AGRICULTURE has a strong tradition in Slovakia. Nowadays, the Slovak University of Agriculture (SPU) in Nitra is the country's only university in this field.
This unique position has both benefits and challenges, which the university hopes to overcome with innovative teaching methods and partnerships with international schools.
"We want our graduates to have enough knowledge to satisfy the needs of the knowledge economy, and to be able to find a place in the labour market," Mikuláš Látečka, the rector of SPU, told The Slovak Spectator. To meet this goal, SPU wants to come up with wide-ranging study programmes that allow for innovations in the education process, by using new forms of teaching methods.
At SPU, good language skills are considered crucial for graduates, so education is becoming more bilingual. Course subjects and sometimes entire study programmes are taught in English, such as the new International Business programme, and programmes in biology, food technology and genetics.
Making education more international gives students more opportunities to gain a quality education and a good starting position in the labour market.
"The internationalisation of education is one of our priorities," Látečka said.
The school is involved in various forms of international cooperation. Exchange stays for students are growing more popular every year, with Portugal, Austria and the Netherlands among the most popular destinations for SPU students. Foreign students coming to SPU can choose from more than 70 subjects taught in English.
SPU wants to support student and teacher mobility, Látečka said. To do this, the school is systematically working on attracting international students from Asia, South America and Northern Africa. They also want to maintain good cooperation with universities in the US and Australia.
Most importantly, SPU plans to cooperate with other EU universities to design joint degree or double degree programmes. The university has already participated in the Erasmus Mundus programme - the EU programme aimed at opening the European educational system to third-country students (those from outside of Europe).
"Erasmus Mundus is involved in four activities, and SPU is the only Slovak university successful in all four of them," Látečka said.
SPU has been taking part in the programme since 2004. It started by designing a common study programme with seven other European universities. The two-year programme is called the International MSc in Rural Development, and in Nitra it's led by the Faculty of Economics and Management.
According to Anna Badlerová, the coordinator of the programme in Nitra, the network universities are divided into four main partners, or full members, and three satellite partners. Because students don't choose SPU as a satellite university that often, the school isn't able to offer a full courseload. Instead, all the students in the network must complete a case study every year, which takes about one month.
As part of the Erasmus Mundus programme, the university provides grants from the European Commission for third-country students. It also arranges short-term stays for SPU students at the best Chinese universities, and takes part in the AMEU project - designed to promote Masters programmes at European universities in agriculture, applied life sciences and the rural environment, Badlerová told The Slovak Spectator.
International activities could help raise the standards of research and teaching at SPU. Reaching the European standard has been a long-term goal for SPU, Látečka said, which it hopes to achieve through innovations to its study and research programmes.
In the future, graduates' qualifications should be more multidisciplinary and the graduates themselves should be more flexible, he said.
There is already some education based on the research done at the university. But you need high-quality equipment and techniques in order to do high-quality research, and there is not enough funding for that in Slovakia, Látečka said.
"We are not quite satisfied with the structure of resources for research in," he said, adding that they will try to get more support from international resources.
Research and teaching are important, but other factors have helped the institution develop.
"It's also about creating an environment of motivation to keep the best employees and graduates at the university" Látečka said.
Slovak University of Agriculture, Nitra
Rector: Mikuláš Látečka
Webometrics ranking: 7 (Slovakia)
29. Oct 2007 at 0:00 | Michaela Terenzani , Michaela Stanková