Rectors of Czech universities meet in Prague

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The Czech Technical University, which celebrated the 295th anniversary of its foundation earlier this year, hosted the 64th meeting of the Czech Conference of Rectors on Friday. Coincidentally, the oldest Czech university, Charles University, remembered 654 years of its existence last week. Pavla Horakova has more.

There are 28 state or public universities in the Czech Republic. However the demand for university education still exceeds capacity. In order to widen the spectrum of Czech tertiary education, the 1998 law on universities allowed for the establishment of private universities. Since then 24 private universities have been founded in the Czech Republic and most of them are now running their second academic year. Within the Rectors' Conference, private universities have their own chamber with seven representatives. The rector of the University of Jan Amos Komensky in Prague, Lubos Chaloupka, is the chairman.

"Private universities are a common thing everywhere in the world. In our country they are still very new, people do not know much about them and still mix them up with various other kinds of post-school courses. So it is important that the public should be informed about private universities. Our colleagues in the Czech Conference of Rectors are very kind and helpful and we welcome the fact that we have our own chamber. We, as representatives of private universities, are now trying to get more experience and we hope to represent the universities which are only starting in the Czech Republic well."

State and private universities face completely different problems. State university education in the Czech Republic has always been free of charge and for public universities one of the most discussed issues this year was a bill on tuition fees, which a group of opposition MPs submitted. The lower house rejected the bill and, for the time being, students at state universities don't have to pay. Unsurprisingly, private universities do charge tuition fees. They have other problems - what you could call teething problems.

In order to make Czech universities more competitive on an international level, the rectors of state universities agreed on the necessity of improving both standards of teaching and the resources available to students. They say universities have to change from mere educational establishments into places of research. They believe that could also provide them with much needed extra income.