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The Czech Republic on Reform of Doctoral Studies

The Czech Republic On Reform of Doctoral Studies

Photo legend:  Left) The Student Council of HEIs Annual General Meeting, June 19st 2021. Right T-D) Ondřej Havelka, Jakub Šindelář.

Congratulations to our Czech National Association – The Student Chamber of the Council of HEIs (SK RVŠ) – on the National Day of the Czech Republic also known as Independent Czechoslovak State Day (October 28)! We publish this article to celebrate this holiday and acquaint you with the activities of ECRs in the Czech Republic. So, meet our Czech NA!

In your opinion, what are the main challenges for early career researchers in your country? 

In 2021, an extensive survey was conducted in the Czech Republic to identify the main issues and obstacles that Ph.D. candidates have to face and overcome to successfully defend their doctorate. Based on preliminary results, a significant number of Ph.D. candidates identified a lack of finances and unsustainable work/life balance as a challenge. The scholarship that a Ph.D. candidate receives from the government is two-fifths of the average income of the Czech Republic, while the scholarship alone does not cover living expenses. The uncertainty regarding financial and social security is, therefore, a relevant factor when considering a low rate of successfully defended doctorates (40 %). The above-mentioned issues are currently being discussed in the context of higher education reform.

Moreover, in our opinion, the need to internationalise universities in the Czech Republic needs to be addressed. It is common practice that BA and MA students proceed with their Ph.D. in the same institution. Such a practice is long-term counterproductive. There are mobility programs that students and Ph.D. candidates can utilise. The information regarding these programs is, however, not always intuitively accessible.

How does your NA address those challenges? 

The committee for Ph.D. students is an organ of the Student Chamber of the Council of Higher Education Institutions (Student Council of HEIs). The committee represents the broad scope of institutions and helps cover a large number of topics that might be relevant to all the academic fields but also address specific issues of individual fields. The Student Council of HEIs closely communicates with the Council of HEIs, the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sports, and the Research Development and Innovation Council of the Czech Republic. Due to this active approach, the Czech Republic is in the process of amending the Act of Higher Education Institution, which prepares the ground for improving the situation of early career researchers in the Czech Republic.

Furthermore, the committee for doctoral studies collaborates with the Czech Association of Doctoral Researchers, which is a Ph.D. initiative that comprises active Ph.D. students and has a slightly different agenda, however, due to the close collaboration, they are both represented in Eurodoc. Moreover, in 2020, the committee and the Czech Association of Doctoral Researchers released a “Guide for those considering to pursue a Ph.D”. The article summarises frequently asked questions of candidates just before their Ph.D. or in the first years of their Ph.D, whereby it aims to help early career researchers to orient better in the academic environment of the Czech Republic. The guide is now available to everyone in the Czech language. The English version for foreign early career researchers is, however, under discussion, as many parts need to be adjusted to specific needs in the international context. 

The committee of Ph.D. students also cooperates on events oriented toward Ph.D. candidates, such as Doctoral Summer School 2022, which took place in September in Prague (cooperation of National technician library, Ministry of Youth, Education, and Sports, and UCT). The school introduced three pillars to Ph.D. candidates and early career researchers: Research Project Management, Career Management and Leadership in Research. 

How does the cooperation with Eurodoc help solve these challenges, and what else can be done? 

Eurodoc offers the Student Council of HEIs a platform for sharing good practices used in other member countries and provides the perspective of a large international community. The members of NA of the Czech Republic involved in Eurodoc bring UpToDate information from the European research community that is relevant to our local association. Furthermore, some challenges regarding the precarious situation of Ph.D. candidates are being discussed across Europe. And considering what can be done further, we would like to see a document summarising best practice when it comes to Ph.D. supervision, as we think that the role of Ph.D. supervisor is significant in regards to successfully defended doctorate and for supporting Ph.D. candidates through the earliest stages of their career. Moreover, the experience during the Ph.D. often shapes them in their future academic career.

Written by: Ondřej Havelka, Jakub Šindelář, and Karolína Mahlerová

Learn more about the Student Chamber of the Council of Higher Education Institutions and the Czech Association of Doctoral Researchers (Czechia) and their work: