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SLOVAK UNIVERSITIES - SLOVAK UNIVERSITIES ARE A CASUALTY OF POOR PROMOTION ABROAD, AS WELL AS UNDERDEVELOPED STUDENT SERVICES

Foreign student famine

CHARLES University in Prague, the largest and oldest university in the Czech Republic, attracts more than three times as many foreign students as Comenius University in Bratislava, its Slovak counterpart. Whereas 2,000 foreign students (many of them Slovaks) take classes at Charles University, only 550 foreign students are enrolled at Comenius.

CHARLES University in Prague, the largest and oldest university in the Czech Republic, attracts more than three times as many foreign students as Comenius University in Bratislava, its Slovak counterpart. Whereas 2,000 foreign students (many of them Slovaks) take classes at Charles University, only 550 foreign students are enrolled at Comenius.

Why do foreign students account for only 3 percent of the students receiving an education at Bratislava's most prestigious institution of higher education? The numbers suggest that foreigners simply have little interest in studying in Slovakia. The country hosts only about 1,500 foreign students in all - less than 10 percent of the total student population.

Insiders say that low interest from abroad does not mean the quality of education ain Slovakia is significantly lower than in neighbouring countries.

One of the main reasons Slovakia's universities fail to attract foreign students is the absence of marketing overseas. Slovakia does not rank as a popular tourist destination and few people perceive Bratislava as a buzzing European centre of social and cultural life like Prague, Budapest or Vienna. Young people see little reason to study here.

Václav Hájek, a public relations officer at Charles University, says Prague's success with foreign students has as much to do with the city's rich history and vibrant European community as the quality of education. Still, the PR expert knows how to tout the alma mater.

"It is a prestigious university offering a long and successful educational tradition (it was founded in 1348), and the university is held in high international repute. We present ourselves as an international university; we are fully open to talented students worldwide," Hájek told The Slovak Spectator.

Comenius University's rector, František Gahér, says that the university promotes itself at educational fairs in countries where it hopes to attract students. However, Gahér admits that a lack of widespread information about Comenius could be behind low foreign enrolment.

He mentioned a few other important reasons that foreigners prefer universities in neighbouring countries than in Slovakia: "Slovak universities are not always prepared to teach courses in another language besides Slovak. Also, the level of services provided to students as well as cultural, social and sports opportunities are sometimes insufficient," Gahér said. He repeated what most Slovaks know: Slovak cities, including Bratislava, are not as well-known abroad as Prague, Vienna and Budapest.

A higher number of foreign students could greatly benefit Slovak universities. Apart from the obvious economic benefits, a visible foreign population of students would help improve Slovakia's image abroad, thus attracting more people and raising the quality of education.

"Foreign students bring experience and their unique culture to Slovakia. They are an inspiration as well as a source of competition to domestic students," Gahér told the Spectator.

When it comes to studying abroad, Slovak students are eager. Several thousand young Slovaks receive their education outside the country. Most of them (about 9,000) are in the Czech Republic. Those at Charles University in Prague are drawn to the law, humanities and medicine departments.

Some Slovaks that choose to study abroad say the quality of education and better services for students draw them away from Slovakia.

Gahér thinks the desire to study abroad is not necessarily linked to escaping from unfavourable circumstances at home but rather an active interest in seeking out new challenges.

He says that Slovaks' interest in studying abroad "confirms that Slovak young people have a wide general knowledge about where to study and that they capable of succeeding in a foreign environment". The rector added that the ability of Slovaks studying abroad to compete favourably says a lot about the quality of secondary education in Slovakia and the language skills of Slovak students.


Where do they come from?


WHILE low in numbers, foreign students in Slovakia hail from myriad countries but only six countries are represented by more than 100 students.

Countries where foreign students (100+) come from

School year 2002/2003 2003/2004 2004/2005
The Czech Republic 311 432 420
Greece 117    
Israel 111 115 147
Serbia and Montenegro 193 205 189
Kuwait 116    
Ukraine 122 108 105
Source: Institute of Information and Prognosis for Schools




And why do they come?


FOREIGN students come to Slovakia for a variety of reasons. At Comenius University, for example, they are primarily interested in the following subjects: pharmacy, general medicine, psychology, political science, ethnology, geography and cartography.

Number of foreigners in Slovak state-sponsored universities

School year 2002/2003 2003/2004 2004/2005
Humanities 943 880 963
Technical studies 267 236 225
Economics 165 212 199
Agriculture 39 43 41
Arts 100 128 135
Total 1514 1499 1563
Source: Institute of Information and Prognosis for Schools

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