Press Advisories

23. 6. 2011 11:11

Education and Science in the Czech Republic

The Czech Republic has a very strong tradition of education as well as an excellent predisposition to be a serious competitor to Western countries in science, research and innovation.

But we bear the burden of a weak institutional environment, which markedly influences weaker results in international comparisons. This is why we need reforms.

Czech Inventions Known the World Over

Few know that Czechs discovered blood types and invented the screw propeller, the magnetic compass, colour photography and the sugar cube. Czechs are also the creators of the contact lens and nanofibers. Treatments for AIDS, cancer and hepatitis B are being developed on the basis of the discovery of antivirals by the world-renowned scientist Antonín Holý. These are just a few examples of Czech successes in science.

We're keeping up in ICT as well. According to the government's National Economic Council, some of the successful companies founded in our country include the anti-virus programs AVAST and AVG, which are used by millions of users worldwide. This is essentially about permanent research and innovation.

Our position in the centre of Europe has predestined us to exchange experiences and knowledge, and not only with the countries around us. The opportunity to attract "brains" from all over the world is growing along with increased international mobility, but there is a threat that goes along with this trend: We could lose these talented people, and this is something we must be aware of. It is indisputable that education and the science and research closely tied to it are the foundation of our future competitiveness.

Changes for the Future

An inadequate institutional environment is our weakest point - sometimes the state's position is too weak (for example in the protection and development of intellectual property or in the monitoring of the quality of results, which often does not exist at all). On the other hand, sometimes the state is too dominant (bureaucratisation, centralisation or the high level of redistribution and regulation).

At the same time, the quality of institutions is the basis of the notional pyramid of competitiveness, upon which our higher education, science and innovation stands. To a large part, a weak institutional environment is a remainder from the previous regime, but mistakes by previous governments, which were not determined to take steps toward reform, also played an important part. But under my leadership, the government definitely does not lack the courage to carry out reforms.

Alarming Results from Students and Pupils

Our pupils and students have traditionally achieved excellent results, but the educational system, does not have a built-in mechanism enabling continuous adaptation to socio-economic changes in the world around it. Especially in the last 10 years this serious shortcoming has begun to be expressed in disturbing data from PISA international comparisons, which are also trending downward.

How could such a fundamental change have taken place without being at the centre of attention of politicians and other interest groups? Experts from the National Economic Council especially ascribe this to non-existent quality monitoring for the results of educational activities. In addition, the sharing of existing data is not adequately coordinated and utilised. We essentially found out about worsening results only from international comparative studies. This must be improved.

Czech Higher Education's Unique Situation

We must also reconcile individual degrees of the educational system. Today's highly-diversified secondary education does not tie in enough to the tertiary education system, which is only formally diversified. This contrasts with countries with the most dynamic educational systems and the highest levels of competitiveness.

We have gone through a rapid and uncontrolled opening of tertiary education in the last decade. Nearly 60 % of recent secondary school graduates apply to universities and more than 40 % are admitted.

What is unique about Czech university education then is the very high share of graduates with MA titles, a low share of professionally-oriented bachelors' programmes, a relatively long period of study and quality of graduates that is highly heterogeneous. From this description, I think it is clear what needs to be changed.

University education is then followed by a thus far underdeveloped lifelong education system. This is a remainder from a time when university education was intended only for the nation's elites and when people changed jobs or fields only rarely. At the present, such a system is an anachronism.

In international comparisons, the results of Czech universities in the area of research and development are not satisfactory either. The Czech Republic has shown extremely weak results in basic social science research in the long term at a time when its importance worldwide for issues of education, schools and the policies connected with them is rising. Therefore the prepared reforms will have to focus on this issue.

Institutions Slowing Down Science and Research

Not everything is that grim. The number of articles written in English in expert publications is growing, which is an indicator of Czech publications' rising impact abroad. The number of applied results is also growing very quickly; their number has nearly tripled in the last five years. In comparison with developed European countries, however, we are very far behind in the number of patents.

In 2008, domestic applicants made up only 5 % of patents granted. At the same time, we are generating the least amount of patents in promising high-tech fields. Above all, the reason for this is inadequate protection and enforceability of intellectual property rights and their ineffective and expensive functioning.

The share of innovating companies is comparable with the European average; companies under foreign control play a major part. According to international comparisons of overall innovation performance, the Czech Republic remains below the EU-27 average. Here we must especially support the development of venture capital. And I am very happy that the Ministry of Industry and Trade has already taken certain steps toward this.

Universities taking part in cooperation with the private sector in the area of applied research, development and innovation plays an essential role. For this reason we must increase motivation toward their cooperation through such things as tax incentives.

Change is Needed in Financing Science

Even despite a growth in overall spending on research and development in the period from 2000 to 2008, the share of overall spending in this area to GDP is below the EU-27 average. Among new Member States we are relatively well off, but the problem is the structure of financing.

The share of public spending on financing is sharply below average. This system is connected to a large part with bureaucratisation, the still-low electronization of state administration and therefore to non-transparency as well, which leads to marked losses, both financially and in efficacy.

At the same time, the Czech Republic has a very good potential (knowledge, technology, culture) to provide as well as export services with high added value. We must therefore focus especially on creating conditions for private subjects and foreign investors to invest in research and development. This is by far a more effective means than merely increasing public spending.

Most Immediate Steps

Which steps is the government preparing? In lower grades of the education system, the government has launched a project for state diploma examinations, and we are also preparing state-wide comparative exams. These should help the regular monitoring and evaluation of results and ensuring a certain unified level among schools. We are also preparing new mechanisms of financing universities, which will be connected with the quality of education provided, the applicability of graduates and the results of research and development. At the same time it is necessary to launch an effective system of financial aid to students and the introduction of financial co-payment for university graduates to repay the costs of their studies.

Along with the creation of centres of excellence within research universities, there must also be mechanisms created supporting the mobility and cooperation of research workers and doctoral students among domestic and foreign universities. We will continue to develop cooperation such as the Gesher/Most programme, which is focussed on support to Czech-Israeli high-tech projects. In the case of the Czech Republic, this is the first programme of its type ever. Participation is limited only to industrial companies, but we would like to expand cooperation to the area of basic research carried out by the research organisations of both states. We have met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on this during his April visit to the Czech Republic.

Our tradition, natural predisposition and, last but not least, the intention and mandate of the current government will open the door to fundamental changes in the area of education and support to science and research.

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