Students protest over conditions at universities

Minister Edvard Zeman

By Nick Carey

The plight faced by Czech universities has made the headlines in the Czech press in the news with increasing regularity this year. University representatives and students complain of dramatic under-funding and are now in open conflict with Education Minister Edvard Zeman. Earlier this year, Mr Zeman promised 2 billion Czech crowns in extra funding to universities to increase enrolment and improve conditions. The Czech Republic's universities duly increased student numbers, but the extra money then failed to materialise. In response, up to 13,000 students at Palacky University in Olomouc in Northern Moravia boycotted classes for two hours on Wednesday, saying that they will hold further demonstrations until the crisis in the education system is resolved. Nick Carey spoke to Dita Hlinena, a sociology student at Palacky University and asked her why these students felt the need to protest:

"The sector of tertiary education, or universities, has been suffering from a huge lack of funding for several years now. And we were promised more money, so that the universities could take on more students, but in the end we didn't receive this money, so we won't receive any funding to cover those students. So the situation has been getting worse and worse and we thought something would happen, that someone would come along and say stop this, this is not fair."

RP: Well what are conditions like now for students in the Czech Republic?

"Well, actually it's not like we are living in the jungle or the woods or something, we have good conditions at certain levels, but we have definitely not reached the standards of western universities. We lack books and magazines in university libraries, we do not have enough computers. We don't receive scholarships for talented students, because there is simply not enough money to do that. We decided to protest out of principle, that it's not fair and that we've been cheated, so that's why we have decided to act. The reason why we are not suffering too much is that the management of the universities is doing a perfect job. They do everything possible to make sure students don't feel the crisis, but this is an unsustainable situation.

RP: What would you like to see happen? What do you need?

"We need the other universities, the students and even the teachers there to join our protest. The we will have power and we'll be able to start doing something."

RP: What do you think will happen if you don't get more funding? What will the future be like?

"The future will be very sad if we don't get any extra money, because we will simply have less books, we will have less access to computers and there will be less students studying at universities. Then the universities might start getting rid of students because they won't have enough money. The other thing is that the university teachers receive really funny salaries, it's really comical how little they receive. The thing is that there are old teachers teaching at universities and the new ones are not going to stay there. Actually, they are not staying there now, they are going to jobs where they can earn more money. The average age of teachers at my faculty is sixty years old. Those teachers are going to be very old very soon and there is no-one who could replace them."