The Bolognese Declaration and Czech Universities

by Professor Jiří Witzany
Rector of the Czech Technical University in Prague, AECEF President


by Professor Jiří Zlatuška
Rector of the Masaryk University at Brno

Situation at universities

The present-day institutions of tertiary education are going through a continuous process of transformation into new conditions. The significant social, economic and political changes of the last decade have been reflected by a number of measures adopted at universities resulting in a more liberal concept of study regulations and a system of study, introduction of new study programmes, and there were also measures taken in the area of co-operation and distribution of financial resources.

In many European countries the number of students has risen by 50 to 80 % in the last two decades. In the OECD countries the overall number of students corresponds to approximately 2.6 % of the population. Comparing the number of students within the age groups of 17 – 34 years is on Fig.1.

The most significant changes in the form of university education were implemented in the post-war period. Relation between the proportions of students in long Master’s degree programs and the proportions of students in tertiary education within the 18 - 21 year age group is given in Fig.2.

Fig.1 Proportions of students of the tertiary educational sector in the age group of 17-34 years in 1996

Source: The World Competitiveness Yearbook, 1999

Fig.2 Relation between the proportions of students in long Master's degree programmes and the proportions of students in tertiary education within the 18-21 year age group

Source: Education at a Glance 1998, OECD 1998

Relation between the proportions of students in long and short Master’s degree programs and the proportions of students in tertiary education within the 18 - 21 year age group is given in Fig.3 .

Fig.3 Relation between the proportions of students in long and short Master's degree programmes and the proportions of students in tertiary education within the 18-21 year age group

Source: Education at a Glance 1998, OECD 1998

The inequality of the changes of being granted tertiary education for children whose parents do not have university education and the child whose parents obtained maximally vocational training is given in Fig.4.

Fig.4 Development of unequal chances of access to university education during the years of 1950-1989


A predominant part of the students attending present-day universities are preparing for professions and other practical activities demanding higher qualifications, or for research and development activities that are becoming an indispensable part of innovative activities of competitive companies in a number of areas, but not for research in the traditional academic sense. It is obvious that a much more heterogeneous student population in relation to its interests, motivations and needs requires a corresponding system of education within which a continuous scope of educational opportunities needs to be created, comprising areas from educating the younger generation with the aim of succeeding on the job market, to the preparation of young scientists to guarantee the development of each respective branch. In this respect it seems serviceable to prefer a multi-level system of Anglo-Saxon Bachelor's and Master's degree study programmes and structured Doctoral studies. Considerable importance is also attributed to life-long extension and postgraduate study, constituting thus a major part of tertiary education aimed at the process of innovation and the transfer of knowledge and new information for experts with secondary and higher qualifications.

The intensified globalisation process plays a significant role in the organisation of instruction and structuring of study. More than ever before is it necessary to take into account that it is no longer possible to develop and organise universities on a national principle, but only in a wider, international context, respecting certain national particulars. Failing to do this, we may expect a gradual isolation of universities, a decline in the numbers of foreign students and visiting professors who as a whole represent the most efficient form of transfer of new scientific knowledge and methods of education among universities. In this sense, one of the primary signs of respected universities consists in the frequent engagement of prominent visiting professors and experts, as well as the flow of international students.

The efforts of institutions of higher education to succeed in the European and world-wide competitive environment will obviously gradually, and only in a longer time span, affect their behaviour and will probably enforce the implementation of corresponding changes in their activity. A solid enforcement of a universally recognised educational system of universities must be given absolute priority over short-term goals. Erroneous decisions in research and educational areas that may result in a decrease in quality in the preparation of university graduates and the loss of dynamics and competitiveness of European universities, will be revealed only after several years, at a time when a call for settling accounts and seeking reasons why will be in vain.

Reform Trends

The ongoing reform of the educational system must assure the prosperity of European institutions of higher education in the 21st century. This reform in the sense of adapting to the internationally recognised Anglo-Saxon university system has already got its way at several European universities. Not always, however, has it been quite successful or fully implemented. The regressive role here is played by natural caution, an inclination to stick to tradition and verified methods and organisational principles. All particularities and differences in the content and structure of the educational system and degrees awarded at individual universities in relation to internationally recognised ones--though in a number of cases well-proven and justifiable--could sooner or later lead to the isolation of some universities.

The solution of a number of related problems, breaking through traditions and customs will probably take a longer time, but it cannot be postponed. The rapid development of communication and information systems, continuing international integration, the transfer of goods and technologies, the creation of multinational and international firms and institutions and, last but not least, the growing mobility of labour, students and academic staff members will play an important role in this direction as well.

The system and content of university study itself needs, above all, the creation of adequate conditions for the implementation of the requirement for a complex and wide base of the studied branch of science, and the requirement for deep theoretic and professional knowledge in the given specialisation. The applied method and content of study must lead the students to closer contact with scientific methods of work. In a number of cases it is necessary to do away with the still existing dogma that the study programme must be comprised of every specialisation and professional and research field of the studied branch and stop rigorous indoctrination of students. This, in its turn, leads to the unjustifiable expansion of instruction and the reduction of extended and deepened study according to individual interests, limitation of the students' participation in the work of institutions and departments and, on the whole, to a passive approach to study. Extra and informal attention must be focused on the first attempts of students' research and their inclusion in the solution of research grants etc.

The concentration of theoretic subjects mainly in the first years of study, their teaching "as a reserve" may, in many cases, lead to an undesirable impairment of links between theory or general knowledge and practical application. University study in particular puts an emphasis on the theory, general knowledge, looking for analogies, mutual relationships and conditional relations, not on new contacts and practical instructions.

