“Zero Is Not Enough!” – Academics Protest Across the Czech Republic

Ondřej Deml

In a powerful display of solidarity and frustration, academics from universities across the Czech Republic participated in a warning one-hour strike on Tuesday. Some faculties remained on strike throughout the day, drawing attention to the long-standing issue of underfunding in the higher education sector, which they claim lacks 10 billion Czech Korunas. The proposed budget freeze for the next year exacerbates an already dire situation.

The epicenter of this symbolic strike was the Faculty of Arts at Charles University, which was responsible for the springtime unrest and inspired other faculties to join the demonstrations. Back then, humanities and social science academics protested low salaries, with some lecturers earning wages similar to those of grocery store cashiers. This time around, voices from the fields of natural sciences and medicine joined the chorus as demonstrators chanted, “Zero is not enough.”

The protest garnered support from various academic unions and Josef Středula, the head of the Czech-Moravian Confederation of Trade Unions, who emphasized the importance of solidarity.

This time, the call went out for a general increase in the education budget, which organizers believe is short by 10 billion Korunas. Due to low salaries, many academics leave for opportunities abroad, the private sector, or opt to teach at secondary and elementary schools where conditions are more favorable.

At 2:00 PM, when the strike officially commenced at other universities, hundreds of academics gathered in front of the Faculty of Arts building in Prague. Demonstrators from universities in Hradec Králové, Pardubice, Plzeň, Olomouc, and even Slovak higher education unions joined the protest. They brandished banners with messages like “I don’t want to be a lifetime priority,” “Fiala, Bek, Stanjura, the future looks bleak,” “Good conscience won’t heat your home,” and “Education as a survival game.”

After speeches of support from representatives of other institutions and Slovak higher education unions, the gathering, accompanied by an impromptu orchestra and other musicians, went to the Ministry of Education, where they announced their arrival with the prestigious, “We are here.”

Petr Pavlík, the chairman of the Coordination Trade Union Council at Charles University and former Deputy Minister of Education, stated before the strike that they don’t expect the 10 billion Koruna “debt” to be repaid in the upcoming year.

“We don’t want to be unreasonable but want a plan. Even this year, there should be an additional three to four billion, and in each subsequent year, the budget should continue to increase by several billion so that we reach the OECD average,” he explained.

“Today, everyone, including university rectors, realizes that the government doesn’t take education as seriously as they claim. If it doesn’t act, this won’t be the last strike. Parents should be aware that there won’t be anyone to teach their children in the future. We will continue to sound the alarm,” he concluded.