Czech ministry plans tough changes to curb doctoral dropouts

The Czech Republic is planning a painful but welcome shift from quantity to quality in doctoral education, as the government proposes changes to funding that many hope will solve abysmal dropout rates.

On average, only about 40% of candidates succeed in defending their thesis, a figure that can go down to 20% for certain programs.

A per capita funding model is widely blamed for lax admissions. “If the university recruited, say, 100 doctoral students, they received 100 scholarships,” said Jaroslav Miller, deputy minister responsible for reforming doctoral studies. Times Higher Education. “Universities were not motivated to select the best and most motivated applicants; they often accepted almost everyone.

The government’s solution is to almost double the minimum monthly PhD stipend from CZK11,250 (£385) to around CZK19,000 and hand universities a fixed budget to cover them, forcing them to be more demanding of applicants.

Professor Miller, former rector of the Palacký University of Olomouc, said the government expects the number of doctoral students and the dropout rate to fall by around 35% as a result, with the reforms also imposing bonuses and financial penalties to universities based on their rates. .

The changes leave much of the overhaul of doctoral training to institutions, such as written standards for supervisors. Vladimír Sedlařík, rector of Tomas Bata University in Zlín and vice-president of the Czech Rectors’ Conference, already has a plan to tighten admissions, only allowing funded supervisors to enroll students, let that money come from pots performance-related public or local government, industry or projects.

“It will be a mix of those sources,” he said, adding that departments would draw from different resources and thus offer different top-ups to the legal minimum allowance.

According to Ladislav Krištoufek, vice-rector for research and professor of economics at Charles University in Prague, further training will attract a better caliber of students and make Czech universities more competitive both in the national labor market of master’s degree and compared to foreign doctoral programs. the oldest, largest and highest ranked university in the country. He said low stipends and a high cost of living created a “death cocktail” for a city struggling to attract foreign doctoral students.

There is a consensus among leaders and students that the volume model cannot continue. Šárka Lojdová, president of the Czech Association of Doctoral Students, said bloated programs limit contact time with supervisors, while Michal Farník, president of the Student Chamber of the Council of Universities, said the number of Drifting students meant there was little concern about places being cut off. “They go with the flow and after they quit their masters studies, they just continue with doctorates,” he said.

Professor Sedlařík said EU regional development funding linked to the number of graduating doctorates had helped boost volumes in the past, but departments would do well to wean themselves off a reliance on labor doctoral.

“It will be difficult, there will be tears, figuratively of course, but it will hurt,” Prof Krištoufek said. Fewer students and more engaged students will ultimately be good for research quality, he said, while the end of class obligations for doctoral students would do the same for teaching.

“I have high hopes, maybe too much, for this, but I really believe that the reform itself will have huge consequences for the structure of universities,” he said.

Some questions remain, such as whether the overall budget for doctoral allowances, which will be set at 1.2 times the minimum wage, will increase with inflation. Otherwise, admissions could become very selective.

Professor Miller said the government expected to approve the reform in the autumn, with parliamentary approval expected before Christmas, allowing the amendments to come into force in early 2024.

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