With beautiful cities and scenery, free tuition for students of all nationalities and easy overland access to European travel, the Czech Republic is an excellent destination for international PhD study. You don't have to take my word for it either: the number of students already studying abroad in the country speaks for itself. Around 40,000 foreign students currently call the Czech Republic their home away from home. This group makes up around a tenth of all enrolments at Czech universities and the Czech government is keen to encourage even more international participation with an increasing number of programmes being taught in English.
Czech higher education draws upon a prestigious intellectual tradition. In Charles University, the Czech Republic can boast the oldest university in Central Europe: founded in the 14th century, not long after the formation of the Czech nation itself. Famous alumni include the authors Franz Kafka and Ranier Maria Rilke as well as several nobel laureates in the natural sciences. Notable former professors include a certain Albert Einstein. The Czech Republic is also home to one of Europe's oldest technological universities: the Czech Technical University Prague, which counts influential thinkers such as Christian Doppler amongst its former students.
Since 2001 universities in the Czech Republic have adopted the three-cycle degree system established by the Bologna process. This means that a Czech PhD usually follows undergraduate and / or Masters qualifications in an appropriate subject. The Czech government is also encouraging institutions to use the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS), which allows for the recognition of study components undertaken elsewhere and facilitates easier student exchanges between institutions.
Czech higher education includes traditional research and training universities (vysoké školy) as well as a number of non-university level tertiary professional schools (vyšší odborné školy) providing taught Bachelors and Masters degree programmes. As a PhD student in the Czec h Republic you will only need to concern yourself with the country's traditional universities. In total there are currently 82 tertiary education institutions in the Czech Republic: 26 public, 44 private and two state universities. Both public and private institutions are administered by the Czech Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, whilst the two state universities (the Police Academy of the Czech Republic and the University of Defence in Brno) are run by their own relevant government ministries. The Czech government offers useful downloadable prospectus information profiling individual universities and grouping them by subject area.
The academic year in the Czech Republic is organised into two semesters, commencing in October and February. Each semester is followed by a holiday (one week in the winter and two months over July and August in the summer) and an examination period.
A PhD in the Czech Republic usually lasts for three years and is focussed primarily on the research and writing of a doctoral thesis. Some universities may require the completion of additional training or coursework components, but the primary means of assessment for the Czech PhD occurs through a final set of oral examinations. These are relatively unique in that they usually include an oral examination of your subject knowledge and expertise before you undertake a separate public defence of your specific thesis. Another distinguishing feature of the Czech PhD is the expectation that your thesis will have been published (or accepted for publication) before your doctorate can be conferred.
These extra requirements may seem daunting if you're accustomed to the closed-room oral examinations (or "viva voce") used in some other countries, but you shouldn't be concerned. By the time you're ready to submit your PhD you will already be an expert in the general knowledge of your subject area and having already published your thesis will provide a significant boost if you're looking for a career in higher education.
Though the use of English is increasing, the majority of teaching at Czech universities is still conducted in the Czech language. Don't let this put you off though: Czech is a surprisingly easy language to read and pronounce and The Institute for Language and Preparatory Studies offers assistance and training specifically designed for foreign students coming to university in the country. Also, don't forget that courses taught in Czech incur no tuition fees!
The deadline for applications to universities in the Czech Republic is usually February or March, though specialist arts institutions may take applications as early as November. You should apply directly to universities themselves and may make several simultaneous applications if you wish.
In order to study for a PhD in the Czech Republic you will usually need to have completed a Masters degree in a field relevant to your proposed research topic. Recognition of qualifications from foreign (non-Czech) universities must be formally confirmed through a process of application and review. However, because the Czech Republic participates in the Bologna system, this is usually a simple process. Your university's admissions department and / or its international office will be able to advise you on the procedure necessary for gaining recognition of most international degrees.
In addition to confirming your qualifications you will need to complete an applications process specific to your university. This varies between institutions, but will usually involve submitting an application form (usually electronic) along with evidence of your undergraduate and postgraduate degrees and well as any language test scores required by your course.
Some universities may also require prospective postgraduates to sit an entrance examination, but this is relatively uncommon for international students. Where applicable, these tests usually take place in January for specialist arts institutions and between June and September for other fields.
If you are a national of Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Switzerland or any EU member state you will not need a visa to study for a PhD in the Czech Republic. Other international students will need to apply for a student visa. It can take up to 60 days to issue a visa for study in the Czech Republic and you will need to have confirmed your place at a Czech university in order to begin your application. This means you will want to apply to your chosen university or universities as soon as possible if you will require a visa in order to study at them.
The first port of call for a visa application should be the Czech embassy in your home country, but your university may also be able to advise you during this process. The Czech immigration service also provides a website with some helpful information.
In most cases an application for a Czech student visa will require you to submit the following:
Within three days of arriving in the Czech Republic you should register your presence at an office of the Czech Foreign Police.
By law, tuition at public universities in the Czech Republic is completely free for all students regardless of nationality. However, courses taught in foreign languages (including English) may incur fees. It is worth checking in advance if you think this might apply in your case. Costs for admissions and administrative fees may also be charged, as may supplementary fees for courses extended past an agreed limit or for additional programmes of study.
Private universities usually charge fees as normal and these range from roughly Kč40,000 ($2,000) to Kč300,000 ($15,000) per year, depending on the course or institution in question. Costs for foreign language programmes at public universities are similar.
A wide range of scholarships and other funding packages are available to international students studying in the Czech Republic.
Scholarship Awards Under Bilateral International Agreements are set up in partnership with particular countries and provider support for two-10 months at public institutions.
Government Scholarships are available to students from developing countries and provide support during study periods as well as covering the costs of a one-year preparatory Czech language course as necessary.
Visegrad Fund Scholarships are primarily available to citizens of selected countries in Central and Easter Europe. They provide support for one or two semesters of study.
The South Moravian Centre for International Mobility supports foreign students from non-EU member states in Europe, who wish to study in the Czech Republic's South Moravian region. This funding is focussed on technical and science subjects and provides support for one year of study, with subsequent assistance based on merit.
Various specific partnership and exchange programmes also exist between the Czech Republic and other countries. These include the Erasmus Mundus Programme, the Central European Exchange Program for University Studies (CEEPUS) and the Fulbright Scholarships programme for US citizens.
Individual universities in the Czech Republic may also offer funding and support to international students. Check with your institution to find out what assistance is available to you and what its eligibility criteria are.
As well as the achievement of receiving a doctorate, a PhD from a university in the Czech Republic will offer additional ways to enhance your CV. By completing the state examination at the end of your research you will have demonstrated subject expertise in your subject beyond the boundaries of your specific thesis. The requirement to have published as part of your doctorate will also fill another key requirement for progress in an academic career.
Of course, having spent three years living and studying in the heart of Europe you'll have developed experience extending beyond the higher education sector: making you more attractive to employers seeking to do business internationally.