A lib­eral cen­tre for learn­ing and re­search

De­spite the rise of na­tion­al­ism in the Czech Repub­lic, Palacký Univer­sity con­tin­ues to wel­come schol­ars from all over the world

THE (Times Higher Education) - - NEWS -

‘I fear that pop­ulism is be­com­ing an is­sue not only in cen­tral Europe, but in all of Europe’

UNI­VER­SI­TIES IN CEN­TRAL and East­ern Europe in­creas­ingly find them­selves on the wrong side of the po­lit­i­cal di­vide as pop­ulist agen­das take hold across the re­gion.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­port re­leased by the Tony Blair In­sti­tute for Global Change, the share of na­tional votes that pop­ulist par­ties took in East­ern Euro­pean elec­tions av­er­aged 9.2 per cent in 2000 and tripled by 2017, reach­ing 31.6 per cent.

Pres­i­den­tial elec­tions in the Czech Repub­lic last month did lit­tle to stave off the spread of na­tion­al­ism as the in­cum­bent, Miloš Ze­man, a staunch im­mi­gra­tion critic, beat his pro-EU ri­val Jiří Dra­hoš with 51.4 per cent of the vote.

Ze­man’s vic­tory over the for­mer head of the Czech Academy of Sciences leaves lit­tle hope that the gov­ern­ment will do more to ex­pand sci­ence and re­search ini­tia­tives in the coun­try, ac­cord­ing to JaroslavMiller, rec­tor of Palacký Univer­sity in Olo­mouc.

“He [Ze­man] has been the pres­i­dent of the Czech Repub­lic since 2013 and I haven’t no­ticed his in­ter­est in re­search at all,” says Miller.

“He’s done a great job for this coun­try in the past but nowa­days it seems to me he has noth­ing sub­stan­tial to say.”

Still, Czech uni­ver­si­ties were pleased to see an in­crease of 20 per cent in fund­ing for uni­ver­si­ties and sci­ence in the 2018 bud­get. And the coun­try con­tin­ues to in­vest more in re­search and de­vel­op­ment than oth­ers in the re­gion.

Ac­cord­ing to Euro­stat, in 2015, the Czech Repub­lic com­mit­ted 1.95 per cent of to­tal GDP to R&D, more than Es­to­nia (1.50 per cent), Hun­gary (1.38 per cent), Slo­vakia (1.18 per cent), Lithua­nia (1.04 per cent) and Poland (1 per cent).

“The Czech gov­ern­ment might be crit­i­cised for many things, but the gov­ern­ment has been in­vest­ing more money re­cently to re­search and sci­ence so cur­rently I would say that the qual­ity of re­search is steadily in­creas­ing thanks to the na­tional bud­get,” says Miller.

“The sit­u­a­tion could be bet­ter, but it’s more or less sat­is­fac­tory in com­par­i­son with the sit­u­a­tion a decade ago.”

It’s im­por­tant to put the rise of pop­ulism into the con­text of the re­gion’s po­lit­i­cal his­tory, Miller ar­gues. “The pe­riod of so­cial­ism had a dev­as­tat­ing ef­fect and a dev­as­tat­ing im­pact on the qual­ity of re­search in cen­tral Europe so we are just in the process of re­new­ing our very old tra­di­tion of sci­en­tific ex­plo­ration.”

How­ever, hos­til­ity to­wards im­mi­grants, a cen­tral part of Ze­man’s re-elec­tion cam­paign, could scup­per in­sti­tu­tions’ in­ter­na­tion­al­i­sa­tion ef­forts. Miller notes a grow­ing dis­trust to­wards im­mi­grants in the Czech Repub­lic, es­pe­cially peo­ple com­ing from Mus­lim coun­tries.

“This pho­bia might have an im­pact on uni­ver­si­ties,” he says. “We have many stu­dents com­ing from those coun­tries and also in­creas­ing num­bers of re­searchers.” An anti-EU sen­ti­ment ex­ists around the re­gion as well, no­tably in Poland where the fu­ture of the coun­try’s mem­ber­ship in the bloc has been called into ques­tion by the con­ser­va­tive na­tion­al­ist gov­ern­ment.

In Hun­gary, out­ward-look­ing higher ed­u­ca­tion has come un­der di­rect at­tack by Vik­tor Or­bán’s Fidesz gov­ern­ment with the pas­sage of a se­ries of laws re­strict­ing over­seas uni­ver­si­ties in the coun­try. The Cen­tral Euro­pean Univer­sity in Bu­dapest, which has ties to the US, was di­rectly im­pacted by the re­stric­tions, prompt­ing world­wide con­dem­na­tion of the laws.

Miller, an alum­nus of CEU, says the sit­u­a­tion is a clas­sic clash be­tween a lib­eral in­sti­tu­tion and an in­creas­ingly anti-lib­eral state. “CEUwill re­main deeply an­chored in the land­scape of cen­tral Europe, but I fear that pop­ulism is re­ally be­com­ing an is­sue not only in cen­tral Europe but in all of Europe,” he says.

At the helm of Palacký Univer­sity, Miller will at­tempt to mit­i­gate the en­croach­ment

of na­tion­al­ist agen­das by con­tin­u­ing to reach beyond bor­ders. The univer­sity is ex­pand­ing its joint study pro­grammes and sci­ence ini­tia­tives with uni­ver­si­ties over­seas and has signed a deal to help es­tab­lish a UK univer­sity’s branch cam­pus in Olo­mouc.

“It’s a mu­tu­ally prof­itable busi­ness, be­cause they will want to retain ties to Euro­pean in­sti­tu­tions af­ter Brexit,” he says.

De­spite grow­ing po­lit­i­cal ten­sions in the re­gion, the Czech Repub­lic still of­fers more sta­bil­ity and aca­demic free­dom than other coun­tries with au­thor­i­tar­ian regimes. AndMiller is de­ter­mined to make Palacký a refuge for per­se­cuted schol­ars, in­clud­ing aca­demics flee­ing im­pris­on­ment in­Turkey.

“By def­i­ni­tion a uni­ver­si­ty­must be a lib­eral in­sti­tu­tion al­ways,” he says. “Univer­sity au­ton­omy is sine qua non of good re­search and good aca­demic train­ing. But, uni­ver­si­ties are the in­tel­lec­tu­als and of course they are al­ways the first tar­get. We see that sit­u­a­tion in­Turkey cur­rently.”

Global ap­peal In­ter­na­tional stu­dents and re­searchers (above and left) study and work at Palacký Univer­sity. Op­po­site: the Czech Repub­lic in­vests more in R&D than other coun­tries in the re­gion

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