finalise the negotiations by the beginning of next year.”

Two weeks ago when you first came here as minister you had a loud reception, there were teachers outside demonstrating, calling for more funding – do you think you can reach agreement with them?

“Of course it will be a matter of compromise. I will not be a wizard that will suddenly bring a case full of 100-dollar notes…I will be someone who has already offered and will continue to lead a very serious and solid dialogue, not only with the teachers but also with my political partners in the government and in the parliament, in order to enhance the financing of education in the Czech Republic.

“I think it’s our major task – compared to other OECD countries we spend 4.5 percent on education, though other countries do 6. And it’s not only about the amount of money, but about the quality that this money brings.”

You’re a very young minister of education, you’re only 30. The president, Vaclav Klaus, expressed some reservations about that. What do you say to the idea that you’re perhaps a bit young to be in this post?

“Some are too young, some are too old. I think I want to be measured not by my age but by the concepts, by the steps I will take in this function. And this is the real measurement of how good or bad a politician I am or will be.