The Czech Higher Education Institutions Amendment Act (No 137 / 2016) has partially but significantly altered rules for appointment of professors at higher education institutions.
Traditionally, professorship is conferred upon a person by a state-accredited procedure organized by a higher education institution, whereby the scientific board, after completion of all the steps required from a candidate, makes proposal to the President of the State to appoint a professor. The professorial appointment is made ad personam, does not in itself constitute an employment posting, and thus represents a special type of professional qualification, which is transferable among institutions in the country. Being a holder of a professorial title is a requirement for being employed by a higher education institution in a position of a professor; by law, only professors (incl. associate professors) can be study programme directors, and perform other functions reserved by law, such as serving as degree examiners without specific authorization from designated institutions.
For professorial appointment, a traditional academic path is generally being required, starting with PhD degree and through acquisition of venia docendi (habilitation) rights, which give the status of Associate Professor. Typically, a professor will then have at least 10-15 years of continuous academic career after completion of PhD. Exceptions from this traditional path may be granted to persons, who had previously been professors at a recognized foreign higher education institutions. However, this is rather uncommon.
By the new law effective from 1 September 2016, higher education institutions will have the option, under certain procedural and substantive conditions, to appoint “extraordinary” professors outside the traditional path.
Under new legislation, appointment of extraordinary professors (with status and rights equivalent to ordinary professors) will be possible for higher education institutions granted institutional accreditation (new accreditation scheme to be implemented from 2018). The appointment will have to be in a field of education, which is approved as part of the institutional profile.
The path to extraordinary professorship will be open to candidates, who either were professors of some degree (including associate) abroad, or have been working as practitioners in the relevant field for at least 20 years. There is no formal education requirement, lest a PhD degree requirement, for extraordinary professorship appointment by law. It is however legally required that the person must be a “recognized expert in the field”, and the appointment must be approved by the institution’s scientific board, whereby the institution acknowledges responsibility for these appointments towards meeting accreditation standards.
Unlike the traditional professorship, which is dual (the state appointment and then employment post pre-conditioned by the title), extraordinary professorship is inherently connected, and inseparable from, employment contract with an institution in respect of a particular position.
While yet waiting for implementation, and subject to quite rigorous limitation with regard to years of practice, this new path still provides an alternative route to more flexible careers, and is likely to support an inflow of experienced senior practitioners into higher education as increasingly there is shift away from life-long careers in one single track.
What was the challenge intended to be addressed? Why? What did work well? What did not work well? What have been the main achievements? How did you evaluate its success? What has been the change brought by this good practice?
The legislative action was meant to deal with shortcomings of the traditional career track for academic staff that is based on a single career route from a PhD degree via habilitation (venia docendi) to full professorship, making the higher academic positions mostly unavailable to experienced practitioners. That presents a challenge both for professional higher education institution operating at EQF5-7 levels as well as for universities providing professional degrees such as (for instance) law.
What are the enabling conditions (e.g. institutional, economic, social/cultural, regulatory) that needed to be in place or played a facilitating role for the good practice to be successful?
As the scheme can be implemented at higher education institutions that have been awarded institutional accreditation, it will be critical how many institutions will pass this threshold. The risk remains that institutional accreditation under new quality assurance legislation will prove to be available, in practice, mainly for comprehensive universities, thus limiting the impact of extraordinary professorship option for smaller professional higher education institutions. Ideally, institutional accreditation will, over time, become a standard and prevalent method of granting degree-awarding rights to Czech higher education institutions.
What are the challenges, barriers or limiting factors encountered? How have they been addressed?
At institutions with the option to appoint extraordinary professors, cultural factors will play a role. Since approval of extraordinary professors by an institution's scientific board is required by law, and these bodies have traditionally been guardians of the usual academic career track, it may also happen that in practice the appointment of extraordinary professor can be rather limited.
Replicability & Upscaling
What are the possibilities of extending the good practice more widely? What are the conditions that need to be in place for the good practice to be successfully replicated in a similar context? What are the steps that should be taken/respected to ensure that the good practice is replicated / up-scaled, but adapted to the new context?
If the scheme for extraordinary professors becomes a success story, it could pave a way for an overall change of academic career track at higher education institutions in the Czech Republic. That would possibly involve a general shift towards all academic positions being fully under jurisdiction of individual higher education institutions, thus abandoning the system of transferable nationwide professorship appointed by the President of the State.
What would have facilitated an earlier and/or bigger impact? What are the key features that should be kept in mind if this would have to be implemented again? What would you do differently if you could go back in time? What could have been done better?
There has been an extensive debate on changing professorship in Czech higher education more overwhelmingly, by total abolition of state-awarded professorial titles and adoption of the model of professorship exclusively as employment posting decided by an institution. This has, however, faced lack of trust in such a solution both withing academia, and within society at large. This new path for extraordinary professorships may help to cultivate views on background and role of professors in higher education, and facilitate a yet more profound transformation which could, at later stage, be incorporated into law.