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The year in review: 2020 at MU

COVID-19 was not the only major news story at the university last year. Despite the pandemic, MU continued to engage in research activities and grow.

Nonetheless, COVID-19 had a significant impact on Masaryk University, as most classes in both the spring and autumn semester went online. Here you will find a recap of all the most important things that happened at the university in 2020.

MU grows, adding tenth faculty

Since 1 July, Masaryk University has had ten faculties. After 60 years the Faculty of Pharmacy returned to MU. The new Faculty of Pharmacy was transferred from the University of Veterinary and Pharmaceutical Sciences Brno (VFU) along with most of its employees and 800 students. For the time being, classes continue to be held at the VFU campus on Palackého třida, where MU has a five-year lease on buildings. There are plans for the faculty to become part of the University Campus in Bohunice. The rectors of both universities began negotiating the terms of the faculty’s transfer in the autumn of 2019. In mid-June, the National Accreditation Bureau approved MU’s application for accreditation of two master’s and eight doctoral study programmes in the pharmaceutical sciences. VFU relinquished its accreditation. The faculty’s transfer was a unique event in the history of Czech education.

Simulation Centre erected at University Campus

At the beginning of the 2020/2021 academic year the Simulation Centre (SIMU) opened at the Faculty of Medicine. This centre, a one-of-a-kind project in Europe, is housed in a new five-story building that includes a full simulation hospital. This nearly 1 billion CZK project represents a fundamental investment in using simulation methods to prepare future doctors, dentists, and other healthcare professionals for their careers. At the Simulation Centre students in all medical programmes will learn how to better work with patients before they set foot in real hospitals.

Cooperation on CEITEC continues

Masaryk University, the Brno University of Technology, the University of Veterinary and Pharmaceutical Sciences Brno, Mendel University in Brno, the Institute of Physics of Materials of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, and the Veterinary Research University agreed to continue their cooperation at the CEITEC research centre. In its ten years of existence, CEITEC has gained the recognition of the international scientific community and attracted to Brno many foreign researchers who have contributed to the centre’s research output and the internationalization of the institutes involved and Czech science as a whole.

Archaeology gains modern facilities

The Department of Archaeology and Museology of the MU Faculty of Arts, a world leader in the field, moved into a renovated building. The department’s new offices and modern laboratories are housed in what was once the chemistry pavilion. The move to the new address at Joštova 13 enabled researchers and students to take full advantage of modern research methods and facilities. Thus, they can better analyse archaeological findings made in Czechia and elsewhere in Europe. They also plan on organizing events and exhibitions in the new building.

New CyberSecurity Hub established

Masaryk University, the Czech University of Technology, and the Brno University of Technology have intensified cooperation in the field of cybersecurity and established the CyberSecurity Hub. Besides strengthening the participating universities’ research activities, the hub also provides support to industry and Czech cybersecurity firms. Close cooperation will help improve the useful features of products and services and thus boost the competitiveness of Czech industry on the international market. The new institute also seeks to assess whether new cutting-edge technologies comply with security regulations and to certify them. As a certification authority, the hub will act in keeping with current European legislation. The certificates it issues will therefore be valid throughout the European Economic Area.

Fruitful cooperation with industry

Researchers from CEITEC, working in cooperation with the Masaryk Memorial Cancer Institute, have created a new diagnostic method for detecting and monitoring colorectal carcinoma, that is, cancers of the large intestine and the rectum. BioVendor, a Czech biotech company, plans to use this patented method for producing diagnostic kits.

Enantis, an MU spin-off company, signed a licensing agreement with a leading global distributor of research products. The company was also granted a license to produce and distribute stabilized fibroblast growth factor, which was developed and patented by MU scientists.

MU also founded a new spin-off company named CasInvent Pharma in cooperation with investment partner i&i Pl Prague, s.r.o., with the goal of promoting the further development of new compounds that could be used to treat some types of leukemia, lymphomas, and solid tumours.

