Czech Universities See Exodus of Key Staff Due To Salaries
Academics in the humanities sphere protest outside Charles University Faculty of Arts in spring 2023. Credit: FFUK, via Facebook.
Olomouc, Central Moravia, Oct 7 (CTK) – Both Palacky University in Olomouc and Charles University in Prague are experiencing the departure of academic staff, often including key staff, due to the long-term underfunding of education, their rectors said after a meeting of the Czech Rectors Conference (CRC) yesterday.
Palacky University Rector Martin Prochazka and Charles University Rector Milena Kralickova said they had already taken several steps to reduce the disparity in salaries of academics, especially in the humanities. These include reallocating money and analysing the quality and quantity of teaching programs.
The long-term underfunding of universities was one of the main themes of the CRC. In a resolution, the rectors call for setting a binding medium-term target for growth in funding, and strengthening institutional funding for universities.
The faculties of arts at both universities are planning a strike on 17 October, aimed at drawing attention to undignified wages and conditions for teaching and other work at universities. So far, academics have no prospects for improving the situation.
According to the draft state budget for next year, universities are expected to receive CZK 30.9 billion in 2024, the same as this year, from a total education budget of CZK 269 billion. According to members of the Hour of Truth initiative, keeping the budget for higher education at the current level means continuation of the long-term underfunding of universities.
The initiative is therefore demanding that the government “adequately fund higher education in the 2024 state budget so that universities can ensure decent wages and working conditions for all their employees” and adopt medium-term targets for the growth of the share of GDP spent on higher education to reach the OECD average.
“The brain drain within Charles University is unfortunately real, but not only from the Faculty of Arts; the entire sphere of universities is underfunded. There are outflows from all our faculties, teachers are going abroad, but also to secondary schools, because our salaries are no longer competitive in some areas,” Kralickova said.
Prochazka said the underfunding of the sphere is leading to unrest, and Palacky University is also seeing the departure of key personnel, even to outside the education sector.
The two rectors were unable to say whether the planned strikes would have support from their university management. They want to familiarise themselves with the demands of the trade unions first.
They said the university management would decide how to deal with the strike next week. “I still have to consult with my colleagues, but I assume that we in the management will at least express understanding,” Kralickova said.
The Hour of Truth initiative, which brings together teachers and students in the humanities and social sciences, said a one-hour token strike has been declared from 2pm to 3pm on 17 October by the faculties of arts of the two universities. Academics from the faculty of arts at the Palacky University in Olomouc and the faculties of arts, theology and humanities at Charles University in Prague will remain on strike for the whole day, according to Ondrej Svec, an academic at Charles University, speaking on behalf of the Hour of Truth initiative.
Meanwhile, strike committees are being formed at other faculties in Czech university towns. Thirteen faculties from nine universities in the country are involved in the Hour of Truth grouping, eight of which are faculties of arts. The Hour of Truth website calls for all university workers to join the strike.
“We expect that the hour-long strike announced by the university trade union will be reflected at other universities,” added Svec.
Academics in some cities protested back in the spring over low salaries. “Please be assured that I continue to find your salaries inadequate, more and more urgently and at times undignified. I have been doing everything in my power to improve the situation,” said Jan Stejskal, Dean of the Faculty of Arts at Palacky University, on social media at the beginning of the semester.
The Czech Rectors Conference has long warned of the deepening underfunding of the sector. According to university representatives, CZK 11 billion more would be needed in the higher education budget.
According to Eurostat data, public spending on tertiary education in the Czech Republic corresponds to 0.86% of GDP, while the average for EU countries is 1.27%.
According to earlier information from a working group under the Ministry of Education, the lowest wages are mainly for assistant professors, ie. teachers with doctoral degrees. Compared to their colleagues at other faculties, assistant professors at faculties of arts, humanities and theology have the lowest salaries. Last year, according to the ministry’s data, they earned CZK 44,500 per month, while the average salary of secondary school teachers was CZK 52,500.