Are university tuition fees likely to be introduced?

Payment schemes exist in Hungary and Romania where schools offer free education only to students with the best results.

(Source: Sme)

Slovakia's universities continue lagging behind the competition around the EU as Slovakia spends only about 1 percent of its GDP on tertiary education. In a number of EU countries students are asked to pay tuition fees for those programmes which are not offered for free. Slovak authorities have started to discuss this as an option as well.

A group of experts on education linked to former education minister and Bratislava ex-mayor Milan Ftáčnik have prepared material for expert and public discussion about changes in tertiary education in Slovakia over the coming decade. The discussion includes introduction of study fees for students beyond the limit of public resources similarly to highly-developed OECD countries.

“The discussed issue would be that if schools accept 100 students today and send other candidates home due to limited capacity, they could take an additional 20 students and make them pay tuition fees," Ftáčnik said.

Charging for education

Education experts want to find whether the admission of paying students over those students supported by the state may increase the availability and quality of tertiary education. The dispute applies to very few undergraduate fields which use entrance exams for student admission and cannot offer studies to all candidates, according to Ftáčnik.

Similar payment schemes exist in Hungary and Romania where schools offer free education only to students with the best results. Students in Romania who are below the limit after entrance exams have to pay school fees in the first year of school, Ftáčnik explained. After their first year, schools recalculate their study results and allow best students to proceed to the free zone, he said.

“Though the solution is not the best, it would motivate our students because many of them now indicate they are not interested in grades at all,” Ftáčnik said.

Renáta Králiková, head of the project To Dá Rozum (Learning Makes Sense), which wants to improve the Slovak education system, however, recalled a quarter of students, part-time and private universities’ students included, who currently pay for their studies in Slovakia. Basically it is an extension of the number of currently paying students, she said.

Economy also in force

The Slovak Constitution defines free study according to the abilities and possibilities of the society. Hence, in addition to the student’s abilities, payments relate to the needs of economic and social practice, said Králiková.

“In the rapidly evolving economy and changes in the labour market, we cannot say what specific jobs the labour market will need in ten years,” Králiková told The Slovak Spectator.

If Slovakia wants to guarantee free education as far as possible of the society, it has to accept that there will be a set of students that society allows to attend universities, Ftáčnik said.

Ten-year reform plan

Tuition fees are not the only measure in discussion for the next ten years. The Education Ministry wants to replace the guarantors assessment with an internal quality assurance school system, introduce a new system of filling posts of professors and docents, improve support of dissemination of professionally-oriented bachelor’s programmes, open universities toward practice and the rest of the world, and improve the availability of study for selected groups.

In addition, the ministry plans to raise support for doctoral studies, effectively evaluate research, development and other creative activities, promote specific services for development of the society and Slovak regions, increase funding to the OECD average, and improve the internal school administration.

After the expert discussion, authorities will provide the objectives with concrete measures as part of the National Programme for the Development of Education and Training to public debate in early 2017 and then to negotiations of the Slovak government, according to Education Ministry’s spokeswoman Eva Koprena.

“The expert discussion will take place between academics, employers, school trade unions and other partners,” Koprena told The Slovak Spectator.

Selected fields need admission tests

Slovak universities have gradually changed the admission exam system to admission based on the results of high school leaving exams and other parameters. Today, schools are motivated by the financial system which allocates more money to schools with a greater number of students, according to Ftáčnik.

To improve the financing, experts suggest adding qualitative parameters and elimination of the negative motivations like maximising the quantity of students.

“Though there are not a lot of fields with limited resources to accept more students, over a ten-year period it is necessary to discuss this step as well,” Ftáčnik said.

Extension of scholarships and loans given to paying students should accompany paying for education, according to Peter Goliaš, head of The Institute for Economic and Social Reforms (INEKO) think tank.

“Charging weaker students is philosophically the same as charging and simultaneously introducing merit scholarships and favourable loans for the best students,” Goliaš told The Slovak Spectator.

Weak financing remains

While Slovakia spends about 1 percent of GDP on tertiary education, the average in Europe is up to 1.29 percent, according to Eurostat’s latest available data from 2013. Developed OECD countries obtain additional funds for schools, inter alia, by utilising study fees, Ftáčnik explained.

INEKO agrees that payments for education may lead to more money to the education system and boost the motivation of students to get the best value for their money.

“However, individually charging students may not lead to a clear increase in quality due to the information asymmetry when students do not know the real quality of schools, faculties and departments,” Goliaš said.

If the government reduces spending on students in parallel with increasing funding in university budgets, the effect of enhancing education will not take place, said Králiková, pointing to a similar case which appeared after the introduction of charging students for studying externally.

“In addition, if universities do not increase their quality, charging may cause an even greater exodus of our students abroad, primarily to the Czech Republic where schools offer free education,” Králiková said.

Need to measure quality

To improve the system, the key is to measure and publish quality indicators including salaries of graduates, the unemployment rate, citations of scientific articles in prestigious journals, the success rate in getting foreign grants and students and the number of obtained patents, and to change the financing system, Goliaš listed.

“If the state does not know the quality of schools, faculties and departments, it cannot motivate them to improve,” Goliaš said.

In addition, authorities should introduce tools to develop educational quality such as several-year-long grant schemes for projects for improving education and teacher’s teams which would direct money to the people who provide quality education, said Králiková.

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