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Palacký University
07-07-2015, 09:31, Age: 8 y.

Internationalisation as the Road to Quality

By: V. Mazochová, M. Šaradínová, P. Konečný

Palacký University wants to be a modern Central European university, opening its doors wider to foreigners. Rector Jaroslav Miller sees internationalisation as essential for its further existence, and stated that the nineteenth-century concept of a national university is no longer viable.

To operate solely in the national context is the road to obscurity. The Czech Republic, according to the rector, has been intellectually picked over too many times.

“Metaphorically speaking, we have too many hunters and too few pigeons. If we want to conduct quality research, we are going to have to compete for motivated young academics, of whom there are always too few. With respect to the number of universities in the Czech Republic, we have no other option than to look elsewhere. We will not stay in the premiere league of research universities if we select experts only from the Czech Republic. We are going to have to recruit players from India, from Asia, and from Russian-speaking lands,” Miller explained.

The rector is betting on young academics whose market value is relatively low because they have not yet made a name for themselves. Those who already have made a name for themselves are expensive, and usually past their prime. This is why the university should focus on post-docs, positions after doctoral studies. “We have about one hundred and sixty post-docs, and it can already be seen that we have some aces in our hand,” Miller said.

And he adds that the same principle applies to students. “We want better motivated students, but in one population-year of a relatively small country, the percentage of such applicants is more or less constant. So again, we have to look beyond our borders,” Miller added.

The university is seeking students from surrounding countries, such as Slovakia and Poland, because these students are able to study in Czech-speaking programmes. “Ukrainian students are also of interest to us. The problem there is that their school system is set up differently from ours and is not completely compatible,” Miller observed.

The stumbling block of foreign languages

The first step on the road to internationalisation is a common tongue. According to the rector, this does not mean just printing brochures in English, even if English is the main lingua franca.

“Coming to Olomouc from the opposite end of the world must be a shock,” avers Roxane Authorsen. She comes from Essen, Germany, and though she speaks Czech fluently, she studies medicine in English. “The programme in English has been in place now for twenty years, but there is not a single sign in English at the Faculty of Medicine,” she said, with exasperation. The Academic Senate decided on her initiative that the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry should be furnished with bilingual signage. “In order for the students to feel more at home, first they have to understand their surroundings, and only then will they study better,” Roxane stated.

Rector Miller goes further than that, insisting that the entire city must undergo change. We must offer services to foreign students and academics; there must be an infrastructure for them.

“If we are going to get incredible young academics from countries all over the world, a number of them remaining here for some time, coming here with their families, this will mean enrichment of the economy of the town and its cultural life. And if we want to attract them in the first place, we must guarantee English nursery schools and grammar schools for them. I am expecting that within five years, such schools will be at Envelopa, in the building complex we recently purchased,” the rector stated.

And this is where the first step on the part of the university can be found. “It is necessary to create the most sympathetic environment so that future scientists, teachers and students have easy access to the university, so that there will be no problem for example in arranging visas,” said Ivana Oborná, Vice-Rector for Foreign
Relations. As of this year, foreigners do not have to go to Přerov to arrange their visas, it is taken care of by an Olomouc branch of the Asylum, Migration and Integration Office of the Czech Ministry of the Interior, which is housed in the Dean’s Office of the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry.

Genius loci

Olomouc could attract somebody from Indonesia by being the Oxford of Haná, as opposed to Anonymous Prague or Industrial Brno. “We have to place our bets upon the quality of the place. The genius loci and the ubiquitous university atmosphere is our foreign currency. In the case of the sciences, it is the felicitous infrastructure and successful science-research teams, especially in such fields as nanotechnology, optics, biotechnology, and biomedicine,” Yvona Vyhnánková, Director of the UP International Liaison Office, enumerated.

Katsuyuki Tanizawa is one such happy foreigner in Olomouc. He appreciates the quiet, small city with its parks and beautiful historic buildings.

“I came here for two years, primarily to publish scientific articles for the Centre of the Haná Region and to tutor highly motivated young scientists,” explained the scientist from Osaka, who concentrates on enzymology and biotechnology. At present he is working on a project dealing with the atmospheric conditions of unstable enzymes, which existed on Earth during the time when there was no oxygen in the atmosphere.