Ground-breaking research on plant reproduction

In 2020, researchers from Karel Říha’s group at CEITEC made a discovery of international significance. They developed a ground-breaking method that enables researchers to observe plant reproduction at the cellular and molecular level in real time. Developing new procedures and know-how that rely on existing technologies enables researchers to understand the processes that take place during plant cell division and the order in which they occur. They can also test how different variables affect plant reproduction, such as increased temperature.

MU researchers win major grants

In early December the European Research Council shared good news with MU. Three researchers were awarded a prestigious ERC Consolidator grant: legal scholar David Kosař, biophysicist Robert Vácha, and religious scholar David Zbíral. They will work on how informal relationships within the judiciary contribute to the decay or boosting of democracy, develop new peptides for combatting antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and study unorthodox religious movements and the inquisition in the Middle Ages, respectively.

In January, the RECETOX centre launched a living lab project focused on studying factors affecting human health. The centre received a grant worth nearly 1 billion CZK from the European Horizon 2020 programme. RECETOX also finished building a new biobank at the University Campus for storing environmental and human samples thanks to a grant valued at nearly 250 million CZK from the Development, Research, and Education Operation Programme.

University awards another large grant to leading researcher

The university made a third call for applications for the MUNI Award in Science and Humanities, an internal grant meant to attract prominent researchers. In 2020 the award was given to Slovak astrophysicist Norbert Werner, whose research examines why there aren’t more stars in the universe or how black holes affect the area around them. In 2020 the MU Grant Agency expanded this grant programme, which provides 5 million CZK in funding annually for a period of up to five years, introducing a junior researcher category. Researchers up to 40 years old can gain up to 2 million CZK annually for up to five years. Researchers can apply until the end of 2021 for grants to support projects that will begin in 2022.

Major changes in university and faculty leadership

Since early October, two new vice-rectors have been involved in leading Masaryk University. Simona Koryčánková from the Faculty of Education became the vice-rector for student and alumni affairs, and Martin Kvizda from the Faculty of Economics and Administration, the vice-rector for external relations and lifelong learning. The rector made changes in his team of vice-rectors after Vladimír Žítek and Hana Svatoňová resigned from their positions effective 30 September. The Faculty of Sports Studies has had new leadership, headed by Dean Jan Cacek, since 1 May. Since 1 November, Jiří Špalek has been the dean of the Faculty of Economics and Administration.

Scholarship programme for students and researchers from Belarus established

Masaryk University offered scholarships to 20 students from Belarus in amounts ranging from 10,000 to 12,000 CZK per month and research grants in amounts up to 1 million CZK per year to persecuted Belarussian academics. This programme was introduced in response to the events that unfolded in the country after the elections. At the end of 2020 eight Belarussian students received scholarships to study at the Faculty of Sciences, the Faculty of Medicine, the Faculty of Economics and Administration, and the Faculty of Social Studies.

MUNI Helps

In the spring Masaryk University embraced its role as a socially responsible institution and took immediate action to help the broader community affected by the pandemic. Volunteers active on all fronts carried out fantastic work. Based on spontaneous efforts to help out, MUNI Helps was launched to organize volunteer activities at the university. Since 13 March, five coordination teams have been created, first at the Emergency Operation Centre and then at the MUNI Helps volunteer centre. During the first wave of the epidemic in the spring, more than 3,240 students and university employees and 1,392 volunteers from the public registered in the centre’s database. The centre handled 2,500 requests for help from both individuals and institutions, and more than 2,000 people carried out volunteer work. The centre continues to provide help. Volunteers have helped, and continue to help, at medical facilities, public health offices, and legal advice centres. They also assist with babysitting, tutoring, and shopping for senior citizens, among other things. Before the start of the second wave of the pandemic, the MUNI Helps app was launched to manage communication with volunteers, and a collection raised almost 2.5 million CZK to help those in need.