THE NUMBER of accredited study programmes offered by Slovak universities recently changed after the Education Ministry withdrew its approval from 71 study programmes that it said did not meet the criteria set by the country’s Accreditation Commission. While the education minister said withdrawal of accreditation for these particular study programmes does not reflect on the overall quality of education at the universities involved, academic officials from two universities offered some objections to the reasons stated by the minister.
Education Minister Eurgen Jurzyca announced at a press conference on August 3 that accreditation had been withdrawn from 71 study programmes during the past year. Most of the study programmes losing accreditation had been offered by Comenius University in Bratislava, the Slovak University of Technology in Bratislava (STU) and Pavol Jozef Šafárik University in Košice.
“It [the decision on accreditation] does not indicate which schools are better and which are worse,” Jurzyca said, as quoted by the TASR newswire. He added that some of the faculties which had accreditation revoked from some of their study programmes still provide a world-standard education.
Jurzyca explained that the most frequent reasons for a study programme to lose its accreditation were the lack of academic guarantors, inappropriate education plans or inadequate or no research. Not all the rectors from the affected universities shared this opinion.
A drop in a bucket
“Before the [new] comprehensive accreditation there was a rule that one person could guarantee more than one education programme,” wrote Karol Mičieta, Comenius University’s Rector, in a statement released to the media. “After the criteria changed, we had problems finding new guarantors for some specialisations,” Mičieta continued, adding that this was a long-term problem and that the university decided not to accept new students in the problematic programmes already in the previous academic year.
Even though he said he views the number of study programmes that have lost their accredited status as high, the minister denies that the quality of universities is deteriorating. But while the universities themselves also deny that their quality is declining, they disagree with the minister on his first point, saying that 71 study programmes is just a ‘drop in a bucket’, given that altogether there are about 7,600 study programmes run by schools in Slovakia, Libor Vozár, the head of the Slovak Rectors Conference (SRK) told The Slovak Spectator.
“It’s natural for the universities to innovate their study programmes so as to better reflect the needs of the labour market and the interest of students in university studies,” Vozár said.
Ján Pekár, Comenius University’s Deputy Rector for Study Affairs noted that the 32 specialised programmes that were abolished at his university represent only a small number of the 750 study programmes taught at Comenius.
SUB: STU critical of minister
The academic leadership of STU protested against the way in which Jurzyca made his announcement as well as the decisions on its study programmes, saying that the university objects to Jurzyca’s statement that 11 of its study programmes had lost accreditation because of a failure to meet the criteria.
A statement published on STU’s website noted that university representatives had asked the ministry to close some of their specialised programmes because these had been replaced with other study programmes.
“The STU management is very sorry that the Education Ministry wasn’t able to provide complete and undistorted information to the Slovak public based on the facts that it has at its disposal,” the web statement continued. “The Slovak University of Technology does not belong among those Slovak schools which have problems with accreditations.”
STU also wrote that other universities that had problems in the past with accreditation have asked STU to accept their students.
Trouble finding guarantors
According to the universities, the comprehensive accreditation system established by Slovakia’s previous education minister, Ján Mikolaj, has caused numerous problems. One of the most criticised criteria required by the accreditation system is that every university study programme must be guaranteed by a professor who is employed by the particular faculty department (the guarantor) and a single professor can be guarantor for only one study programme.
Comenius University stated that this was the reason it was unable to continue offering some of its programmes – the university was not able to find new guarantors, particularly at the Pedagogical Faculty, the Faculty of Natural Sciences and the Faculty of Law.
Pekár believes this issue needs to be further discussed by the Education Ministry and the universities.
“On one hand, this rule [in the accreditation system] was made to prevent poorer-quality schools from mass producing education programmes,” Pekár told The Slovak Spectator. “On the other hand, after the rule was passed everything went wrong and it turned into a fight for the guarantors, and poorer-quality schools were able to pay more than quality universities.”
Difficulties finding enough guarantors have also emerged because of the age of many professors, Stefan Berdis from the press department of the Slovak University of Technology (STU) said. As soon as a professor reaches 65 years of age, he or she is not able to serve as a guarantor for a study programme.
“With the big number of study programmes being offered, schools are not able to find an adequate – that is, qualified – substitute,” Berdis told The Slovak Spectator.
SRK head Vozár, too, noted that the existing system of accreditation is unnecessarily cumbersome and administratively demanding.
“I believe that one person as a guarantor is not able to guarantee the quality of education to a full extent,” Vozár opined, adding that teachers who do the actual teaching, as well as the material and technological equipment, are important for the education process.
“A guarantor cannot nowadays be seen solely as an ‘ideological leader’ who watches over the content of studies,” he said. “I see no real reason why, with this kind of status, a guarantor couldn’t guarantee several similar study programmes within one study specialisation.”
Both Berdis and Pekár said they would welcome an amendment to the University Act which, aside from other changes, would also change the rule about guarantors to allow not one professor but a whole department or a group of researchers to guarantee a study programme.
“Such a solution would be much more logical and more adequate in practice,” Berdis said.
15. Aug 2011 at 0:00 | Radka Minarechova