- Hans Weber
- December 4, 2023
Protests Erupt in Prague Over Insufficient Funding for Czech Universities
Prague, Czech Republic – October 17, 2023 – Hundreds of university students, academics, and university staff gathered outside Charles University’s Faculty of Arts in Prague yesterday to express their dissatisfaction with the funding of universities in the Czech Republic, before marching together to the nearby Education Ministry.
The protest was organized by the Hour of Truth initiative and university workers’ unions to draw attention to the long-standing issues of insufficient funding for higher education and the low wages of some university staff. This demonstration marked a significant moment in an ongoing struggle that has sparked concern across the academic community.
The afternoon protest near the Faculty of Arts saw a diverse crowd, primarily consisting of people from Prague schools, including the Academy of Fine Arts, the Academy of Performing Arts, and several faculties of Charles University. Representatives from other universities, such as West Bohemian University in Plzen and Palacky University in Olomouc, joined the strike in solidarity.
Demonstrators carried banners bearing slogans like “Academic work is not a hobby,” “Stop cheap science,” and “Top science for minimum wages.” The march partially blocked traffic, with protesters chanting slogans and expressing their grievances.
Following the protest, Education Minister Mikulas Bek engaged in discussions with representatives of the Hour of Truth and the university workers’ trade union. The core demand put forth by the demonstrators is an increase of CZK 3-4 billion in the university budget for the upcoming year. Minister Bek acknowledged the issues but deemed this amount unrealistic, instead offering a CZK 1 billion increase. However, this proposed increase was met with criticism from unionists, who found it insufficient to address the underfunding and low salaries plaguing the Czech higher education system.
Union representatives, including Ondrej Svec from Hour of Truth, indicated their willingness to strike in the future if their concerns remain unaddressed. They emphasized that the CZK 1 billion increment would need to significantly alleviate the financial struggles faced by the most underfunded faculties, especially those in humanities and social sciences, for the protests to cease.
The situation has prompted the consideration of a protest action on November 17, with the possibility of further strikes, including the cancellation of lectures and state examinations. Minister Bek, however, shifted some responsibility onto universities, suggesting that the universities themselves could reallocate their funds more equitably among their faculties. He also pointed to discrepancies in salaries between faculties within the same university, attributing these differences to rectors, deans, or academic senates.
In response to the minister’s claims, protesters argued that the fault did not lie with the faculties but with the overall underfunding of the system. They demanded an increase in the education budget for 2024 and subsequent years, aiming to reach the average level of funding seen in OECD countries. The current public spending on tertiary education in the Czech Republic corresponds to 0.86% of GDP, well below the EU average of 1.27%.
The government’s draft budget for 2024 maintains the same budget for higher education as the previous year, with CZK 30.9 billion earmarked for public universities. University representatives assert that this falls short by about CZK 11 billion. While the government proposed a CZK 1 billion increase, critics argue that this sum is primarily intended to cover rising energy prices and won’t address the need for faculty salary increases or overall education funding improvements.
If their demands are not met, the striking academics and staff have made it clear that they intend to continue their protests until they achieve equitable funding for Czech universities.
Article by Prague Forum