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BUT WILL THE GOVERNMENT DO THE RIGHT THING AND SUPPORT IT?

Open University extends its reach...in English

SINCE Slovakia joined the European Union, new opportunities for Slovaks and foreigners have been popping up. Access to the Open University, a distance-learning university based in Britain, is one of them.
The Open University is not new to Slovakia, of course. City University Bratislava (CUB) has been offering an Open University programme in business management since 1990. Taught in Slovak and Czech, the courses at CUB count toward an MBA degree from the Open University - a credential that has bolstered many graduates' job prospects.

SINCE Slovakia joined the European Union, new opportunities for Slovaks and foreigners have been popping up. Access to the Open University, a distance-learning university based in Britain, is one of them.

The Open University is not new to Slovakia, of course. City University Bratislava (CUB) has been offering an Open University programme in business management since 1990. Taught in Slovak and Czech, the courses at CUB count toward an MBA degree from the Open University - a credential that has bolstered many graduates' job prospects.

But what's exciting about Slovakia's accession to the EU is that students in Slovakia can now sign up at City University Bratislava for any Open University course currently available in the UK. And since courses are delivered in English, foreigners based in Slovakia can benefit, too.

Students who enrol in Open University classes through the City University Bratislava receive distance-learning materials in English as well as support from an online or local tutor. They can decide for themselves whether to take the final exams in Bratislava or travel to the UK to do so.

Established in the 1960s in Britain, the Open University provides part-time, long-distance quality higher education to those without the time, ability or means to participate in a traditional, full-time campus experience. Originally a local support programme for British citizens, the organisation has since grown into a worldwide higher educational institution, with hundreds of thousands of graduates throughout Europe and farther a field.

The British government has done its part to support the Open University. British residents who decide to take Open University courses receive a generous subsidy from the British government. With 50 percent of their course fees covered, British residents are given a "second chance" to educate themselves, if they could not make it to a traditional university.

Perhaps, by offering a full range of Open University courses to students in Slovakia, City University Bratislava will give older Slovaks a "second chance" - and young ambitious ones a reason to stick around.

Naďa Važanová, 22, had just graduated from her teacher-training high school in Modra when she started work for the well-known radio station, Twist. Afterward, she took on a position in a small agency where she organised festivals throughout Slovakia. Despite her employment success, however, she still felt it best to leave Slovakia and go to the UK to study.

"I knew I had potential but I did not feel confident talking to chief executives or international partners. I couldn't speak English well enough to succeed, and so I felt I had to 'run'," she says.

A London resident, Naďa is a part time au-pair and part-time student at the London School of Management. She will be starting an MBA postgraduate programme in April 2005. There is no doubt she will be successful; she knows what she wants to achieve.

Does Naďa think that she might have stayed in Slovakia if she had had the opportunity to take Open University courses in English through City University Bratislava?

"Certainly," she says.

Naďa says that the Open University will help people like her realise their ambitions in Slovakia. With an opportunity to study in English, they can get the communication skills that she had so desperately desired herself.

Unfortunately, the Open University is not funded or subsidised by the Slovak government the way it is in Britain. Even if Naďa had had the opportunity to attend the Open University, it is unlikely she would have been able to afford tuition.

The average Open University course through City University Bratislava costs around €1,400, making it quite not as "open" as the programme name suggests.

But now that Slovakia has access to EU funds, grants and loans to improve the economy, perhaps higher education will receive some attention. The time to make changes is now.

Young, ambitious Slovaks will continue to go overseas if the opportunities are better there. And now that the borders are essentially open, there are fewer obstacles in their way. Naďa says she wants to live in Slovakia again someday, but it will be hard for her to start over once she establishes a life overseas. Maybe the new opportunities created by Slovakia's accession to the EU will mean that people like Naďa will not have to leave in the first place.

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