THE ADMINISTRATORS at the Technical University in Košice (TUKE) know that their school plays a role in the development of industry in Slovakia, according to rector Anton Čižmár.
The university has partnerships with a number of leading industrial companies in Slovakia, including U.S. Steel Košice, Volkswagen Slovakia, companies from the Siemens group, T-Systems Slovakia and Slovnaft. They cooperate in joint projects focused on innovation and applied research, scholarships, lectures, internships, and even final thesis topics.
"Many diploma theses, as well as some dissertations, deal with topics that are actually direct orders from companies to solve development and research problems," Čižmár said. The best theses are usually rewarded.
TUKE has started cooperating with Košice IT Valley, a regional association of IT companies, Čižmár said. Together with TUKE - particularly its Faculty of Electric Engineering and Informatics - they aim to improve and update the education of future IT experts.
"It's about innovating our study programmes so that our graduates' experience will match the current expectations of the companies that are their potential future employees," Čižmár said.
TUKE is planning to offer more interdisciplinary programmes that will involve courses from different faculties.
The university already offers various study programmes at the bachelor, master and doctorate levels, including some in English and some doctoral programmes in German.
"The advantage of our study programmes is their flexible structure, which allows us . . . to design tailor-made programmes for international students," Čižmár told The Slovak Spectator.
The university has recently noticed an increased interest in doctoral studies from abroad.
"Preparation and teaching at the doctoral level in a foreign language is a good challenge for our lecturers as well," he added.
This academic year there are 104 foreign students at TUKE, coming from Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Many students pay for their studies themselves, but there are also scholarship options based on intergovernmental agreements. Most foreign students come to study at TUKE on an Erasmus scholarship, Čižmár said.
In spite of this success, TUKE struggles with a problem that is common to many other technical universities: students are far more interested in arts and humanities than in technology and natural sciences, Čižmár said. This has been an issue for several years in most European Union countries and around the world.
"Obviously it's a reflection of the social situation today, where the focus is put on the attractiveness of some types of occupations with respect to their future social status," he said.
In Slovakia this is even more of a problem, because there was a lack of experts in humanities after the revolution in 1989. On top of that, technology and industry - which used to be the main source of job opportunities for graduates from technical universities - lost their prestige in the country after the fall of communism, Čižmár said.
"But we are glad to say that following intensive foreign investments in all areas of technology, the appetite for well-prepared graduates from technological study programmes has increased lately," sad Čižmár .
And, with a general lack of workers in construction, technology and IT these days, things look good for the future, he added. Čižmár predicts more students will be interested in studying those fields.
Some of the research and scientific workstations at TUKE, such as the central laboratory for electron microscopy, are the only ones in the Slovak university system. Some faculties deal with unique research topics and offer unique study programmes.
Aside from producing industry-ready graduates, the school's main goal is to be above-average in certain areas of research, Čižmár told The Slovak Spectator. He and his colleagues believe this is the way to reach the European standard in research and teaching and become an equal partner to even the best-rated foreign universities.
An evaluation of Slovak universities by foreign experts showed that there are areas where Slovak universities have the potential to be good partners for their foreign counterparts, despite the generally low quality of research and teaching, Čižmár said. However, being an equal partner requires excellent researchers and laboratories.
To meet that goal, TUKE will try to create research teams that involve the top scientists, he said. The school also wants to improve the infrastructure for research.
"To balance the differences in research and university education, the crucial moment will be the use of financial resources from the EU structural funds, which are meant mainly to accelerate research, innovate and improve the quality of university education," Čižmár said.
The money from the funds should be concentrated in areas of research and innovation, where Slovak universities have the potential to become multinational centres of excellence and research partners for top universities abroad, he added.
Rector: Anton Čižmár