Head of college aiming for a multinational atmosphere
Rapid growth in student numbers since launch in 2004
Posted: February 13, 2013
A Canadian of Czech descent, Prague College Director Douglas Hajek says he intends his higher-education institute to continue growing organically.
The world of education is becoming even more globalized, with growing numbers of students traveling abroad to study, and institutions themselves putting down roots in multiple nations as they move to capitalize on the opportunities as countries develop.
Prague College certainly reflects this trend toward what is often described as transnational education.
The institution was founded in 2004 by Douglas Hajek, a Canadian of Czech descent. Of the approximately 550 students, the majority are foreign nationals, and in another international twist, the degrees students earn are awarded by the United Kingdom's Teesside University. Bachelor's degrees, master's degrees, HNDs and diplomas are offered.
The college, based in an imaginatively converted former apartment building a short walk from Prague's city center, houses everything from immaculate IT suites to art studios that have an appropriately bohemian feel.
Name: Douglas Hajek
Current position: Director, Prague College
Previous roles: Teaching in Japan; running a corporate training company; magazine and book publishing, including co-founding and publishing Yazzyk Magazine, a literary and art magazine published in Prague. He has lived in Prague since 1990
Education: MBA in higher education management, University of London; B.A. in history and philosophy, McGill University, Montreal
The Prague Post sat down with Hajek to talk about issues surrounding transnational education and to hear about the challenges of managing a fast-expanding institution.
The Prague Post: What is the mix of students at the college like?
DH: Sixty-five percent are foreigners, but many are expatriates. We have Vietnamese students who have grown up in the Czech Republic and speak Czech fluently and Vietnamese who, until they were 19, grew up in Vietnam. The international community here is very diverse: Russian, Vietnamese and Ukrainian. We find [some of them] have been here all their lives. And there is growth [in the number of] of foreigners who recently arrived. Then there are students who chose Prague College as a destination. They have probably never been to the Czech Republic before. That's about 15 percent. It's a really vibrant community. Prague College is in the minority in having a truly cosmopolitan, international reach. There is no quota of people from any particular country. We're careful to make sure there's a significant Czech community - 35 percent to 40 percent is exactly what we want. They want to be studying with international students, and international students want to be studying with Czechs.
TPP: Are most of the students recent graduates?
DH: It's not just 18- to 23-year-olds. The average age from our graphic design [course] is 25. One of our best master's [degree] graduates was 51 upon entry. There's a wide variety of people: all sorts of backgrounds, all sorts of interests. We have students who could be outstanding wherever they go. They have turned down offers from elite Czech universities. We have other students who emerge and develop in this environment in ways they didn't expect they could. There are certain types of students that excel in the environment they found locally.
TPP: In some countries, people have talked of a gold rush in which higher-education providers from overseas are setting up branch campuses because they hope to generate significant revenues. Is this happening in the Czech Republic?
DH: There's no gold in education. An institute that thinks there is, is in the wrong endeavor. In almost any international collaboration, you have to be in it for the long term. If a student wants to look at the viability of what they're getting, they should look at how close the relationship is between the accrediting institution and the local organization. The branch campus is not something you're going to see in Europe very much. It's more [common] in Dubai, where there's a significant amount of money and pent-up demand for higher education and the recognition that a lot of students won't be able to go to the United Kingdom or the United States. Something similar is happening in China, [because] local educational institutions are not equipped for the demands of modern education. So they choose to work with collaborators. Both institutions have to be very clear about their goals. You do find institutions almost brought to their knees by poorly thought-through foreign adventures.
TPP: What should foreign institutions consider before they set up partnerships overseas?
DH: The institution in the United Kingdom has to understand what their mission is. There are institutions in the United Kingdom and the United States that see it as a kind of revenue stream they hope may plug a gap elsewhere, but except for MBAs [Master of Business Administration], there's no significant revenue to be had. Even with MBAs, it's an investment of 10 or 15 years. It's not something that will generate revenue for the home institution quickly.
TPP: Which subjects tend to work best when it comes to transnational education?
DH: Between 60 percent and 70 percent of transnational education is business, economics and management. Those tend to be the subjects that can make a go of it on their own. For branch campuses and institutions like us that want to expand beyond business and economics, it's a long-term investment, not a short-term investment.
TPP: Partly in keeping with the typical focus of transnational education, the college has schools of business, art and design, and IT and computing. Are you looking to broaden the institution's scope?
DH: We have three schools, and in the long term we do think about whether there might be a fourth school. There are some very exciting discussions around that, [but] we feel no pressure, no need to do that. Whatever we introduce, we'll grow organically. If there's a fourth school, we'd want to see how it fits into what we're doing.
TPP: What plans for expansion in terms of student numbers do you have?
DH: We were careful to make sure whatever growth we had was sustainable and organic growth. That meant it was relatively slow, and we've done very well. The college was initially planned to have 375 students, and we realized that wouldn't be enough. Now we're expecting somewhere in the neighborhood of 700 to 750 students.
Daniel Bardsley can be reached at