Student emigration is a threat

THE NUMBER of students at Slovak universities, including those at PhD degree programmes, is decreasing, while the share of Slovak students at Czech schools is increasing. Moreover, since the number of teachers remains the same, the unused capacity at schools is gradually rising, the report published by the Academic Ranking and Rating Agency (ARRA) suggests.

The number of students in Slovakia is dropping.The number of students in Slovakia is dropping. (Source: SME)

THE NUMBER of students at Slovak universities, including those at PhD degree programmes, is decreasing, while the share of Slovak students at Czech schools is increasing. Moreover, since the number of teachers remains the same, the unused capacity at schools is gradually rising, the report published by the Academic Ranking and Rating Agency (ARRA) suggests.

Furthermore, despite the growing amount of scientific work by Slovak academics in international databases, their quality still lags behind the world average. On the other hand, the sifting out of Slovak faculties is growing and there is increased interest in top schools in the country, according to ARRA which analysed the past 10 years in the Slovak education sector.

“There are clear threats in forms of emigration for education and demographic development,” Ivan Ostrovský of ARRA told the press on November 26, adding there is also a growing gap between the number of students studying at Slovak schools and the offered capacity.


Students prefer studies at Czech schools


The ARRA report showed that in the past 10 years the number of students at Slovak universities dropped dramatically. The number of full-time students reached its peak in 2009 when it stood at 142,448, but since then it dropped to only 130,765 in 2013. Also the number of those on long distance studies decreased, from 77,195 in 2007 to 48,435 in 2013.

On the other hand, the number of Slovaks studying at Czech schools is gradually increasing. While in 2003 only 3.5 percent of all students were Slovaks, in 2013 it rose to 6.4 percent, the ARRA report suggests. Miroslav Medveď, an analyst with ARRA, specified for The Slovak Spectator that at least 60 percent of all foreign students at quality Czech faculties are Slovaks.

“This is the biggest threat for Slovakia,” Ostrovský said, adding that there is no sign of changing this trend. “Conversely, the interest in enrolment is increasing and the state authorities officially support this trend.”

ARRA also presented the results of a survey carried out among Czech students which showed that nearly 40 percent of Czech students interested in studying at universities would not study at Slovak schools, while 39 percent would have big reservations.

“This means that nearly 80 percent of Czech applicants for university studies are very critical of the state of Slovak university education,” Ostrovský explained.

The fact is, however, that Slovak schools can also attract foreign students. Their share rose from 1.5 percent of all students in 2003 to 3.9 percent in 2013. The majority of them study at medical faculties. At Jessenius Faculty of Medicine of Comenius University (UK) in Martin, for example, about 34 percent of students are foreigners. Also, the Faculty of Medicine of the Pavol Jozef Šafárik University in Košice reports about 31 percent of its students to be from other countries, Medveď said.

The art faculties report about 8-9 percent of foreign students, he added.

Slovakia, however, still falls behind other European countries where the number of foreign students stands at more than 10 percent.

The ARRA report also showed a significant drop in the interest of young people in studying at Slovak schools. Back in 2006 the number of students who applied to schools stood at 84,504, but fell to 54,561 in 2013. The number of those who actually enrolled in the schools after passing the exams is even lower: it decreased from 59,423 in 2006 to 41,628 in 2013.

Since the number of teachers at schools is considered stable, the gap between the offered capacity and the actual number of students is increasing. While in 2004 it was about 4 percent, in 2013 it stood at 33 percent, Ostrovský said. The demographic trend suggests that the number of students will continue decreasing and will reach its lowest level in 2021 or 2022, he added.
“The gap will continue widening if no measures are taken to make the operation of the university system more effective,” Ostrovský said.


Investments in science necessary


ARRA analysts also focused on the scientific results of individual schools in Slovakia. Of all teachers at Slovak universities, about 88 percent had a PhD title in 2013 (up from 57 percent in 2003), which is positive for Slovakia, as not many countries have such a high share of such academics.

“Based on this result we can say that formally the number of employees who have preconditions for scientific research and quality teaching has increased by nearly one half,” Ostrovský told the press.

Though another finding of ARRA analysts suggests that the number of scientific works in the Web of Knowledge database has increased by 130 percent since 2003 (as Slovakia started from a very low position), the quality of these works still lags behind the world average. The average number of citations from these works has risen by only 39 percent in the past 10 years, compared to the world average at 52 percent.

According to Ostrovský, this problem could be partially solved by shifting part of the finances the schools receive from the state for their operations to science and research.


Students pick top faculties


ARRA ranked in total 112 faculties, of which 104 were public and eight private. The agency divided them into 11 groups based on their specialisation. It evaluates the faculties based on objective, readable and comprehensible indicators. It uses the information from publicly accessible sources, like the Slovak Centre of Scientific and Technical Information, the Education Ministry, Web of Knowledge, the Central Register of Scientific Publications, the Central Register of Artistic Activities, as well as university libraries, the Slovak Academic Information Agency and the Central Office of Labour, Social Affairs and Family, Ostrovský said.
Compared to last year’s ranking, 10 of 11 groups kept their leaders. From a long-term point of view, the Jessenius Faculty of Medicine in Martin reports the best results. Other traditional leaders include the Faculty of Chemical and Food Technology of the Slovak University of Technology in Bratislava, Faculty of Economics of the Technical University in Košice (TUKE), the Faculty of Pedagogy of the University of Trnava, and the UK’s Faculty of Social and Economic Sciences.

On the other side of the scale are, for example, some faculties of the University of Alexander Dubček in Trenčín.

The analysis also showed what the faculties have achieved in six years after the first comprehensive accreditation. One of the positive examples is the Faculty of Production Technologies of TUKE which moved from 15th to fifth place in the rankings.

On the other hand, there are faculties which have lost their advantage and now lag behind the rest. One of such examples is the Faculty of Civil Engineering of the Žilina University which dropped from eighth place to the last third of the ranking, Ostrovský said.

ARRA also divided the faculties into two groups, with one containing the top faculties that usually place in the first third of the chart. It found out that in the past 10 years the interest of young people in studying at these schools has increased significantly.

“This proves that the applicants have enough good and quality information that helps them navigate [in the system],” Ostrovský said.

He added that young people apply to the top faculties though they often have to pass difficult entrance exams. In addition to the quality of the studies, they also factor in the quality of diplomas they will get, Ostrovský told the press.

“We have to say that this is a move in the right direction,” Ostrovský added. “After the accreditation bodies could not differentiate Slovak universities, applicants for studies have been able do it very well.”

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