An expert, let alone in the field of economics, should not draw conclusions based on unverified media reports. That is exactly what happened to thirteen leading Slovak economists who published a number of wildly inaccurate claims about the accreditation process in Slovakia.
“If Slovak economists are willing to help higher education in Slovakia, they have an open door here. We are happy to explain obvious misunderstandings, but also how they can help. Especially in the field of economics and management there is a paradoxical situation in Slovakia: there are up to 150 economists-assessors enrolled, but for specific assessments, it was a problem to set up a working group,” said Robert Redhammer, chair of the agency’s executive board.
It is inadequate to claim that most of the SAAHE representatives come directly from universities that the agency “regulates”, which, according to economists, “does not create conditions for objective assessment of the quality of universities.” In fact, applications from universities are assessed by working groups made up of independent experts on the list of assessors. Thus, they are not employees of the Agency, nor members of the Executive Board. In doing so, emphasis is placed on their expertise, their independence from the institution being assessed, and their impartiality. The expert group not only assesses the application, the annexes, and other publicly available information but also visits the university to verify the various quality aspects on-site and draws up an assessment report, with a recommendation to grant accreditation or reject the application.
The claim that the actions of the Slovak Higher Education Accreditation Agency have “discouraged most foreign experts willing to help Slovak academia” is incorrect. The Slovak Accreditation Agency carried out 177 accreditations of study programmes in the last year already according to European standards. At least one foreign expert participated in each working group for the accreditation of 2nd and 3rd level studies. These were, for example. Experts from the University of Jyväskylä Finland, Uni of Cologne, Danish Cancer Society, CEITEC MU, CTU in Prague, ETH Zurich, Loránd Eötvös University Budapest, University of Oxford, Finnish Institute for Educational Research, Polish Academy of Sciences, Janáček Academy of Music and Performing Arts, Kazan Federal University, Faculty of Medicine of Palacký University in Olomouc, Leopold-Franzens-Universität Innsbruck, Masaryk University, Max Planck Society, Mendel University in Brno, Metropolitan University Prague, University of Redlands, University of Warwick, Charles University, University of Mainz, Palacký University, the University of Economics in Prague, Whole Earth Futures, Glasgow, UK, and many others.
In accordance with European rules, working groups are always formed at the specific request of a university, according to the field and type of procedure, from among the persons on the list of assessors. There are up to 150 experts in the field of economics. However, for example, when assessing applications from the dominant University of Economics in Bratislava, it cannot be assessed by a person with a staff relationship or other links to it, thus reducing the pool of persons considerably. In addition, the assessor we approach has the right to refuse to assess. Two of the economists who signed the appeal also refused to consider our appeal. The Agency does not investigate the reasons, which may indeed be different; it simply respects their disagreement. After these experiences, the agency has adjusted its search for experts and today these processes have been improved.
The economists’ call for independence of assessment is therefore clearly based on incorrect information, as the programmes are demonstrably not assessed by Agency staff but by independent national and foreign experts in the relevant field who have no links with the entity being assessed.
Under the new rules, the universities themselves had to subject the degree programmes to rigorous opposition by independent experts and practitioners before applying for accreditation. This is a new requirement of the accreditation standards. Only then could a school submit an application for accreditation. And yet the agency rejected 10% of applications.
Another misunderstanding of these economists is the claims of an academic fetish in higher education. In fact, at the Slovak University of Technology, filling the post of professor is no longer conditional on having previously obtained the title of professor. Even the accreditation standards do not require a professor’s degree for person staffing study programmes, but rather a professor’s appointment in a selection procedure is required if the set criteria are fulfilled. Nevertheless, the Agency is also conducting eight own-initiative proceedings against universities for misconduct in the habilitation and inauguration procedures and withdrawals of rights.
The Slovak Accreditation Agency calls on economists who comment on the accreditation process in Slovakia to check the facts and not hinder the changes that have already begun in higher education and are aimed at improving higher education for the benefit of students and the value of the education they receive by their comments. The accreditation process in Slovakia is already set up today in terms of European rules. In the past year, the agency has accredited new modern study programmes while at the same time schools have cancelled more than 1 000 non-prospective ones in the register of the Ministry of Education. We believe that the changes at the schools will bring students greater quality and professionalism in their qualifications.
We are open to collaboration, and suggestions for improvement. In the coming months, we will be evaluating adjustments to our practices to make them better and more effective. We will be happy to have economic experts participate in our internal evaluation as well.
Media contact: Zlata Petrusova, zlata.petrusova [at] saavs.sk; tel.: 0948/988 265