Central and Eastern Europe

It is expected that the EU will expand to include several countries of Central and Eastern Europe in the early 21st century. Poland and Hungary have already applied for formal admission. The prime ministers of these two countries, as well as those from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, and Bulgaria, participated in the 1994 summit in Essen, Germany, to discuss the Union's future course.

The Czech Republic has a well-developed university system, including Charles University in Prague (1348), the oldest university in Central Europe, as well as the Czech University of Technology (1717), the first school of Engineering in Central Europe. The Czech higher education system offers no associate-level degrees, and university programs are of 4 to 5 years' duration (Umehara, 1990). Within these programs, engineering is one of the most popular degrees. In 1992, more than one-third of all university degrees were obtained in fields of engineering. The people in the Czech Republic have relatively high access to university education; more than 12 percent of the college-age cohort obtained a university diploma in 1992, and almost 6 percent of this cohort obtained their degree in natural sciences or engineering.

The Czech Academy of Sciences and Arts (founded in 1888) managed basic research under the direction of the Communist Party from 1949 to 1989. Research was conducted in scientific institutes, over a hundred of which were located in Prague. In 1992, the Czech Academy was reformed and a competitive grants program—the Czech Grant Agency—was established. The Ministry for Education, Youth, and Sports has been given responsibility for coordination of overall science policy. The Czech Republic is attempting to integrate the scientific community, in Academy institutes and universities, into the larger European community, even before political and economic integration is realized [42] .

Higher education in Slovakia (former eastern section of Czechoslovakia) had been neglected until the 20th century. Slovakia's Comenius University, its first, was established in 1919. The main focus of the university is on engineering. Over 40 percent of the university degrees are in fields of engineering, similar to China. Because of this technical focus, the participation rate in NS&E degrees is quite high—7.4 percent.

Hungarian universities were first established by the church in the 14th and 15th centuries. The Hungarian higher education system adopted the German model, but the hierarchical social system confined higher education to the elite. Hungary has 4 universities (Budapest, Pécs, Szeged, and Debrecen), 14 specialized universities, and 36 institutes (Academic American Encyclopedia, 1994a). Less than 10 percent of the college-age cohort obtain a university education, and among this small group, relatively few study natural sciences or engineering.

Hungary has a network of 52 research institutes of the Academy of Sciences, which support basic research. University researchers may now apply for funding to the Hungarian Science Foundation. Hungary had approximately 30,000 RSEs in 1990, 20 percent fewer than in 1985 (HAS, 1991). Scientists in Hungary, as in other Central European countries, are emigrating to the West because of extremely low salaries. Priorities in scientific research include basic research in materials science, biological basic research and biotechnology, computerization, telecommunications, automation facilities, information systems, and research on environmental protection.

The first Polish university, Jagellonian University in Cracow, was established in the Middle Ages (1364) to train clergy. In the past 50 years, Polish universities developed a strong concentration in the natural sciences and engineering, following the Russian model. This concentration, particularly in engineering, has gradually lessened in the more open political climate of the 1990s. Natural science degrees declined from 15 to 12 percent of total degrees from 1989 to 1992; engineering degrees declined from 19 to 13 percent of total degrees. During this same time period, the number of social science degrees sharply increased, but from a small base (Gov. of Poland, 1993).

The S&T policy of the Polish government is to stimulate science areas that will benefit the country's economy (Business Foundation, 1993). Those areas include expansion of electronics in the national economy, automation and robotics for manufacturing processes, nuclear energetics and technology, new materials, biotechnology, food management, and environmental protection. Poland's S&T policy is to strengthen support of small innovative enterprises, which supply pharmaceuticals, electronic medical equipment, new materials, and other modern products.

Some Eastern European countries adopted the former Soviet model of higher education, which emphasized science and engineering and an engineering curricula that focused on training for production. In Bulgaria, for example, the fields of natural sciences and engineering were given the highest priority for enrollment quotas and generally a 50:50 ratio of male and female students. In addition, prospective students were screened on straightforward criteria: competitive examinations and mathematics competence. (Acceptance into humanities, arts, and drama relied more on party affiliation, interviews, and being deemed suitable to the regime.) Students flocked to higher education and to mathematics, science, and engineering in particular. University enrollments increased even more sharply in post-totalitarian Bulgaria in the 1990s. In 1992, 20.2 percent of the college-age cohort received a university degree; 7.6 percent in fields of natural sciences or engineering. (See appendix table 1.)

The participation rate for women in these fields is slightly higher than for men: 7.8 percent of the female college-age cohort obtained an NS&E degree in Bulgaria in 1992; 7.2 percent of males in this age group obtained such a degree in that same year. Considerably more women than men obtain a university education: 23.7 percent of the female college-age cohort obtained a university degree in 1992; 16.9 percent of college-age men obtained such a degree that same year. (See appendix table 25.) In 1992, women obtained 57 percent of all university degrees. In addition, they obtained half of the engineering degrees, 70 percent of the natural science degrees, and 73 percent of the mathematics and computer science degrees. These percentages have not changed since 1975 (Stretenova, 1994). (See text table 12.)

Romanian universities were also greatly influenced by the former USSR, and most higher education degrees were given in technical fields. In 1992, more than half of all first university degrees granted in Romania were in engineering. Substantial changes have been made in the 1990s, however, in elimination of Marxist coursework and a drastic reduction in social science degrees awarded. Current educational reforms are developing criteria and standards for academic evaluation of both State and private universities, with the help of the UNESCO European Center for Higher Education. Participation rates in university education in Romania remain low; in 1992, only 7 percent of the college-age cohort obtained a university degree. Since these degrees are quite focused on natural sciences and engineering, however, the participation rate of Romanian young people in NS&E degrees is high--more than 5 percent.

[42] For example, foreign reviewers are included in peer review of proposals to the Czech Grant Agency. In addition, evaluation committees, consisting of the best scientists from abroad and from the university community, have rigorously reviewed Academy institutes and reduced their overall number from 82 in 1989 to 60 in 1994 (NSF, 1994b.)