A SCANDAL over the alleged buying of diplomas at the University of West Bohemia in Pilsen in the Czech Republic, in which some students reportedly received an academic degree ‘over the summer’ and hundreds of theses are missing from the university archives, has shaken up more than just the academic community in that country.
Just a few weeks after the controversy started in Slovakia’s neighbouring country, its own academia might be facing similar problems, with an expert warning that ‘express diplomas’ are only the tip of an iceberg under which is hiding a generally low-quality education for graduates from some Slovak universities.
The Pravda daily broke the story about alleged extra-short study programmes leading to degrees at the University of Alexander Dubček in Trenčín (TnUAD) on October 26. According to the daily, the daughter of the dean of the Faculty of Social and Economic Sciences, Daniela Bánociová, finished her studies, normally scheduled for five years, in just nine months, during which she also spent a semester at an exchange stay in Bologna, Italy. Her brother took two years to finish the same studies while he was simultaneously studying in England.
Dean Daniel Bánoci, who according to Pravda was a member of the exam committee for his daughter’s final examinations, said he had nothing to do with the matter and recommended that Pravda contact Maria Gogová, the previous vice dean for study affairs of the faculty.
Gogová, who was demoted from her post apparently after she drew attention to the strange practices at the university, confirmed that several students had received their degrees in a very short time.
“It’s only the tip of the iceberg,” she told Pravda.
The Rector of TnUAD, Miroslav Mečár, sees the whole incident as revenge from members of the faculty for his pressure on them to improve their qualifications.
“There are problems at all the schools, but the trouble with Trenčín is that we like to fight with each other here,” Mečár told the SITA newswire. “And the problem of this faculty is that 85 percent of the teachers are women, many of them divorced, and they are trying to solve their internal problems. Maybe they don’t like men, or maybe they like them too much, I don’t know.”
The purported unethical practices in Trenčín reached the national parliament in Bratislava and Martin Fronc, a deputy from the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) and a former education minister, requested that the current minister, Ján Mikolaj, investigate the situation and report on his intended solutions to parliament.
Because only opposition deputies supported the proposal, Mikolaj was not required to report; instead, the parliamentary committee on education passed a proposal to invite the rector to appear before parliament and explain the situation at the university.
Mikolaj appointed a three-member ministerial commission to conduct an investigation. Even though the commission started its work only on October 28 Mikolaj said in parliament on October 29 that “serious mistakes” have been found at the university, SITA reported. Complete results from the investigation are not yet known.
Mikolaj had said that the commission would check all documents and facts related to the studies of any students suspected of receiving favoured treatment and that if wrongdoing was confirmed, the university might lose its licence to issue academic degrees, the TASR newswire reported.
Miroslav Beblavý from the Slovak Governance Institute think tank said that situation in Pilsen was interesting because it showed that there are ways to get an academic degree over just a summer of study, but added that many part-time study programmes in Slovakia are similar in their outcomes.
“If you attend some lectures several weekends over three years and formally pass the exams the results might be very similar [to ‘express diplomas’],” he said.
“I wouldn’t be glad to see a general feeling that there are just a few problematic places where you can buy a diploma and everything else is great in Slovakia because in many schools, despite the fact that you have to attend the programmes for much longer, the result inside your head is the same.”
According to Beblavý, the quality of part-time study programmes in Slovakia is one of the sore spots of the country’s higher-education system and that part-time study touches about one third of all students in Slovakia.
“We don’t have a system that would guarantee the quality of part-time studies,” Beblavý said. “There is no mechanism that would investigate whether a part-time student will eventually get the same quality of education as a full-time student despite the fact that he or she will spend less time at school.”
“We’ve got a basic problem in quality and it doesn’t concern only buying diplomas quickly but also buying diplomas slowly, which is often being done under the veil of part-time studies,” Beblavý said.
2. Nov 2009 at 0:00 | Michaela Terenzani