“Warning strike” calls for increased funding for academics in Czechia

Professors and faculty members at universities across the country are taking part in a nationwide warning strike on Tuesday to protest against the underfunding of various faculties and the worsening conditions for academic staff. To learn more about the strike and the demands made, I spoke with Vít Zdrálek, professor at the Faculty of Arts at Charles University in Prague.

Photo: Ondřej Deml,  ČTK

“First, we call on the government to increase the total amount of funding for higher education, so that the share of spending on higher education in relation to GDP is comparable to those of other OECD countries, and this is after 15 years of decline. Secondly, we demand adequate pay for work in higher education, which in many cases does not reach the minimum decent wage, or the salaries guaranteed by law for primary and secondary school teachers. Thirdly, we demand that the reform of doctoral studies is completed as soon as possible, so that the undignified financial situation of doctoral students on which the future of our fields depends, is radically improved.”

I want to talk specifically about the funding of the Faculty of Arts. I’m curious how it differs across faculties in the university, what’s the disparity that the faculty is facing?

Photo: Josef Vostárek,  ČTK

“It’s not just our faculty that is on strike today. There are three other faculties within Charles University that are striking all day, and there are other faculties that are only striking for one hour. The problem with the budget in our faculty is that it is systemically underfunded by the system of distribution of the budget the university gets from the government. This is something that has been going on for almost 30 years, since the 1990s. But the situation has gotten much worse in recent years due to inflation and other factors.”

I think the underfunding of arts faculties is something universal that’s been happening across the world in recent years. What would you say to people who might say that arts faculties are not as important to say, business or economics?

“A range of specialists in different professions are taught here – from psychologist, to translators, interpreters, and specialists in history, people who are very active in public life and public discourse. The funny thing is, many of the ministers in the government are graduates from the Faculty of Arts, so it’s a very paradoxical situation we are in.”