Olomouc is by far the “most university” university town in the Czech Republic. And students concur. “The town is charming, quiet, and everything you need is a short walk away. This is a great place to study,” said Nabil Ibrahim from Malaysia. Any exam stress can be released with fellow students in the town tearooms. Asian students visit home once a year – in summer.

The UP International Liaison Office cannot do everything to help foreigners. “Our first year here we could not handle the winter. Now, after three years, we’re ok with it, and we love the snow,” the Malaysian students laughed.

Roxane Authorsen also likes Olomouc: “It’s just right, not too large, not too small. There’s a lot to do here, loads of students, young people... and few tourists,” she said, admiringly.

A course on differences

The seminar “Europe: A User’s Guide” should contribute to an understanding of the roots and founding values of European culture, especially for students from the Muslim community. “We had thirty students enrolled in that course, which is promising,” commented Vice-Rector Oborná.

The course offers foreign students an interpretative key to help them understand European culture and orient them in its values. “We try to introduce an interpretation of Europe, based on Christianity, arising from Greek philosophy, from Roman law, and with an emphasis on freedom, also taken from Jewish philosophy,” as Jaroslav Franc summarised the seminar.

So far, thanks to her language skills and excellent Czech, the “spokeswoman” for the foreign students has been Authorsen. “Students often come to me, with lots of questions. I’m a kind of medium for them, and sometimes even a mediator. I even interpret, if they need to resolve something with teachers. If they have a problem with scheduling, I am happy to help,” Roxane said.

As a German, she sees the biggest cultural difference in manners. “Here there is great respect and a certain distance between teachers and students. In England or Germany everyone calls their teachers by their first names. Teachers have greater authority here than in Germany. And the tests are tougher,” she summarised.

The majority of frictions between faculties and foreign students are as a rule communication problems, and according to Vice-Rector Oborná these are not serious. One, for example, were requests by Muslim students for a prayer room. “We explained that our university is strictly secular. There will not be a prayer room for any religion here. We can discuss religion, but no one group will be preferred or discriminated against,” Oborná shared.

Study programmes and departments

The flagship of English language study is formed by the two core departments in the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry: General Medicine and Dentistry. “They have the longest tradition, and also the greatest demand,” Yvona Vyhnánková stated. Students are recruited primarily from Asia and Great Britain.

“Medicine in a way is a narrow field, because it is the same the world over. One cannot say that about law. Czech law differs considerably from Anglo-Saxon common law. Thus for some faculties internationalisation is more difficult,” Vice-Rector Oborná underlined.

A good example for internationalisation according to her is science, especially the natural sciences. At the Faculty of Sciences, one can observe two strategies of internationalisation, thanks to which the individual workplaces can build and develop relationships with international partners.

The greatest number of study programmes in English offered by a faculty is nine, offered by the Faculty of Arts. Among them are English and Chinese Philology, European Studies, International Relations, and Jewish and Israeli Studies.

“Next semester the Faculty of Law will also open their Master’s degree programme in English,” Vyhnánková noted.
Recruiting foreign students has four phases:
1) providing the personnel
2) accreditation
3) marketing
4) study programme

According to Vyhnánková, UP is now in the phase of creating new concepts and strategies in international marketing. “It goes hand-in-hand with the offer, which at present is somewhat limited, so it is difficult to invest larger sums in marketing,” she explained.

Not just English

From her own experience, electronic media and social networks are foremost in recruiting students. “It does not make sense to travel around the world to university fairs. For example in India and Southeast Asia what has worked best for us is cooperation with local agencies,” Vyhnánková said.

While Rector Miller says that the competition in recruiting foreign academics is the same between UP and Vienna and Shanghai, Vyhnánková states that in the case of foreign students, our main competition is Masaryk University in Brno, which has a similar make-up of departments.

While English is the most prevalent language in internationalisation, UP offers studies in other languages. At the Faculty of Arts, German Philology is offered in German, at the Faculty of Education there is instruction in Russian, and at the Sts Cyril and Methodius Faculty of Theology there is instruction in Italian.

The presence of foreign students, scientists and teachers also enriches the lives of Czech students. It is one of the key means of increasing the quality of studies and the level of teaching and research.

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Last update: 19. 09. 2012, Vladimír Kubák