Living History – The Story of Czech Universities

Two important Czech universities are celebrating milestone anniversaries this year. But how old are Czech Universities, and what is the outlook for them in the coming years?

Charles University in Prague, Czechia’s Old Town.
Charles University in Prague, Czechia’s Old Town. Photo: iStock.com / PhotoLondonUK

The oldest and largest. These two adjectives could easily sum up the famous Charles University in Prague. Founded in 1348 by Czech King and Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV, it celebrated its 675th birthday this year. Not bad, right? Charles University is not only the oldest in Czechia but also one of the oldest in Europe. Specifically, it is the oldest north of Italy and east of Paris.

It currently has 50,000 students studying at its 17 faculties, studying everything from religious studies to nuclear physics. But Charles University is more than just a center of learning. It is a major scientific center involved in hundreds of international research projects. The university is also engaged in business and international relations projects. For example, it will have a significant presence in the Czech pavilion in Osaka, Japan, at EXPO 2025.

Notable alums of Charles University include Czechoslovak President Edvard Beneš, dozens of Czech ministers and politicians, German politicians, Ivana Trump, ex-wife of the former US President, legendary economist Carl Menger, and Bohumil Hrabal, one of the most lauded Czech writers of the second half of the 20th century.

Charles University is also successful internationally. For example, in a prestigious international ranking of universities, Shanghai Ranking, it is ranked 311th. It is the number 1 university in Czechia and the best university in Central Europe. Among the best subjects taught at Charles University in the international comparison are mathematics, physics, and natural sciences.

Brno – Czechia’s Silicon Valley

Many things can be said about Brno Masaryk University. It is the second largest university in Czechia, with 45 thousand students and ten faculties, and it is also the largest university in Moravia. In terms of age, however, it is relatively young: it was only founded in 1919 and is 104 years old.

But its biggest trump card is its proximity to many innovative companies. Brno is called the Silicon Valley of Czechia – and sometimes the Silicon Valley of Central Europe. This nickname is due to the many software companies that have chosen Brno as their headquarters. Just as Brno has attracted IT companies, it has also become the headquarters of many companies in space and aerospace. Masaryk University is thus working very intensively on the development of space technologies.

Alums of Masaryk University include the current Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, Petr Fiala, the President of the Senate, Miloš Vystrčil, several current and former ministers and Members of the European Parliament, four-time world champion in competition climbing Adam Ondra or Daniel Křetínský, the fourth richest Czech, lawyer and businessman, co-owner of AC Sparta Praha and West Ham United FC. Masaryk University is ranked 429th in the international Shanghai Ranking. The top subjects in the international comparison include engineering, geography, and agricultural studies.

Home of the future economic elite

The University of Economics in Prague is the only purely economic university in the Czech Republic. At its six faculties, economics and business are studied in all sectors: finance, accounting, corporate, international relations, public sector, and theoretical economics. Founded in 1953, it celebrated its 70th birthday this year. But what it lacks in age and numbers (it has only 18,000 students), it makes up for in the number of activities and international research.

Moreover, it is ranked by the Financial Times annually. It has already been appraised for several years by the Eduniversal Ranking project as one of the best “business schools” in Central and Eastern Europe. Notable alums include the last two Czech presidents, several prime ministers, current and former central bank presidents, deputies, senators, and many CEOs of major Czech companies. Examples include Simona Kijonková, founder of Packeta Group, an international parcel delivery company, and Josef Švenda, CEO of the software company Oracle.

Unfortunately, the Shanghai Ranking does not mention the University of Economics in Prague. In the international comparison of QS World University Ranking, it is in the 251st-300th place in Economics/Econometrics section.

The Future of Czech higher education

Currently, there are over 250,000 students in Czech universities who are studying at three levels of education: bachelor, master, and doctoral. Moreover, this high number is expected to remain the same, if not higher, because numerically stronger years are coming to universities.

A more significant debate is currently taking place over the financing of universities. Due to ever-increasing state deficits and, thus, increasing national debt, there have been public discussions about introducing tuition fees at universities.

This problem is compounded by the situation regarding the funding of doctoral studies and professors in general. They demonstrated in May 2023 for improved salary conditions in public education. But solving the complexity of funding is only part of what universities must solve in the future.

They also face a major technological transformation. During the Covid pandemic, all universities, including the oldest ones, had to adapt to the emerging crisis and introduce distance learning. Now that the coronavirus is over, professors are trying to introduce innovative elements into teaching to improve and modernize education.

Czech students are thus experiencing a shift of part of their education to the online space or a greater connection with practice. Several fields of study are beginning

Marek Koten

A Ph.D. student in economics, specializing in nuclear energy from the Czech Republic, he also serves as a political consultant to the Czech government and the U.S. Republican Party.

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