Students express dissatisfaction with higher education funding

Protests of the students, photo: CTK

This week students all over the country have been holding a week of protests to highlight the dramatic lack of funding in the Czech Republic's higher education sector. This campaign, called "A Week of Unrest", includes public lectures as well as concerts and "happenings" as a way of attracting public attention to the problem. Organizers say it is the biggest student protest since the fall of communism.

Protests of the students,  photo: CTK
The Czech Republic is joining the European Union in just one month, but the government's expenditure on higher education is still far below European standards. While the EU member states spend about 1.5% of their GDP on higher education, in the Czech Republic it is only a little more than half of this. Politicians keep on breaking their promises to increase the funds, and students have run out of patience. This week university cities all over the country are witnessing student protests. Rostislav Valvoda from Prague's Charles University explains the reasons for the students' anger.

"The post-revolution, the post-1989 period was a time when governments did not increase funds for higher education while the number of students rose substantially. We try to highlight this problem of insufficient funding of colleges and universities."

Most universities, although not all of them, have joined the campaign which also has the official support of the Czech Confederation of Rectors and even some professional bodies. Charles University's Vaclav Hajek told me more.

Protests of the students,  photo: CTK
"Charles University rectorate supports the Week of Unrest since we consider it as a way to bring into focus the problems of funding and the overall crisis in the higher education sector."

Students from all the university cities are coming to Prague on Thursday to attend a huge demonstration, the central event of the campaign. Each day has been characterized by one special event. Banners appeared on most university buildings on Monday. On Tuesday, students living in the highest hostel in Prague used the lights in their rooms to form the spell out the campaign's acronym in the dark. Organizers are also encouraging students to write letters to MPs, as Rostislav Valvoda explains.

"In our republic every MP must answer or respond to your letter if you ask him a some quite particular question within thirty days. So we try to push the MPs to improve the situation in the Czech higher education sector. This is just one other way of highlighting the problem."

Students say the will not give up until politicians agree on an overall reform of the higher education system. They also insist that budget already for the year 2005 be expanded.