Czech Academics Threaten Strike Action Over Underfunding of Universities
The Hour of Truth initiative last staged a protest in March 2023 (pictured). Photo credit: Filozofická fakulta Univerzity Karlovy, via Facebook.
Prague, Sep 1 (CTK) – Academics from Czech universities, associated in the “Hour of Truth” initiative bringing together teachers and students of humanities and social sciences, are planning strike action in October, representatives of the initiative told CTK yesterday.
The strike is planned for one day, but union representatives have not ruled out longer protests. The reason for the strike, according to the initiative, is the underfunding of universities, and the fact that the situation at universities is not being sufficiently addressed by the government and the Ministry of Education.
The academics say there is a risk that universities will continue to receive insufficient funding in 2024 as well, based on the state budget proposals and statements by politicians.
Academics protested in some cities back in the spring over low pay. The Hour of Truth group unites 13 faculties from nine universities in the Czech Republic, eight of which are faculties of arts. The organisers are currently planning a one-day strike in October, but they say a longer strike is also possible, which would interfere with the exam period and disrupt final examinations.
Ondrej Svec of Charles University said they realised this was an extreme step, but was one of the legitimate ways to state that they refuse to continue working and educating future generations under “humiliating conditions”.
According to the initiative, the government and the Ministry of Education are not addressing the situation at universities. The share of spending on higher education in the state budget is at an all-time low; spending has fallen from 0.66% of GDP in 2009 to 0.42% of GDP this year, the academics pointed out.
In the 2024 budget, the Finance Ministry proposed to reduce the Education Ministry’s budget year-on-year, but according to a recent statement by Education Minister Mikulas Bek (STAN), the budget for science and higher education in 2024 will not decrease compared to this year’s budget. He added that there was a consensus on this in the government, although the form of the budget is still being debated.
According to members of the Hour of Truth initiative, keeping the budget for universities at the current level represents a continuation of the long-term underfunding of universities. Moreover, spending on higher education will fall due to inflation, they said.
The “catastrophic” financial situation of humanities and social sciences faculties, which are the most underfunded, will continue, they said. The departments’ low budgets are reflected in the low salaries of their staff.
Some humanities and social sciences teachers are therefore leaving to teach at primary and secondary schools, where salaries are higher, according to Jan Stejskal, chairman of the Association of Deans of Faculties of Arts.
Earlier, Bek said that the low salaries of academics at some faculties were due to poor management of these departments.
Rectors and academics from the Council of Universities, who together with the unions also announced protests in the autumn, have also complained about the underfunding of universities.
According to the university representatives, it is necessary to increase the share of their funding in the Czech Republic to 0.65% of GDP. They have long warned that universities are facing an increase in the number of applicants in the coming years due to the demographic development in the country.
According to the draft budget for 2024 prepared by the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Education is expected to have CZK 235.75 billion to spend in 2024, CZK 29.27 billion less than this year. This year, CZK 30.9 billion is earmarked for education at public universities, CZK 2.3 billion more than last year.