Vol 1, No 16
11 October 1999
C U L I K ' S C Z E C H R E P U B L I C:
The Educated Poor
The erosion of intellectual elites by low pay
It was Communism that brought the levelling of people's pay, regardless of their position on the social ladder and it was the fall of Communism that skewed the pay differentials in the Czech Republic badly in disfavour of the Czech university-educated elite.
Just as in many other post-Communist countries, in the Czech Republic, the fall of Communism turned into a free-for-all for unscrupulous operators who managed to asset-strip formerly state-owned businesses. Like in most other countries of the world, the business class is now the most affluent strata of society in the Czech Republic. But affluence does not necessarily mean education or wisdom. The atrocious state of the Czech media is one of the direct results of the pauperisation of the Czech intelligentsia. The most successful and the most highly paid "journalists" on the staff of the profit-making private newspapers and television station are semi-literate youngsters with huge egos, due to their inflated salaries. It is the primitivism of these highly paid idiots that sets the standard of the national public debate.
It is true that even in the countries of the West, people in "intellectual" professions, such as university lecturers or employees in those sectors of the economy which do not directly generate wealth, do not belong among the richest people in the country.
Nevertheless, the intellectual elites in countries such as Great Britain have managed to preserve a respectable portion of wealth. Take British doctors, for instance. According to the information from the British Department of Health, the average pay of a British medical General Practitioner is now GBP 50,000 per year (USD 80,000 dollars). The average pay in Britain is around GBP 20,000 pa. It is a sobering thought that a British doctor is paid approximately 23 times more than his or her Czech equivalent. This tells us all about the diminished role of the Czech intelligentsia in Czech society.
The Czech intellectual elites are all impoverished - doctors, university lecturers and schoolteachers. This has serious repercussions. Intellectuals cannot buy books and specialised journals. Scholars and scientists cannot devote themselves properly to research, because they often have to earn extra money by other means of employment.
In the West, the intellectual elites are in a minority, but their strong purchasing power means that their views are being taken seriously. There are minority radio and television channels which concern themselves with intellectual matters. These channels are often commercially viable because even though they are followed by a small percentage of the population, its purchasing power is often greater than that of the general public. The Western intellectual elites are usually economically relatively strong: they impose their standards on the rest of society. Even though the less educated strata of society might not necessarily always listen to all the complex arguments presented by the elites, the elites nevertheless set the tone of the nationwide debate. They are listened to by decision-makers and by commercial operators alike.
In the Czech Republic, the intellectual elites do not command such attention, due to their low pay levels. They are demoralised and disenfranchised. Students graduate from Arts Faculties of Czech Universities but they do not go into teaching; they could not support themselves with the limited pay which is on offer. Arts graduates end up in the advertising agencies. Thus the quality of the Czech education further deteriorates.
"Bureaucracy is slow and non-efficient and the technical equipment and financial conditions are really miserable," said Dr. Jiri Holy, Senior Lecturer in Czech Literature at Prague's Charles University to the BBC recently. He added that university lecturers' pay is even lower than the pay of doctors: on average they receive GBP 109 pounds per month (USD 174 dollars),after tax, as salary. The average rent for a flat in Prague is currently between 8000 and 10,000 crowns (USD 240-300) per month.
Jan Kyncl, a lecturer at the Electrotechnical Faculty in Prague, described his university work as follows:
In the last university session: I lectured for 152 hours and conducted 238 hours of seminars; I taught six undergraduate subjects plus conducted a seminar for PhD postgraduates; I individually tutored students from abroad in English; and gave lectures to colleagues about my work on some mathematical software.
The professor who used to lecture in these subjects has retired. Even if there was money for a new professor, there is no new person qualified in these subjects in the Czech Republic and in Slovakia (we would have to headhunt colleagues from Ostrava, Kosice or Plzen, which is not realistic). We cannot even think of employing someone from abroad because we simply could not pay him. So I am lecturing in these seven subjects myself. This situation is absolutely typical, certainly for Czech technical universities.
During the past session, I gave papers at five conferences. One of them was international. I worked in the organising committee of a Czech-British conference. The problem is that I can rarely go to international conferences where I have to pay 800 euro for participation (not to speak about travel expenses).
I also work in the academic senate and for an independent, specialised organisation. I leave work at 9.10 pm. (the university building is locked at 9pm, but the janitor is willing to wait for me for ten minutes). I do it all because I like my work.
In the past few years, I have learned from (former Prime Minister) Vaclav Klaus that "scientists are people who are trying to fool the public into giving them money for their doubtful projects".
Some time ago, one Deputy Education Minister wished to introduce a standard staff-student ratio which would apply to all schools, from creche to university. There have been more such degrading projects, I do not wish to bore the readers with them. Fortunately, the Education Ministry is no longer trying to insult us; it just keeps cutting our budgets.
In real life, students ask me at parties after their graduation: "And, Jan, what are you going to do when you grow up?" They are right, my life does not somehow work out these days. In order to be able to feel confident, I would need some verbal support and hope. Perhaps someone could lie to me and tell me that my situation would become better and I will manage to get a place to live in a high-rise on the fringes of Prague. I would be extremely grateful just for a single room without any amenities - that would be enough to give me privacy.
Jan Culik, 11 October 1999
The author is the publisher of the Czech Internet daily Britske listy.
Other Articles by Jan Culik in CER
Pricking Havel's Bottom, 4 October 1999
More Moribund Manouevring (Further TV Nova Tales), 27 September 1999
Mixed Czech Nuts, 20 September 1999
Nova TV: The saga continues, 13 September 1999
UK: Central Europeans Keep Out!, 30 August 1999
Czech Public TV: The yellow-bellies, 23 August 1999
Zelezny Pulls the Plug on Czech TV Nova, 16 August 1999
Czech Media and Civil Society: A survey, 16 August 1999
Czech Revival: No Pulse 99, 9 August 1999
Princess Diana, Al Fayed, the CIA and a Czech Spook, 2 August 1999
Nova TV: Commercial success or embarrassing failure?, 2 August 1999
Book Review: Martin Fendrych's Jako ptak na drate, 26 July 1999
A Concrete Example of Muddy Thinking in the Czech Press, 19 July 1999
Press Freedom under Threat, 12 July 1999
Corruption at the Czech Law School, 5 July 1999
The Czech Malaise, 28 June 1999
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