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City University nonplussed by state accreditation

While still not a fully accredited academic institution in Slovakia, the American-based City University in Bratislava expects to garner full accreditation from the Ministry of Education by the end of this year. However, City University officials said the impending accreditation wouldn't change their teaching methods, since the school already produced what employers and analysts classified as "effective and highly motivated" graduates. In fact, university officials said, the ministry certificate was of minimal significance to the school.
Part of the university's indifference to the accreditation question stems from the school's insistence that it is more concerned with producing graduates ready to step into the modern world of business.
As Slovakia's unemployment rate continues to rise, with March figures hitting a record 17.6%, both schools and employers are putting a high premium on marketable skills. According to human resources companies in Bratislava, the two most important employee qualifications on the modern Slovak employment market are fluency in English and on-the-job experience.


City University's Dr. Wickham teaches a class called "Effective Organisation."
photo: Chris Togneri

While still not a fully accredited academic institution in Slovakia, the American-based City University in Bratislava expects to garner full accreditation from the Ministry of Education by the end of this year. However, City University officials said the impending accreditation wouldn't change their teaching methods, since the school already produced what employers and analysts classified as "effective and highly motivated" graduates. In fact, university officials said, the ministry certificate was of minimal significance to the school.

Part of the university's indifference to the accreditation question stems from the school's insistence that it is more concerned with producing graduates ready to step into the modern world of business.

As Slovakia's unemployment rate continues to rise, with March figures hitting a record 17.6%, both schools and employers are putting a high premium on marketable skills. According to human resources companies in Bratislava, the two most important employee qualifications on the modern Slovak employment market are fluency in English and on-the-job experience.

"Nowadays, you must speak English," said Ľubomír Lehuta, director of recruiting firm Agentúra Start. "Experience is also very important because these firms want to know if you can do the job."

City University administrators say their programmes are tailored to the harsh realities of the job market. According to Keith Gutiérrez, the dean of Bratislava City University, the school administers a western-oriented business theory curriculim taught completely in English, thus preparing students for the 'real world' of foreign company branch offices .

Given the current environment, said Gutiérrez, the school's goal of shaping students to become internationally adaptable employees has never been hampered by the fact that City University is not accredited, and will not be affected by the forthcoming ministry approval.

"We are a business-type institution," said Gutiérrez. "An accredited degree is an indication of whether the [employee] can do the job, but it is not a guarantee. For an academic, accreditation is important, but for a business person, it's a waste of time. Students want jobs."

With student enrollment of over 1,400 at two Slovak universities, the Washington state-based City University said that they believed they were creating employees who would be able to thrive in both domestic and international markets. Over 80 teachers, half of whom are Slovak and half ex-patriots, are employed to achieve these goals. And while tuition is high by Slovak standards - around $1,000 per year, or 42,000 Slovak crowns - observers have said that the university is meeting its goal of producing quality workers.

Stanislav Fančovič, a consultant for the human resources firm Take It, said that although not accredited, job-seekers bearing City University diplomas had an advantage over those with state university degrees.

"Particularly in terms of economics, I'd say that City University provides a much better education than state universities," Fančovič said. "The classes are taught in English, they have better, foreign teachers, they have better Internet access and the classes are smaller."

"The teachers there are more mediators than lecturers," he added. "At a state university, you might have a class of 200 people and some guy writing on a chalk board. State universities have lecturers whereas City University is closer to real life and real situations. It makes students, possibly, more intelligent."

Which is all part of the plan, said City University officials. "We have an application-based curriculum," said Steven Stargardter, City University Vice President of Academic Affairs in Washington State. "We teach what the business world is actually like."

Ferdinand Devínsky, the rector of state-run Comenius University in Bratislava, said that the two institutions could not be compared because they offered completely different programmes. "There is a very big difference[between the two schools]," he said, "because City University in Bratislava is specialised on management, so it is very focused on one field of study, whereas we have about 160 different fields of study."

However, some Slovak employers have said that a difference between graduates of the two schools was gradually emerging. IBM Slovakia, for example, has employed students and graduates of City University for over five years. According to company representatives, IBM was pleased with the results of these employees and had noticed differences between City University graduates and state university graduates.

"Our employees [from City University] are very skilled and very hard working," said Eveta Verešová, IBM public relations director. "In my experience with them, they are of a high level and we've been very satisfied. They are definitely much better English speakers, which is a requirement for IBM, and they seem to be more motivated than usual students."

In light of such employer approval, City University said that while they would be pleased to receive full accreditation, the issue wasn't pressingly important.

"Businesses have no clue or concern about accreditation," Gutiérrez said. "To me, the most powerful accreditation is through the business market, and they're hiring [our students] faster than we can produce them. We're growing like a weed."

Gutiérrez said that the Slovak Ministry of Education had promised City University accreditation by the end of 1999. When contacted by The Slovak Spectator, an official in the ministryqs Higher Education Section, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that "City University may be accredited as soon as September or October. The issue will be discussed in parliament next week."

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