The implementation of the reform of study is connected with a number of related measures. The importance of reaching this goal, opening up the system and linking it to the international tertiary (university) educational system represents a genuine breakthrough of the isolation gradually built up in the period before 1989. At the same time, it means a long-term guarantee of a high and internationally comparable level and quality of universities with all related positive consequences.

The mobility of students and academic staff members is, without a doubt, among the most efficient forms of transfer among universities and also a way of evaluating their level. It brings about significant contacts and deepens international co-operation in science, culture and economy. This should in particular be remembered when overcoming a number of obstacles and, frequently, the narrow-mindedness in enforcing the given intentions.

At the same time, we have to keep in mind that this is not a single step, but a continuous process initialising a wide dialogue on education and potential measures to ensure its quality both inside universities as well as outside of them. A precondition of objective evaluation of the quality of education, however, must be based on a consensus on the question, "What is the quality of study?" and what objective criteria to use for its evaluation and verification. Without clearing up these fundamental questions the very best evaluation may miss the mark. In this respect, education must be considered not only as a means of reaching higher qualifications, but also as an irreplaceable factor affecting the positive behaviour of individuals in society and their scale of values.

Professor Jiří Witzany
Rector of the Czech Technical University in Prague, AECEF President

Efficiency of Study

Among the positive aspects of introducing a structured study system, is undoubtedly higher efficiency of the exploitation of the resources spent on tertiary education, greater dynamics of the educational system, the possibility of admitting larger numbers of applicants with a simultaneous preservation of the necessary quality of study by means of structured study, reduction of the percentage of students who drop out of study--as a rule after the first year of study due to their failure to manage the transition to university. We may also expect a higher professional level of the graduates in Master's degree study programmes due to better contacts between the students and teachers, as well as their participation in departmental activities and research and development projects solved within individual departments.

The option for terminating one's study after the completion of the first level is also of high importance for the students. This is not possible in the case of a one-level study where the students who fail to complete their study for various reasons leave school without being awarded any qualifying degree.

Among the problems to come there will undoubtedly appear the problem of preserving the quality of study, namely due to its greater orientation on practically applicable knowledge to the detriment of purely theoretic courses on the first level. Increased pressure on the presence of practically relevant passages within the study orientation on the first level does not have to be accompanied by undesirable approaches and methods of instruction. At the initial stage of study it is already possible to put stress on understanding causal relations, on perceiving the "depth" of a given problem, on educating towards critical thinking. In talking about quality, it is necessary to keep in mind, above all, the quality of the educational process itself; i.e. the communication of knowledge, its explanation and verification, not only its amounts. It is necessary to stress the need for acquiring the capability of not only applying, but also permanently developing one's own knowledge through study. From this point of view, at the very first stage of study students should be given a good basic general knowledge, so that they are able to make further contributions to it within the framework of the higher Master's degree study programme or within the programme of life-long education. The Bachelor’s degree study programmes must comprise a group (module) of optional courses with professional orientation and a group (module) of optional courses of theoretic and preparatory character to allow for individual profiling of both the graduates who tend to look for practical implementation after the completion of the Bachelor’s degree level, and those who presume to continue their study at the Master’s degree level. The halftime of professional knowledge is permanently decreasing and therefore the preconditions for further education must be ranked among those with top priority.

Serial Arrangement of University Study

An optimum model of a structured system of study seems to be arranged into a series. In the case of parallel study a real danger is arising of creating two groups of teachers and students, increasing the number of courses and lowering the quality of the Bachelor's degree study. The question that is still to be answered is the length of individual levels of study. It is evident that the study cannot be further extended. We may therefore presume that the length of the Bachelor's degree study programme (the first level) will range between 3.5 to 4 years; the Master's degree study programme (the second level) between 1.5 to 2 years; and the Doctoral degree programme (the third level) 3 to 4 years.

While using a series arrangement of structured study, an alternative may occur when all students, i.e. even those who are to continue their study in the Master's degree programme, will complete the first level by defending a Bachelor’s diploma thesis. This alternative will be more demanding as for organisation, above all due to the increase in the volumes of diploma theses and final examinations. From this perspective, the alternative in which students intending to continue--providing they have reached the required level of knowledge--will not be obliged to complete the first level degree seems to be more feasible, nevertheless such a possibility would considerably lower the natural opportunities for inter-university mobility. From the point of view of the whole system's dynamics and the natural structuring of institutions of tertiary education, therefore, the version in which (in keeping with the spirit of the Bolognese Declaration) the completion of a lower cycle is required as a condition for entering the higher cycle, seems to be highly desirable. At the same time it is obvious that the larger the area within which the system is applied, the better the optimum overall effect reached.

The introduction of structured study will require a principal redevelopment of the existing study plans of classic study implemented at universities. This, however, does not refer only to a different time distribution, but also to the necessary interventions in the curricula of individual courses. As has been stated above, the first, Bachelor's, level of study must contain a necessary amount of theoretic (generally applicable), as well as so-called preparatory courses. The overall volume of theoretic and preparatory courses taught at the first and the second level of study, however, should not in any case drop below their share in the present-day system of study.

The discussions on and the preparation of the transition towards structured study at individual universities must be preceded by clarification of the question of the graduates' profiles at individual levels of structured study and their orientation. Here priority must be given to such organisation and such methods of instruction that will motivate the students to feel the need for further education, instead of favouring encyclopaedic and descriptive approaches.

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