How does the Hour of Truth answer the most frequently asked questions with regard to the October strike?
- Why are we striking right now?
- To whom do we address our strike?
- What are our demands?
- Why do we not follow the negotiation path instead?
- Why are we striking when the Ministry of Education has announced that money for higher education will not be cut after all, and perhaps even more than 1 billion will be added?
- Why should the government increase funding for universities specifically?
- Why is it that mainly humanities faculties are on strike?
- Why are we not striking against the rectorates of our own universities?
- What will we do if the Ministry of Education and the government do not meet our demands?
1. Why are we striking right now?
We are following up on the spring Teachers’ Day action and the clearly articulated demands that the government is ignoring. We want to show that the problem cannot be swept under the carpet. The decision to strike is a result of the long-term underfunding of the higher education sector. This has become even more pronounced over the last two years when high inflation has led to a steep fall in real wages. At some faculties in particular, the situation is no longer sustainable, and the government’s inaction actually drives their employees into the streets to fight for both the right to a decent wage and the possibility of advancing the disciplines taught at Czech universities.
2. To whom do we address our strike?
We are directing our strike at the Ministry of Education and the government of the Czech Republic, which controls the financial situation in higher education and decides what budget universities will have next year and in the following years. If the Prime Minister declares that the Czech Republic is at a crossroads, then we reply that it is precisely the lack of investment in higher education that is causing the Czech Republic to remain in the position of a cheap labour supplier to the rest of Europe. It is precisely the budgetary reluctance of this and previous governments to strengthen education and research that is the hidden and long-term cause of the structural deficit in the Czech public budget, as economic experts from NERV remind the government.
3. What are our demands?
Firstly, we call on the government to increase the total amount of funding for higher education so that the share of spending on higher education in relation to GDP is—after 15 years of decline—finally comparable to the average in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, as stipulated in the government’s programme statement. Secondly, we demand adequate pay for work in higher education, which in many cases does not reach either the minimum decent wage or the salaries guaranteed by law for primary and secondary school teachers. Thirdly, we demand that the reform of doctoral studies be completed as soon as possible, so that the undignified financial situation of doctoral students, on whom the future of our fields depends, is radically improved.
4. Why do we not follow the negotiation path instead?
Negotiation is an effective tool when both parties equally perceive the problem as serious and work together to find a way to remedy it. In that case, a concrete form of solution can be negotiated. Unfortunately, the Ministry and the government have so far either downplayed the problem of underfunding the universities or postponed its solution indefinitely under the pretext of external circumstances. The partners of the Ministry of Education and the government in the negotiations on the budget for universities are the university unions, the Council of Rectors of the Czech Republic and the Council of Universities. Although all these representative bodies clearly declared the need for a substantial increase in the institutional subsidy to higher education from the state budget, the government did not listen to their compelling arguments. On the contrary, at a meeting of representatives of higher education and the government at UMPRUM on 12 September, we witnessed an arrogant performance by Minister Beck, who brushed aside the whole carefully formulated and factually based analysis of the current critical state of Czech universities.
5. Why are we striking when the Ministry of Education has announced that money for higher education will not be cut after all, and perhaps even more than 1 billion will be added?
Recent months have seen a series of contradictory and confusing statements by the Ministry of Education and the government, the latest of which actually expresses the intention to increase the budget of universities by approximately CZK 1 billion. Regardless of whether the government fulfils this promise, it is not a real solution. It is merely a matter of clearing previously promised funds for energy for free disposal. Moreover, this amount does not represent a significant step towards bringing finances at least up to the average of OECD or EU countries. It does not cover the fall in income caused by inflation and it represents no guarantee for the financial stability of universities in the future. We must therefore reject as completely misleading the statements that the Ministry of Education intends to “add 1.3 billion” for universities. A closer look at the new budget proposal, including the promised “addition”, immediately reveals that while this year the universities received CZK 30.915 billion from the Ministry of Education’s budget, next year’s new proposal allocates approximately CZK 30.903 billion. Therefore, the strikers from Czech universities once again turn to their minister with the appeal “Zero will not help, zero is less than little.”
6. Why should the government increase funding for universities when the state budget needs to be consolidated and cuts are planned in other sectors?
We do not dispute that the government has to balance various conflicting interests in setting the budget. We are also aware that reducing the budget deficit is one of its stated priorities. However, there are many ways to set the state budget and achieve a desirable revenue-to-spending ratio. Therefore, we strongly reject the argument that consolidating public finances at the expense of universities is a necessity to which there is no alternative. By going on strike, we want to demonstrate that reducing the real spending on higher education in the situation of its current underfunding will lead to a decline in the quality of education and thus to the dwindling competitiveness of the Czech economy in the future.
7. Why is it that mainly humanities faculties are on strike? Does it mean that the situation at other faculties is not so bad and that they do not agree with the strike?
It is true that the situation in the humanities and some other faculties is much more difficult than in other fields, due to the long-standing unfair funding system. A recent study by the IDEA think-tank at the Institute of National Economy of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic clearly shows that “the current dispersion of economic performance coefficients does not correspond to economic reality and is significantly overstated to the disadvantage of study programmes in social sciences, humanities and arts.” However, this situation cannot be resolved by reallocating the already insufficient resources at the expense of other faculties. Moreover, the strike is far from being a matter of the humanities alone. At present, it is a strike announced by the University Trade Union, which more and more faculties are gradually joining, and it is self-evident that the most underfunded ones are at the forefront of the current protests.
8. Why are we not striking against the rectorates of our own universities?
Firstly, the academic senates of universities will not accept a revision of the funding distribution if it means a reduction in salaries in other faculties. Secondly, our strategy is to increase the amount of funding for universities in the first step and in the second step to advocate that the extra funds be dedicated primarily to those faculties whose financial situation is the most difficult. Thirdly, this is a strike for social rights, and those cannot be the subject of collective negotiation with the employer. At Charles University, for example, we would need the consent of half of the employees of all faculties to do so. The common source of our current grievances is the gradual reduction in the real spending on higher education, which is impossible to remedy on the universities’ side, as this would necessarily lead to the endangerment of individual disciplines across the university or their liquidation within selected faculties.
9. What will we do if the Ministry of Education and the government do not meet our demands?
Organizing strikes and protests is certainly not our favourite pastime. The protest actions that have already taken place present an unwanted disruption in the functioning of our faculties and negatively interfere with the process of education and scientific research, which are the faculties’ main purpose. However, if our demands are not heard, we have no choice but to continue our protest actions, even by more potent means. We have in store a longer-term strike, which would interfere with the examination period and thus disrupt the course of the state examinations.