FORESTRY, wood science, environment and ecology. These are only a few of the fields of research and education available at the Technical University in Zvolen (TUZVO), an institution with many unique study opportunities in Slovakia.
The history of university education in forestry in Slovakia is strongly linked with the Mining Academy in Banská Štiavnica, established around 1770 by the enlightened Austrian Empress Maria Theresa. The foundation of the Academy marked the beginning of university-level technical education worldwide. Besides mining and metallurgy, forestry and wood processing were also offered at the Academy. In 1807, the Forestry Institute was established in Banská Štiavnica, the first university-level forestry programme in Slovakia.
The University of Forestry and Wood Technology in Zvolen was founded in 1952 as a unique institution in then-Czechoslovakia. In 1991 the university was given its current name. It comprises four faculties: the Faculty of Forestry, the Faculty of Wood Sciences and Technology, the Faculty of Ecology and Environmental Sciences and the Faculty of Environmental and Manufacturing Technology.
According to Ján Tuček, the rector of TUZVO, there are currently 60 study programmes accredited at the university in all three levels of university education. In the coming academic year, 2008-2009, there will be 22 bachelor programmes offered by the faculties and one interdisciplinary university course of study not bound to a faculty. According to Tuček, the most popular study programmes at TUZVO are Interior Design, Furniture Design, Economy and Management of Sustainable Resources and Industry Management in the Wood-processing Industry. At the moment, TUZVO is home to 4,700 students, and the number increases every year, Tuček said.
In its primary fields of education - forestry, wood, and ecology - the university is an internationally- recognised institution, Tuček said.
TUZVO is currently undergoing the process of a comprehensive accreditation, which is compulsory for all universities in Slovakia under the new University Act. According to Tuček, the accreditation results should be available in the second half of 2008. But TUZVO has seen some improvements and successes in the past year. Tuček said that last year the university changed its approach to public relations, significantly increasing the financial resources devoted to PR activities.
"The year 2007 will be remembered as one of the best for the development and maintenance of good, productive relationships with the public," Tuček told The Slovak Spectator. PR activities were mostly focused on the significant anniversaries the university celebrated last year, such as the 200th year of university studies in forestry in Slovakia or the 55th year of forestry and wood-processing university education in Zvolen. According to Tuček, the target group consisted mainly of the professional public and prospective students.
Another success for TUZVO was the Werner von Siemens Excellence Award presented to researcher Marek Fabrika for the best research project, The Simulator of Biodynamics of the Forest SIBYLA - Concept, Construction and Programme Solution.
One of TUZVO's goals is keeping up with the internationalisation of education. To achieve it, teaching in a foreign language is inevitable, rector Tuček said.
"We have signed several agreements concerning international co-operation in all areas of our activity, including student and academic staff mobility. However, foreign language education is often limited by the problematic foreign language skills of the staff at TUZVO - especially of the teachers - and also by relatively low teacher mobility," Tuček told The Slovak Spectator. "In spite of the best efforts of our faculties, we cannot expect any significant improvement in the short term."
What Tuček finds positive is the system of double-diplomas that in his opinion should support not only language preparation but also student and teacher mobility.
At the moment there are 102 foreign students at TUZVO. International students can enrol in an accredited MSc study programme in Wood Science and Technology, which is taught in English. Apart from that, there are a number of subjects taught in foreign languages for international students to choose from. According to Tuček, the interdisciplinary university study programme that will be launched next academic year should be attractive to both Slovak and foreign students, since it is being prepared in co-operation with Georg-August Universität in Göttingen, which is already a traditional partner of TUZVO in exchange programmes.
"We definitely want to increase the number of foreign students in the future, yet it's a demanding goal in terms of time and content," Tuček said. The reasons include the above-mentioned language preparation of teachers as well as the necessity to offer courses appropriate for foreign students, with attractive study programmes unavailable in their home countries.
"We are already working on some of these [programmes] and we will start offering them soon," Tuček said.