University education in the process of transformation of the Czech Republic to a market economy
Univerzitní vzdělávání v procesu transformace České republiky k tržnímu hospodářství
Doc. PhDr. Jaroslav Mužík, DrSc.
The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports
Development of higher education in our country after 1990 has been featured mainly by the effort to open these schools to the greatest number of applicants, overcoming the political (“cadre“) approach when selecting people for higher education. In economics, it´s called Godhard's law when we focus on one indicator in one area (i.e. the number of students in this case) and we don´t perceive the other context or it just falls by the wayside. The author of this contribution is convinced that now is the appropriate time to launch a broader public discussion about the role of Czech universities in the contemporary society.
The positive impact of higher education on economic growth is emphasised by Becker (1993, p. 24, 25) “The systematic application of scientific knowledge to produce goods greatly increases the value of education, … quality university education is the foundation of quality human capital in each country“… As further referred by Soubbotin and Sheram, (2007, p. 8) … “education has an influence on economic growth since economic growth must be constantly nourished by the fruits of human development, such as improving the knowledge and skills of employees…“ Overall, we can say that most economists would agree on the idea that education, especially higher education as an investment into the knowledge and skills of people can promote economic growth, increase work efficiency and have a positive impact on the personality growth of an individual and the development of society.
On the other hand, it is necessary to mention the views of economists who in turn point out that education and further training does not necessarily contribute to economic growth. Prichett (1996, p. 29) wonders whether “the increasing education of the individual within a year increase or decrease the total aggregate economic prosperity?“ In response, the mentioned author gets into a tight place. There are actually no “hard data“ on “individual level“. We can only prove that individuals with higher education have higher salaries and better evaluation of their work performance. It is not possible to clearly prove that the increase in knowledge or skills of workers leads to greater prosperity. As examples of this situation, the countries as Thailand, Vietnam or Philippines are most often mentioned. In Thailand, the lack of quality, i.e. educated work force is hampering economic growth. The overall politic and social environment is also not a guarantee that the situation in education will be improved. In Vietnam and Philippines, higher education and functional literacy of the population is higher than in other South Asian countries, however economic development is slow due to lack of the “proper“development strategy.
According to the data from UNESCO statistics we know that in 1932, Czechoslovakia was third in the world in the number of university graduates per thousand inhabitants, following USA and Austria. It was 3.62 university graduates per 1 thousand inhabitants. Today, it is 120 undergraduates per 1,000 inhabitants and there is a prognosis of the Department of Demography of University of Economics that it is going to be 470 university educated people per 1,000 inhabitants in 2050. Today, attention is often drawn to the risks of this process. The first risk is to reduce the level of educational work of universities associated especially with so called frontal approach to teaching in big groups. The second risk is associated with the so called over-qualification of the population when a number of university graduates, especially in the humanities, have difficulties in finding an adequate job today. Meantime, it is valid by us in the Czech Republic, that undergraduates have the greatest chance of finding and keeping the job.
Higher education is a part of the global economic competition. It is quite obvious that Czech higher education should seek inspiration in global world. I´m going to mention two examples – the UnCollege movement and the concept of the International Labour Organization.
The UnCollege movement which was financially and organizationally supported by the well-known billionaire Steve Buffet in the beginning, it does not primarily aim to divert people from university studies, although the work was actually started like this. UnCollege stems from the concept of creating an alternative educational pathway to achieve full qualification and desired work performance in a number of professions. The basis of this pathway is a quality secondary education and related vocational training courses supplemented by internships and scholarships at selected companies, often also abroad. The basis of qualification consists of expertise knowledge and gained work experiences. Currently, UnCollege is not, of course, a matter associated with the US, it spreads worldwide. I assume that it would be worth at least considering trying to re-evaluate the requirement of higher education in certain professions, for example in a pilot project funded by the European structural funds. I realize that this requirement goes against the current trend which is documented in particular in the National Register of Vocational Qualifications of the Czech Republic.
