Future of the University in Central Europe – interactive lecture

Future of the University in Central Europe – interactive lecture - Foto: Paweł Mazur

An interactive lecutre on university education in V4 countries and in the EU was held by Samuel Abrahám, rector of and lecturer at the Bratislava International School of Liberal Arts (BISLA), also lecturer at the department of political science at the Comenius University in Bratislava.

In his introducing sentences, Samuel Abrahám called the Visegrad Summer School “the best thing that the Visegrad Fund can provide“ and “the best place to overcome prejudices“. Having assembled so many representatives of Central European students or former students at the Visegrad Summer School, of course, provided a perfect occassion to talk about university education in the corresponding region of Europe. So, the need of interaction was apparent. Abrahám addressed several questions to the audience. It turned out hat there was no one amongst the participants who would call his university “excellent“, most of them rated their university as “good“. Further ratings: Most of the participants viewed their undergraduate and graduate studies as being of the same quality, and most of them felt rather positive about their undergraduated studies (bachelor's degree).

Subsequently, Abrahám explained what actually characterizes good undergraduate studies to his mind. He mentioned good writing as a key thing, the importance of the subject itself, doing research, reading as another key thing, the important skill to find what is crucial for the paper to be written (“How do you select from the internet?“), and there must be “the opportunity to voice your view“, not only listening, not only lectures. Regarding oral presentations, Abrahám emphasized the necessity of interaction. Undergraduate studies should contain “lots of writing and lots of oral presentations. But! You have to get a feedback! Within 7 days. That's active learning! This is important!“ With great regret he pointed to the lack of feedback in large universities. Too many lectures and too big groups of students, the lack of time for discussions and of active learning he named as the circumstances which significantly reduce the quality of undergraduate studies at many Central European universities. And he let the participants rethink: “Do you still see your bachelor degree as excellent or good?“

In the further course of his lecture, Abrahám spoke about the fact that after 1989, when the universities in V4 countries regained autonomy, they widely did not replace all the former staff. Marxists and Leninists became political scientists. But what about political science today?

A political scientist himself, Abrahám's appeal to the young generation studying political science was the following: “Yourself are involved! Your attitude counts. You cannot only study what Milošević did … You are part of transforming society! And that's not easy at all.“ But this, certainly, applies to everyone, not only to future political scientists.

The next point Abrahám discussed with his audience were the drawbacks of academism. “In principle, there is nothing wrong with academies. But the great philosophers, historians and other scientists do not teach students,“ he remarked, calling this “a tremendous loss“. Furthermore, he regreted the “narrow horizon to one particular field, the walls between departments“ which are common part of the universtiy structure in Central Europe making the students be stucked in one subject. “One cannot change or loses a lot of time and credits.“ Here, several participants told their own stories about lost credits due to subject change or the barred possibility to change to the subject they wished – which was in many cases totally incomprehensible. Another common disadvantage for students, as Abrahám explained, is the tendency of lecturers to focus on their papers and the next debates without thinking much about encouraging more interaction between them and their students on an intellectual level. Abrahám referred to a personal experience with Hannah Arendt which made him aware of the fact that inviting students to dinner ranks among the best things a lecturer can do.

“Young people need a mentor at some point!“, Abrahám conitued, “Someone who provides you with questions. If you haven't got one – that's a tragedy!“

Furthermore, there is the problem that at the university level, “no one teaches how to teach. Lecturers are not trained to teach. …  Quite often, the lecture is the only thing they can provide.“ And Abrahám emphasized that this is not only a Central European problem but a European one! He further argued against the narrative that Central European universities would be in permanent crisis and not competitive with Western European universities. Problems of a certain kind are everywhere.

The lecture went on with a discussion about the Bologna process and its outcomes. The aims of Bologna were, of course, the harmonizing of the credit system in Europe and to encourage studies abroad via Erasmus. There is also the division into bachelor and master Bologna brought about – and the problem is that “most universities in Europe hate this systeme“, as Abrahám pointed out. Great resistance and the wish to go back to the 5-year-degree are widely spread, especially at German universities. The possibility to gain new experience somewhere else should be appreciated but “institutions want the students to stay.“ And unfortunately, undergraduated degree are often rather seen as something that brings money for research.


Making a jump to one of the “brighter sides“, Samuel Abrahám spoke about the liberal arts which he appreciates very much. They, namely, open up the possibility for young people in a greatly decisive age to explore who they are, in which direction they want to go. And liberal arts set a focus on moral dimensions, on ethics which should be much wider discussed in the university system instead of being the “earmark for certain departments“, as Abrahám explained. “What is good and how to built a good society? This are key questions.“


From the side of the participants, there came the question about how to start the change concerning the situation at the universities. Abrahám responded: “I have no recipy. … What I would suggest: To write and to publish and to deal with that within your own circle. Do 'small work'!“ And he added that the worst thing would be to become ignorant and cynical – or to become a politician.


by Jill-Francis Käthlitz