Former Eastern Bloc Countries Join Forces to Improve Competitiveness ; Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary Aim to Make Up Lost Ground

Article excerpt

Education ministers from those countries have decided to band together to learn from each other and make strides toward reforms to help them compete with their Western counterparts.

Charles University in Prague was founded in 1348. Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland, has been around since 1364, while Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest has been operating since 1635.

But after 40 years of communism, the educational systems of the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia have fallen behind those of their Western neighbors. Now, education ministers from those countries -- who cooperate on a variety of issues under the umbrella of the Visegrad Group -- have decided to band together to learn from each other and make strides toward reform.

"We have seen a rapid development of our higher education systems over the last 20 years," Josef Dobes, the education, youth and sports minister for the Czech Republic, said during an interview last month in Prague. He added that the influence of the Bologna Process, which created a European Higher Education Area to facilitate international cooperation and academic exchange, has changed the way the four countries view their educational systems. They realize, he said, the importance of being open to more student mobility, including recognition of foreign degrees, and of other countries recognizing degrees from the Visegrad countries so that their educational system and its graduates can stay internationally competitive.

Barbara Kudrycka, the minister of science and higher education in Poland, said by e-mail last month that "the higher education systems in our countries were developing for decades in similar conditions and therefore, just after achieving long awaited democracy, were to deal with similar problems: far too low population of students, as compared to the Western countries, 'academic drift' in study programs and others."

"Now we try to do our best to make up the past decades' delays," she said.

In November, the education ministers from the four countries decided to form a working group made up of people from the ministries and academics. The ministers would like to see this group share the best of individual changes being made in each country. The goal is to strengthen public confidence in higher education across the region as well as build trust in individual universities and their results so that the nations can better compete in an international context.

The ministers say the group will discuss how these measures will be implemented to achieve both national objectives, based on their own education laws, and international ones, based on E.U. and Bologna Process directives. …


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