From a global point of view, I would like to mention in addition the concept of the International Labour organization (ILO) which was described in the ILO document about higher employment from 1998. This concept reckons, within the professional development of a human, with a foundation which consists of vocational secondary education. After this foundation, the people are recommended a practise of 3-5 years in the selected field and this period is followed by study in the system of tertiary education. An advantage of this concept is demonstrated by the fact that the theoretical knowledge and skills are acquired in the context of already acquired working experience. I repeat again that both approaches, i.e. both UnCollege and ILO would be worth considering to be used in our conditions in the Czech Republic.
In 195, Kurt Vonnegut, an American writer of German origin wrote a futurological book Mechanical Piano. In the book he envisioned the future of humanity after 2020 which is becoming current affairs for us, the contemporaries. He divided the life of people in American cities into two main groups that will live separately. The first group consists of a privileged minority of managers and engineers; the second group consists of wage labourers which he calls pickaxes and shovels. These people are basically engaged in work which is not worth to be assigned to machines due to weak economic benefit. It is a question whether this version is not actually valid today. I would like to draw attention to results of the expert DLD conference which was held recently in Munich. The participants agreed that the processes of digitalization, automation and robotics take away work not only to few skilled people (working at the production line) but it will deprive also many educated undergraduates, e.g. in the banking sector, of jobs. Already today, one talks about so called intelligent factories without employees, banks with no staff, perfect PC programmes which will replace tax advisors, etc.
The conference has shown that between 40 – 50% of jobs are disappearing in some countries due to digitalization, robotics and automation. At the same time, however, this development of engineering and technology creates new jobs. Experts from various countries indicate that this situation should change the attitude of states and people to education. At the conference, it was said that through education, especially higher education one should get more general broader knowledge, the possibility to move on the border of disciplines to be able to move from one to another. I myself can confirm from my experiences successful people who have gained gradually economic and legal education, medical and technical education etc. With a little exaggeration it can be said that both the Czech and European trend commands to open new and new university fields of study, the focus of which does not correspond to any needs at all. Their graduates then either continue in the study, aspiring for the unflattering title of eternal student or worsen the unemployment statistics. According to the data of Grafton recruitment agency, over the five last years, from 2009, the number of unemployed university graduates in the Czech Republic has increased by 235 percent from 2009.
The other very distinctive matter in the activity of universities is deepening of so called branding of schools in the fight for students. I will mention four examples. Two from abroad and we could certainly consider the possibility of transferring these realities to us. In the state of California, the US, there was an idea during the rule of governor Schwarzenegger to connect all universities into one whole and to offer a wide range of disciplines, in particular for abroad. Also in our republic it was once reported that the Moravian universities in Brno, Zlín, Ostrava and Opava consider the same purpose with the aim to be more competitive in the market of tertiary education not only here, but also from the global point of view. Since 2006, the universities from China, Mexico, Morocco and Ghana have started to implement their joint program called The Skoller Ship (academic ship). It is a real students´ voyage on a specially modified ship which sails from the Greek port of Pireus via Casablanca, Buenos Aires, Kape Town, Singapore and Limasol in Cyprus back to home port. At each stop, the students have teaching, seminars and an accompanying program. The issues of global and local culture, international relations or social changes are discussed there. The main goal of this activity is to teach the students to communicate in an international environment. There is an interesting activity in our country. During holidays, the Technical University of Liberec, Palacký University Olomouc or J.E.Purkyně University in Ústí nad Labem organize courses, so called Teen Age University with a really interesting program. The children, in fact elementary school pupils, are getting acquainted with a university environment to be motivated to study a university in the future, in particular technical and natural disciplines.
The last examples are so called Corporate Universities. A number of large companies, e.g. in the US or in Japan establish own corporate universities. These are companies as General Motors Ford, Toyota, Asahi and others. Here in the Czech Republic, currently operate two corporate universities –Škoda Auto University and UnicornCollege. As their main advantage all these schools refer to preparing students to a particular work in particular conditions, sometimes also the guarantee of getting a job and carrier growth. Škoda Auto in Mladá Boleslav has have its university already for 15 let years and the school has been enjoying universal support from its founder. An almost 100 percent guarantee of employment for graduates as well as international practice in the course of study in Germany and other countries of the Volkswagen Group factories is a big attraction for people who want to study at this private school. Another motivation for the students is also the possibility to direct professional career after finishing the school and further a quite attractive offer of further professional education.
