Free and quality higher education cannot be built by political appointments, because students and teachers, and ultimately society as a whole, will always pay the price. In spite of this fact, a change in the law in Slovakia is about to take place, against all the principles of a well-governed society and contrary to the principle of transparency. The hastily tabled amendment, alongside the adoption of the amendment to the Higher Education Act, is to, among other things, completely change the structure of the bodies of the Slovak Accreditation Agency for Higher Education and to fill the new position of ‘Director-General’ directly from the level of the Prime Minister of the Slovak Republic, without a selection procedure.
The hastily and non-transparently enforced changes in the agency will directly threaten its position in international structures, the efforts to integrate Slovak higher education into the European area and, above all, will devalue two years of intensive work by universities to meet demanding accreditation standards aimed at improving education in higher education for the benefit of students.
This amendment, according to the words of State Secretary Ľudovít Paulis, which he mentioned in the programme Tema on 9.3.2022 on TA3 television, was presented to the Ministry of Education by the Advisor to the Prime Minister for Higher Education Renáta Hall. Until recently, Renáta Hall worked at the agency as coordinator of analytical activities until 31 December 2021, when she terminated her employment by agreement.
Renáta Hall also presented this proposal in person to Members of the National Council Committee on Thursday, March 10, 2022.
Central to the proposed change is the immediate replacement of the Executive Board with three new agency bodies with twice the number of people. “From what I have been made aware of, the proposal is extensive and has many conceptual flaws. Apparently, in order to avoid these proposed changes becoming the subject of professional public debate, the change is to be pushed through a parliamentary amendment tabled in parliament only now during the final approval of the amendment to the Higher Education Act,” said SAAVS Executive Board chair Robert Redhammer.
One of the main principles of the European Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in Education is the independence of the agency assessing autonomous higher education institutions. Independence from political, economic, or other interference. In addition to the likely attempt to politicise the management of the agency itself, this amendment to amendment to the Higher Education Act raises a number of other problems. For example, it explicitly enacts the possibility of conflicts of interest, as if such conflicts were foreseen. Just to add, in the current wording of the law that created the agency, conflicts of interest for members of agency bodies are very strictly regulated and excluded. Some parts of the regulation may be unenforceable. Others interfere with the legitimate interests or rights of others. Deviations from the requirements of the European Standards and Guidelines would disqualify the Agency from seeking full membership of the Association of European Accreditation Agencies and registration in the European Register of Agencies.
Universities are currently implementing their internal quality management systems according to the accreditation standards issued by the Agency in accordance with the European Standards and Guidelines. The Agency’s guidance to HEIs was also highly commended by the OECD in a report issued last November and recommended to continue. If this amendment ‘passes’, it will significantly disrupt tens of thousands of students and university teachers, paralysing both the accreditation processes under way and those in the pipeline.
The accreditation process in Slovakia is already set up today in accordance with current European rules. This year, schools are already offering the first study programmes accredited by the agency under the new rules. The accreditation process was carried out in full cooperation with Slovak universities, domestic and foreign experts, students, and representatives of practice. It will bring greater quality and professionalism of education to students.
Contact for media: Zlata Petrusová, zlata.petrusova [at] saavs.sk; tel.: 0948/988 265