Social agriculture, drones, the internet of things, and arborism. Which small fields of study have a future?

There are many small fields of study, but only a few are unique and have a promising future. What connects them? They often belong to a particular region, but their importance is nationwide, often even transnational. Fisheries and protection of waters in southern Bohemia, the textile industry in Liberec, winemaking in Brno, explosives in Pardubice, or the foundry industry in Ostrava.
According to the arborist Jiří Rozsypálek from Mendel University in Brno, the future of higher education lies in small but unique fields of study. "They can go to a greater depth and produce fewer graduates who are, however, the best in their field of study," he says.

What small fields of study are still attractive in the Czech Republic, which of them are newly opened and which, on the other hand, face a lack of students?

There are only a few similar associations, such as the connection of southern Bohemia with the fish industry. The field of fishery at the University of South Bohemia in České Budějovice is thus not surprising for anyone. Students at the Faculty of Fisheries and Protection of Waters, a unique faculty of its kind in Central Europe, come not only from the whole of the country but also from abroad. The environment in laboratories and classrooms is thus international, and Czech PhD students are even in a minority.

While fishery is a South Bohemian tradition and its ponds are almost a part of cultural heritage, it was necessary to add another meaningful expert area, which is water and its protection. It is thus the connection of fisheries with water protection that makes this unique. "The sustainability of fisheries cannot be done without water protection. Moreover, in the Czech Republic the sector of fisheries employs several hundred people, while thousands of people work in the sector of water management. Thanks to this, all our graduates have found their way onto the labour market over the last three years," explains the vice-dean of the Faculty Martin Kocour.

The field of study is attractive, and it is not a problem to fill the first year courses with around eighty students every year. The faculty still wants to secure quality candidates, so it is one of the few that offers candidates with an excellent secondary school average an extraordinary scholarship of up to ten thousand crowns. And it is generous with scholarships even in later years.

Czech Manchester reports full house

The city of Liberec is called "Czech Manchester" due to the local textile industry. And the local Faculty of Textile Engineering, Technical University of Liberec, as the only one in the country, provides university education across the whole of the textile industry, and all its branches can be considered unique. In this area, it is even one of the largest faculties in the European Union.
Candidates come here from all over the country and partly also from Slovakia. The field of Textile Technologies, Materials and Nanomaterials, for example, attracts sixty to eighty students every year.

According to Jindra Porkertová, the vice-dean of the faculty, the study program is successful in attracting students. "We have noticed an increased demand from companies for graduates with an education in technology and materials," she confirms the growing interest in the technical fields.

Arborists will be needed more and more

Conversely, disciplines in natural sciences often have to fight for students. This is what Mendel University in Brno, where they educate future arborists, has experienced. The interest of secondary school graduates in the field is slightly declining. The study programme of arboriculture has never had more than twenty full-time students in its history.
"This was partly intended because it was a field of excellence at our faculty, and it was not our intention to educate masses of students. However, recently, the number of accepted students has begun to reach ten, which is a borderline number, and we hope to see the trend reversed again in the future," says Jiří Rozsypálek from the Department of Forest Protection and Wildlife Management, Mendel University in Brno.

In his view, natural sciences are rather at the edge of the interest of secondary school students. In part, this may be influenced by the poor awareness of the public that arboriculture exists at all and that it is not just about pruning trees.

Still, he sees the future of the study field positively. "It was this summer that provided the answer to the question of why arboriculture is important. In parts of towns and villages where there are no trees, it was hard to survive during the tropical days, while in streets shaded by green vegetation it felt much better. Considering the extreme environment of the streets in cities, it is not possible to keep the trees alive without the care of the arborists who take care of the greenery. These experts will be needed in the future," says Rozsypálek.

We all need foundry workers

The foundry industry has a strong tradition in the Ostrava region. In addition to established factories, a number of modern foundry companies with state-of-the-art technologies have opened up in the city and the surrounding area. Still, these are foundries of industrial character.