A few comments to the current situation in the Czech Republic. A considerable number of universities and declining demographical potential of population (already mentioned) is leading universities more and more to market behaviour i.e. to a competitive struggle and to a struggle for student. Universities operate in market conditions, applying more and more sophisticatedly the tools of modern marketing in the communication with general public. Currently, the universities use strongly the so called classical media channels as TV, radio, outside advertising, flyers etc. Electronic communication includes web pages, blogs, virtual communities, social networks etc. The whole area develops very quickly and unrestrainedly. As an example I´m going to mention a promotional video clip for the Silesian University in Opava. It has circulated a long time on the internet. The story goes like this. A student of the Silesian University enters the historical building and goes to the toilet. As he makes his needs in the cabin he hears that somebody is making sex in the next cabin. The video ends with a camera view to the cabin… a young boy is making sex with a girl. The video ends with a quotation “education is begotten“. A lot of marketing experts write in their commentaries that thanks to this video a number of young people learns of the Silesian Universities, they will click the disciplines being offered and may even apply for the study when such things are going on the toilets.
It is an undeniable fact that the universities in the Czech Republic are increasingly extending its activities in the further education, both in the professional or hobby area. According to the Eurostat and the Czech Statistical Office data from 1999, the universities had a share of only 3,7% in the further education market which is far below the European market which was around 20%. Some extreme, in the positive sense, is represented by Switzerland, outside the European Union, where universities administer over 50% of market, in particular in further professional education. Currently, there are no relevant data on the share of our universities in the further education market. However, the statistics of Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport show from year to year an increase of the number of participants of further education courses at universities. For example in the last year, public schools in the Czech Republic organized 3 500 courses with over 100 000 participants, private universities around 600 courses with over 10 000 participants. At that it is necessary to distinguish courses and their participants at so called free further education market and participants studying according to the Act on Universities who then us the possibility of recognition of individual subjects in regular undergraduate studies. Otherwise the offer and number of participants in the interest oriented courses is higher than in the professionally oriented courses. The Third Age University has a big portion on this state. As far as content is concerned, the offer of further education at universities is very rich, resulting from a wide range of accredited study programs and fields. Therefore there is a narrower offer in private universities, which corresponds to the superiority of accredited fields of economics and management. It is clear that Czech universities are significantly involved in further education since it brings them, in addition to teaching and research, also funds
The quality and image of university institutions have become increasingly important. German scholar Wilhelm von Humbolt said it very aptly already in 1901. “Schools and high schools have a big benefit for this country. However, only universities may provide influence across borders and have an impact on education of people speaking with the same language”. In the course of the 90s, there was a growing movement to publish various studies comparing the quality of universities in the world. The most known are so called THES Ranking and Shanghai Rating. Both systems resulting in so called ranking of universities base their rating on the activity of schools, more accurately of their teachers, in research and development, in particular in natural and technical disciplines.
This implies, directly and indirectly, the dominance of American and British schools in these ratings. The other European schools – German and French are far behind them in these ratings.
These rating systems might be inspiring in many ways for us in the Czech Republic. The problem consists especially in the high number of universities and egalitarian funding of public schools. It leads, to a certain extent, to unnecessary fragmentation. It does not say that the overall quality of universities is poor. In some other rating systems, in particular at European level, the Charles University, Czech Technical University or Masaryk University in Brno are well ranked from time to time. The latest example of success is the last year when the FAMU University ranked 7 in a special artist universities ranking in Europe. It should be added to this issue that an endeavour appeared in our media a few years ago to compile our internal rankings which however did not have generally a positive response and therefore it disappeared.
It is quite obvious that most of the Czech and Moravian universities will never be competitive at a global or European level. It might be worth to think about creating a few elite schools with the help of larger funds which may not compete with Standford or Tokyo but they could (and should) fight for students or teachers with Munich, Heidelberg or Berlin. In other words, in addition to the above mentioned Prague universities, also the technical universities in Brno or Ostrava could be successful when having “smart“ financing and management.
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