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Czech Republic: A game of musical chairs at the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports

Following a month-long wait after the resignation of the embattled minister Josef Dobeš in April, Petr Fiala has been appointed the new Minister of Education, Youth and Sports in the Czech Republic. Dr. Fiala is a professor of Political Science, Vice-Rector of Brno’s Masaryk University, and a former president of the Czech Rectors Conference.

Prior to his resignation, Mr Dobeš caused quite a stir with his proposed higher education reform as well as suspicions of mismanagement of EU funds. Following mass protests, which included students, senior university officials as well as the Rectors Conference, and a partial freeze of funding already promised under the European Social Fund’s Education for Competitiveness programme, first calls for the minister’s resignation emerged from within the government. Despite officially citing his refusal to oversee further cuts in his department under the current austerity plans as his official reason for stepping down, by the time he resigned in April Mr Dobeš’ position no longer seemed politically tenable.

Despite a broad support for Dr. Fiala’s appointment across the political spectrum, he will have to deal with the same set of problems and challenges that ultimately brought down his predecessor. The government plans to continue with further cuts in education in general and a reform of the higher education system is still pressing. In the end the new minister’s success will come down to solving the ancient conundrum of striking the right balance between slashing spending and finding new ways to increase efficiency, while keeping all stakeholders on board.

The trick will be to do all of this sensibly and cut where it will hurt the least. Although Dr. Fiala himself stated that despite the high expectations people should not expect any magical solutions, he might have to perform at least one more trick with a pack of cards that has no jokers left…

Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports (new minister announcement, in Czech) Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports (resignation announcement, in Czech)