In other parts of Moravia, we can also increasingly find artistic foundries. For two decades, these have been supplied with qualified graduates by the Faculty of Materials Science and Technology, which at the VSB - Technical University of Ostrava runs the study field of Artistic Foundry. An average of ten students enrol each year. "We keep small study groups because of the time-consuming intensive practical training done in foundry laboratories and workshops," says Ivana Kroupová from the Department of Metallurgy.

She does not fear the future of the foundry craft. "We simply cannot do without castings. They are literally all around us - in cars, households, factories, and hospitals. Even art castings can be seen in many forms, whether these are traditional statues of famous commanders, ornamental benches, jewellery, or bells in church steeples," she explains, adding that it would be a shame not to maintain the fields that have been accompanying humanity for thousands of years.

Pardubice, centre of special chemistry

Pardubice is not only a city of gingerbread, ice hockey, and horse racing, but since 1920 it has also been a city of chemistry and the cradle of the Semtex plastic explosives and propellant fuels for armament systems. Not only from the world-renowned Explosia but also from other producers and users of explosives and pyrotechnic products, there is a demand for engineers – explosives experts, graduates in the field of Chemistry and Technology of Explosives at the Faculty of Chemical Technology, the University of Pardubice.

No more than ten years ago, the annual average of graduates ranged between five and six engineers and two doctoral graduates. As a result of the decline in interest in the study of technical disciplines in general, the average of the graduates of the master’s studies is now around three per year. On the other hand, there has been a slight increase in the interest in doctoral studies in the Engineering of Energetic Materials programme.

The lack of interest of young people in the study of technical chemistry is in sharp contrast with the increased interest of the industry in experts in the field of explosives, the study of which has been offered uniquely in Pardubice within the territory of former Czechoslovakia. Companies resolve the lack of specialists in the field by sending their employees to the licensed study of Theory and Technology of Explosives. This field of study has its significance, even if it was less economically interesting for the faculty. "Not only from the point of view of the tradition, when Czechoslovakia and Belgium were the largest arms producers within and beyond Europe before the Second World War and the Czechoslovak Republic significantly helped the foundation of the state of Israel by weapon delivery, but also in terms of self-sufficiency, especially in the field of defence, which is now highlighted by the international situation and the subsequent revival of special technologies," says Svatopluk Zeman from the Institute of Energetic Materials at the Faculty of Chemical Technology of the University of Pardubice and adds that the engagement in anti-terrorism activities on the scale of NATO armies is also significant. However, it is not just about defending the state. The requirements for the development of the field are also posed by the intensification of raw materials extraction processes, the development of transport engineering and the application of energetic materials in the non-explosive branches of the chemical and pharmaceutical industries.

Unique restoration in Litomyšl

There is stable interest in the study at the Faculty of Restoration in Litomyšl, which is part of the University of Pardubice. "In a long-term perspective, quality candidates for study exceed twice to three times the accepted quota. The unfavourable demographic situation of the past years has not manifested itself in this respect. We only accept the best candidates for study. We have high demands," says Tomáš Kupka, Vice-Dean of the faculty.
The aim of the study programme is the education of specialists in the area of restoration and conservation of artworks and artistic craftworks on various materials in the field of both studio and out-of-studio restoration. The restoration and care of cultural heritage is largely dependent on the economic possibilities of the owners and caretakers of the heritage sites. "If the economic system experiences a boom, and at the same time there is a will to invest funds in the restoration of cultural heritage, the field of restoration will prosper," says Tomáš Kupka.

News from Plzeň

In other cities, the regional tradition of unique fields of study is still being built, especially in connection with modern technologies. For example, Plzeň is among the leaders in the field of unmanned aviation and the use of drones. The Faculty of Applied Sciences, in cooperation with the Faculty of Electrotechnical Engineering and the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, has, since September 2017, offered certified study in Unmanned Aviation Technology.

And the Ladislav Sutnar Faculty of Design and Art is about to accredit a unique specialization of Design Modelling, which is not yet taught in the Czech Republic. "It is an extremely promising field of study that will enable work on orders from the automotive industry," says Šárka Stará, the university’s spokeswoman.

