Students in Prague have started their week of protests against a planned university reform proposed by the Ministry of Education. On Thursday, student protesters held a happening in front of the government’s Lichtenštejn Palace, in which they weighed money and education with an oversize scale to symbolically illustrate their concern that under the new reform, education would take a backseat to the vested financial interests of politicians. The protest, in which some 50 people participated, was titled “We value education”. According to Jan Gruber, a member of the “Week of Protests” student initiative, the proposed government reforms, which include the implementation of controversial high school fees, threaten the autonomy of universities in favor of political and economic elites. This, he argues, will lead to falling standards of education for all. The protesters are seeking that the reform proposals from Education Minister Josef Dobeš are significantly reworked.
In related news, the president of the Council of Higher Education Institutions Jakub Fischer said on Thursday that universities received less state funding then primary schools: For each secondary school student, the state pays 35,000 Czech crowns per year, while the amount it contributes to higher education amounted to 30,000 annually per student. He added that while the state’s expenses for elementary schools grew by 8 percent over the past three years, the average state contributions to university educations had decreased by three billion crowns, or 12 percent, over the same time period. Mr. Fischer warned of a drop in education standards should cuts to university budgets continue.
A data leak earlier this month that exposed private information relating to roughly 30,000 members of the Civic Democratic (ODS) party may not have peen perpetrated by the hacking group Anonymous after all. This, according to a several police experts working on the case cited by the daily Právo - and despite the fact that Anonymous have claimed responsibility for the hacking. Rather, according to these investigators, the leak may have come from someone working within the political party. Jan Kočí, the Civic Democrats' chief managing officer, has denied these allegations, while the Czech police have made no official comment.
Vlastimil Rampula is to take up his post at the head of the High State Attorney’s Office in Prague on Wednesday after the Prague municipal Court ruled his dismissal invalid. Rampula was sacked in July of last year at the instigation of the Supreme State Attorney Pavel Zeman on suspicion that he was holding up key corruption investigations. The Prague court ruled that his dismissal was not sufficiently justified. The provisional head of the High State Attorney’s Office Stanislav Mecl is to return to his post at the Supreme State Attorney’s Office in Brno.
The majority of online shopping sites based in the Czech Republic do not check the age of persons purchasing alcohol from them, a fresh survey by the consumer association magazine DTest has shown. Minors can easily buy alcoholic beverages online despite the fact that selling them to persons under the age of 18 is against the law. Only two out of twelve online shops surveyed by DTest asked shoppers purchasing liquor for proof of age. DTest has alerted police to the problem. A recently published study has shown that the number of teenagers who drink excessively and regularly is on the rise.
Czech tennis player Radek Štěpánek has reached the second round at the Memphis International tennis event. The 33-year old Czech beat the American Bobby Reynolds 6:3 and 6:2. Štěpánek, who ranks 28th in the international ATP list, will be facing the American Ryan Sweeting in the second round. The winner of the event receives an award of 1.15 million US dollars.
Despite milder conditions in most regions, snow drifts are still complicating rail traffic in the Czech Republic. A two-meter wall of snow is blocking a railroad connection between the towns of Chomutov and Vejprty in the north of the country. Railroad personnel are removing the snow manually since snow removal equipment is not suitable for the task. The route will be blocked through the weekend.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron will be joined by his Czech counterpart Petr Nečas on March 1st for a Eurotunnel train trip from London to Brussels. The destination will be an upcoming EU summit; Nečas is set to visit London for a memorial event connected to the late president Václav Havel on February 29th. The UK and Czech Republic were recently the only holdouts in a proposed pan-EU fiscal discipline pact, primarily designed to aid eurozone nations.
The Czech government has approved an implementation law for the direct election of the next president. Under the draft bill, which must still be voted on by parliament, candidates will be chosen via a similar system used today to select senatorial candidates. Candidacies will be lodged via a petition from twenty MPs, 10 senators or via a public petition signed by 50,000 people. Mechanisms for the random verification of signatories were also in the package. The petitions will then be evaluated by the Interior Ministry. However, the government failed to reach an agreement on campaign finance rules for the proposed system but did agree that candidates should have access to free air time on Czech Television and Czech Radio for their promotional advertisements. A law mandating direct elections of the next president, which will take place next year, was recently passed into law and will come into effect this October.
Health minister Leoš Heger (TOP 09) has dismissed Martin Beneš, the head of the State Institute for Drug Control, the country’s chief agency for the testing and approval of pharmaceuticals. Minister Heger explained the firing by citing long-term disagreements over workplace methodology, adding that an open tender process will now take place to find a successor. Deputy Jiří Deml will serve in the top post until a replacement is found. According to ČTK, the firing may be linked to concerns over the functioning of the Institute’s central drug-testing database, administrative issues of data protection and delays in updating the prices of key drugs. According to Lubomír Chudoba, head of the Czech Chamber of Pharmacists, Beneš failed to effectively communicate with his colleagues across the industry. In 2011, the Czech pharmaceutical industry was worth an estimated 58.85 billion crowns.