Plzeň law school scandal provokes nation-wide audit of over 300,000 university graduates

Studenti Právnické fakulty Západočeské univerzity v Plzni, foto: ČTK

The law faculty at Plzeň university has found itself at the centre of a huge scandal lately, after it emerged that law degrees had been awarded to students after only a few months of study, while dozens of dissertations had disappeared from its library. Is this evident corruption confined to Plzeň? That’s what the Czech Education Ministry is trying to find out with an audit – of every graduate of every Czech university since the year 2000.

The biggest scandal ever to have shaken the Czech education system has provoked the biggest ever response. The education minister, Miroslava Kopicová, has ordered an audit of all Czech universities, to see if fraudulent practices exposed at the law faculty of the University of West Bohemia in Plzeň are also common elsewhere. These include: fast track degrees handed out after a few months of study, plagiarism and missing dissertations. Tomáš Bouška is the spokesman for the Education Ministry.

Tomáš Bouška
“The plan of the Education Ministry is rather simple. We have to look at other universities and schools of higher education in the country, and on the basis of their students’ registers, check the length of study periods of their alumni. That’s the basic goal. When we check the duration of the study period of all the alumni in the country, we might then find other students whose studies were too short and yet they gained their degrees.”

The ministry is going to check all alumni of all Czech universities who graduated after 2000, beginning with law faculties of public universities – in total, more than 315,000 graduates.

Most experts believe it is unlikely that such practices are common anywhere outside the law faculty in Plzeň. But sociologist and former deputy education minister Petr Matějů says it’s time to look at the whole system of higher education.

“This is a case of a few people who really tried to misuse the system. On the other hand, if the system can be misused so easily, if senate of the Plzeň university, despite having been informed, didn’t do anything against these people, and simply watched what was going on there for some two or three years, I think it shows something is wrong about our system of university administration and its control mechanisms, and we have to think of how to improve it.”

But the consequences of the Plzeň scandal may be much more far-reaching than that. If any of the fraudulent graduates have gone on to work as judges and attorneys, verdicts in cases they have been involved in could be called into question – perhaps resulting in lawsuits. Iva Chaloupková is the spokesperson for the Czech Bar Association.

Plzeň university students,  photo: CTK
“The scandal would seriously concern the Czech Bar Association if some official body, for example a court, superseded some attorneys’ five-year course in law because that’s the condition required for becoming an attorney.”

According to the Education Ministry, the results of its audit should be ready within “a few months”. Only then will we see whether the Plzeň scandal was an isolated case, or whether the Czech education system is more corrupt than anybody could have imagined.