The University of West Bohemia has also been a pioneer in the field of Geomatics. This field of study, highly demanded in the 1990s due to the property privatisation, has been studied by people from all over the country since 1995. Any decision-making process related to geographic data is not done in the field today. Courts decide according to the information system of the Land Register. "Previously, the map displayed the state of affairs of many years before, outdated, today we have the chance, thanks to the modern technologies of collecting and processing geographic data, to obtain the necessary data in real time and to decide on that basis," says the field of study’s guarantor Václav Čada. In the last few years, this field of study has also been offered at the Czech Technical University in Prague.

Social agriculture

An example of the link between tradition and a new European trend is social agriculture, which is meant to be instrumental in rural development. It is the Faculty of Agriculture of the University of South Bohemia in České Budějovice that is the first in the Czech Republic to undergo the accreditation process for the bachelor's degree in Social Agriculture. In the case of South Bohemia, a strong regional link to agriculture plays its role again.

"In the field of social agriculture, it is necessary to educate entrepreneurs in agriculture so that they would better understand work with socially and physically disadvantaged people and would be ready to accept them on their farms in one way or other," explains Jan Moudrý, the guarantor of the field of study, from the Department of Agroecosystems.

One such farm is Dvůr Čihovice in Týn nad Vltavou in southern Bohemia, which is a pilot project of social agriculture for the whole of Central Europe and employs people with light mental disabilities. "Sometimes I say that mental homes are homes of sadness, while the farms are full of fun. The farm gains new vitality by the mere fact that someone can experience genuine joy from an apple harvest or calf birth. The farmer usually lives on the farm surrounded by his family only, but here you have to take care of someone, transfer part of the responsibility," says the private farmer Jiří Netík, who participated in the development of a methodology for social agriculture for the Czech Republic and closely cooperates in the preparation of the field with the Faculty of Agriculture. He has been looking forward to the first graduates impatiently.

The Internet of Things

Among the young unique fields of study that did not exist a few years ago is the Internet of Things. It is offered by the Faculty of Electrical Engineering of the Czech Technical University in Prague as part of the bachelor’s programme Open Informatics. This technical field of study, which connects electronics and computer science, offers graduates employment in software companies or companies focusing on, for example, vehicle electronics or the application of the Internet of things.

Nevertheless, the faculty faces the problem of not having a full complement of students in this field of study, so due to the low number of students the effectiveness of teaching is not high. "This is partly related to the profile of students of computer science who prefer the virtual world of computers to the real world with which the Internet interacts," says Jiří Novák from the Department of Measurement at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering, Czech Technical University in Prague.

"For us, as a research-oriented faculty, it is much more effective to focus on research projects funded from both public and more often from private sources. However, we are primarily a university, so we consider the education of future generations of students as one of our missions, and we are therefore willing to subsidize it to some extent from other sources," adds Jiří Novák.

Are there unnecessary fields of study?

This question is very sensitive for many. It is not so long ago that the Hungarian government announced that the field of "gender studies" must disappear from universities. This has an obvious political subtext, but also in the Czech Republic, some fields become the subject of critical and scornful comments, even from the mouths of top state officials.
A lot has been written about cultural anthropologists heading straight from the faculties to hotel receptions. Is not the market glutted with scholars in humanities? "I do not like the idea that society orders certain fields of study, which are then given preference. Current students will have another forty years of active life here, and which of our present politicians are able to foresee what kind of education will be needed at that time?" says Petr A. Bílek, who teaches Cultural Studies at the University of South Bohemia in České Budějovice. He does not fear the future of this field, which breaks the outmoded categories of the so-called high and low art. This is because their students can be employed virtually anywhere thanks to their broad horizons, communication skills, and critical thinking.

Who can then predict, in the longer term, whether recreologists, social ecologists, or ethnomusicologists will find employment on the labour market? "It is very likely that in a few years, universities will be attended by more numerous generations of students, so it will not be a problem to have a full complement even in small fields of study – particularly in the unique ones," concludes Jiří Rozsypálek from Mendel University in Brno.