This Wednesday Prague’s Anglo-American University will be holding a double celebration. The institution will be marking 25 years of existence – and officially opening its new campus at the magnificent Thurn-Taxis Palace in Malá Strana. Ahead of the celebrations I visited the building to meet Anglo-American’s president, Associate Professor Alan Krautstengl. I first asked how hard it had been for his predecessors to sell the idea of a private, English-language university so soon after the fall of communism.
“Yes, at the beginning, they were certainly struggling, because they were building something new. But it was fundamentally right.
“And if you start doing something that is fundamentally right – and which was non-existent on this market… and yes, people were eager and hungry for this type of education; it gave them the alternative to get this type of education without actually leaving the territory of then Czechoslovakia.”
Was it hard to get accreditation from the Ministry of Education? How were the ministry officials with regard to your institution?
“The whole institution had a certain development. I believe that at first it was more associated with foreign entities.
“But as it grew and formalised itself and changed from different legal forms up to not-for-profit organisation, as it is now, everything fell into order and we have had Czech accreditation for many, many years.
“I have to say that our relationship with the Czech Accreditation Commission is very fine and very respectful. We cooperate with them quite well.
“All of our programmes with the exception of two that are provided here but not given under the umbrella of Anglo-American – namely the Chapman MBA and the LLB of the University of London in law – are accredited by the Czech Accreditation Commission.
“On top of that we recently reached the level of candidacy of WASC institutional accreditation. WASC stands for Western Association of Schools and Colleges and is one of the six most prestigious regional accreditation commissions in the US.
“Just to tell you, it is the very same commission which is behind the verification or validation of the diplomas of universities like Stanford, Chapman, Berkeley, Caltech and other fine universities on the west coast.”
What does candidacy status mean? How long will it take you to become fully accredited, or how does that work?
“The second stage is candidacy, which we have received recently.
“Candidacy is a formal affiliation with the institution, unlike eligibility. It gives us for instance some voting rights within the system, etc.
“By granting candidacy, the commission believes that we have everything in order to achieve accreditation, even though it does not legally guarantee eventual accreditation.
“Standardly there is a time of five years candidacy and full accreditation and when the institution feels ready they just send a team.
“However, our situation is slightly different because they believe that we are in such an advanced stage that the final visit is already set up for March 2016.
“The vote on our full accreditation is going to take place in California in June 2016. So in our case it has been very drastically shortened.”
You were the first private university in this country teaching in English. Now there are several other universities and colleges teaching in English here and there are some English-language programmes at some state universities. Do you feel like you have a lot of competition now?
“First I want to say that we are the first private university, period – not only the first private university teaching in English.
“Very frankly, given the way that we do our education I don’t think we have any competition at all in the Czech Republic.
“What we consider our competition are universities and colleges in the US, which are our peers and provide our benchmark.
“We do something differently just in the fact that we are the first and only strictly non-American university to be affiliated with WASC outside the territory of the United States.
“That’s actually a big deal. It’s really a big deal and has, by the way, also been covered by national TV in the US.
“There are some universities that teach in English on the territory of the Czech Republic, but with different concepts: either they are branches of foreign universities or they are brokers of somebody else’s education, meaning they provide a degree and diploma of somebody else.
“But we provide our own diplomas, with the exception of the two programmes which I mentioned earlier; the vast majority of our programmes both at bachelor’s and master’s level are our own.
“So in principle we don’t feel like we have any competition at all in the Czech Republic.
“Also we currently have around 1,000 students and perhaps 20 percent of them are from the Czech Republic. The rest are from the rest of the world, with the biggest minority being students from the US.”
That was going to be my next question: Who typically are your students? Also why would American students come here?
“It’s hard to say who our students typically are. It depends which criteria you look at it by.
“But essentially we have students who are looking for American-type education that can be combined with the beautiful European location, where they can also take advantage of European traditions.
“We also have quite a few students who get an undergraduate degree with us and continue to the UK or the US, and often to very prestigious universities like Berkeley, Stanford, Cambridge, Oxford, the London School of Economics and others. So we have quite a vast portfolio.
“And yes, Americans, especially in the spring semester, constitute the biggest minority.
“I have to say that at the moment most Americans just come here for a semester and the credits which they gain here are fully transferred and acknowledged by their mother universities in the US. Including even members of the Ivy League.
“We do have quite a few degree-seeking students from the US, though much less than the study abroad students. Interestingly, some are US veterans, where Uncle Sam is picking up the tab for their tuition.
“But with the WASC accreditation the situation is going to change drastically and we are going to aim at degree-seeking students, which means that high school students throughout the US are going to become our targets as potential good clients.”
Have you found that many degree students from America stay in Prague or the Czech Republic after their studies?
“It really varies. Some do, some don’t, some stay for a while. And this phenomenon is not specific to the Americans, I would say. This is true in general for all our students.
“Because the students who come to Anglo-American and graduate from Anglo-American essentially have the whole world open to them.
“Yes, they may stay in the Czech Republic, and they are often in very prestigious positions. We have people who are general managers and on boards. We have an ambassador. We have a lot of people who we can certainly be very proud of.
“Many of them go and stay and travel around the world – they have fine positions elsewhere and some of them come back. It really varies. It’s quite cosmopolitan.
“What’s important is that a student from Anglo-American University really has the whole world open to him or her.”
You’re about to have the grand opening of your new campus here. Tell us about the campus – it’s absolutely gorgeous.
“Oh it is, it is fantastic. It’s the Thurn and Taxis Palais and belongs to the city of Prague.
“It is in the custody of Prague 1 and we had quite long and intense negotiations with Prague 1 and we just concluded jointly that it is in the best interest of both entities to have it.
“We are certainly very proud and happy to be in a fantastic place like this.
“There are a lot of beautiful rooms and hallways and of course the most magnificent places on the campus are used for the students.
“And it is also a good deal for Prague 1, very frankly. Because instead of spending money just to upkeep it from deteriorating – they had to spend a lot of money just so it didn’t fall apart.
“But now they have invested money, quite a lot of money, but into their own property, which has certainly appreciated in value. It still belongs to Prague and is used, I would say, in a very dignified way.”
“They were thinking, quite justly so, Let’s use it for education or for culture. But from the economic point of view, if there were a gallery or a museum here then the rent would not cover the cost of reconstruction.
“On the other hand, Anglo-American University, which is paying nine million crowns a year to Prague 1 for rent is going to pay for the cost of the reconstruction during the long-term contract. So at the end of the day I think it’s a win-win situation.”
Also it must be great for you personally, coming to work every day at a palace.
“It is, but I have to say that from my job description maybe 50 percent of my work is done elsewhere, because I need to promote the school, do fundraising, meet important partners and speak to quite a few people.
“But yes, if I am here it is very nice. It is certainly a beautiful place and not only for me but my colleagues, who enjoy this wonderful place. And, again I have to reiterate it, for the students, because they love it.
“It is also a great, I would say, perk for Prague and the Czech Republic, if students, sometimes their families, are attracted to such a great place as this it creates associated business – whether it’s accommodation, food, trips, etc. So it’s also fantastic promotion of this beautiful city of Prague.”
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