Five Czech universities found elite research association

Five leading Czech universities have joined to form an elite research association to promote their interests and be more visible among the best research institutes in Europe. Charles University, Masaryk University, Palacký University in Olomouc, the Czech Technical University in Prague and the University of Chemistry and Technology, Prague founded the Czech Association of Research Universities in early July.

The universities in the Association will strive to engage more with prestigious European ERC grants, share top scientific instruments and equipment, and collaborate more closely with foreign partners in research.

In the latest QS Rankings, the founding universities are ranked the top five Czech universities. The best placed is Charles University, which is in 291th place on a list of thousands of world universities.

Financing based on top scientific results

One of the main goals is to enforce a change in the funding of universities in Czech legislation, which should be directly linked to the scientific results of universities.Specifically, this means that funding should be more dependent on internationally recognized indicators of quality in science. These indicators include reputation in the academic environment, reputation among major employers, student-teacher ratio, the involvement of faculties and students internationally, and the citation scores of particular university faculties.

“In recent years, there has been an extraordinary increase in the number of university students in the Czech Republic and considerable investment in the development of Czech public universities,” said Tomáš Zima, Rector of Charles University. “The result is an increase in research and teaching quality. Unfortunately, despite these investments, the difference in quality between the best Czech and best world universities is not decreasing. Only a few Czech universities have a position of significance in the international rankings.”

The universities in the Association aim to change the existing system. “Public higher education institutions should be funded by assessment of high-quality scientific and pedagogical activity through clear links to internationally recognized indicators of science and education quality," Rector Zima said. He added that Czech science needs long-term stability and that it is necessary to think about which very high-quality universities and high-quality fields of study need to increase their budgets.

Criterion: ranked among the best universities

Another of the participating schools is the University of Chemistry and Technology, Prague, which in the latest QS Rankings stands second highest of schools in the Czech Republic. Its rector Karel Melzoch argues that the Czech system needs only a few criteria for the reliable definition of a group of so-called research universities. “Of course, one of the criteria should be the position of the university in world rankings such as THE or QS,” says Melzoch. “Other criteria should be the ratio of funding for science and research from the total university budget and the level of international cooperation involving prestigious international grants, such as ERC grants. The ratio of full-time doctoral students to the total number of students may also be an indicator of a research university.”

Without top research, “best brains” will leave

As he leaves Masaryk University, Rector Mikuláš Bek is convinced that together Czech universities are stronger in the face of European competition. And that without top universities, the country’s best brains will go abroad, never to return.

“In recent years, the government has pursued a unifying policy towards universities and reduced the role of competition and performance parameters in the way they are funded,” said Rector Bek. “Czech higher education policy is the opposite of how better performing western countries promote excellence in higher education and research. The establishment of the Association of Research Universities is a response to an unhealthy trend in the Czech Republic and is motivated by efforts to defend the interests of those universities that aspire to a decent international position. It is impossible to overlook the fact that out of the five universities in the new association, which are best placed among Czech universities in international rankings, only one is represented on the new Board of the Czech Conference of Rectors. The Association will formulate common positions on a range of issues in higher education and research policy.”

Participation in international networks and cooperation is also very important for Palacký University in Olomouc. “Another ambition is to increase cooperation in science policy, science assessment and research organization,” said Rector Jaroslav Miller. “Czech universities must be much more successful in international research clusters and projects.”