Improving higher education not as simple as it looks
Milan Ftáčnik ["Change afoot at Slovak universities," by Tom Nicholson, Vol. 6 No. 21, May 29-June 4] should get some cold comfort, if not schadenfreude, from challenging the claim that universities in Western Europe are as wonderful as he seems to have been led to believe. Certainly, it's just not true to say that "everyone knows" what a bachelor's degree is even within the UK, the one country of which I feel qualified to speak. As any fresh graduate rapidly finds out, the market has determined that a degree from the established universities like Oxford and Cambridge gets you many more job interviews than one from Gradgrind University - this typically being an institution that until 20 years ago had been content to call itself a technical college. Too often such self-aggrandisement has been simply cosmetic, inspired less by genuine educational demand than by snobbery and by political pressure to reduce the unemployment figures.
If I might presume to advise the Education Minister on how to do his job, he should in dealing with his western counterparts:
1. Insist on meeting run-of-the-mill university graduates and their teachers, and not just vice-chancellors who have a vested interest in pretending how rosy the educational picture is.
2. Ask about the constituency of the disillusioned among the country's young. Are they those who have settled for training in some basic practical skill, be it cooking or cement-mixing, or those who without great academic flair have gone on to university because it seemed the easiest option?
3. Ask how universities have remained so labour-intensive over a period when information technology has enormously increased the cost-effectiveness of nearly every other occupation, from manufacturing to banking. Computer-aided learning has not so far fulfilled the promise held out for it in the 60s - but how far is that because university teachers, no less than miners and clerks, might be guilty of Luddism?
One of the few bright stars in Britain's recent educational history has been the Open University. So I conclude as I did in my letter to you earlier this year, that it is there Slovakia's educational leaders should look "for an efficient and academically honest role model." If they do, they could develop a higher education system which not just equals that in the West, but which excels it.
I read the terrific article about the Slovak national team almost winning the gold medal at the World Hockey Championships in May ["Slovaks take historic hockey medal," by Chris Togneri, Vol. 6 No. 20, May 22-28]. I am glad to see that they did well.
When I lived in State College, Pennsylvania, I used to subscribe to your newspaper. Thank you for issuing a wonderful product.
For a couple of years now I have been researching my family's heritage (with help from The Slovak Spectator). It looks as if things are really beginning to stabilize and settle down.
Beautiful Bratislava needs volunteers
I was fortunate enough to visit Bratislava in July of 1999, and the area mentioned in your article [vacant lots surrounding Hodžovo námestie in downtown Bratislava: "Working on 'filling' the blank lots," by Milan Vajda, Vol. 6 No. 20, May 22-28], could in my opinion, be the jewel in the crown of your wonderful city.
I hope you have an active group of citizens who will promote this area. A cross section of volunteers from all walks of life can accomplish much good for a city.
I look foward to visiting soon.
Greensboro, North Carolina
12. Jun 2000 at 0:00