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More frequent sabbaticals to help internationalize the university

Academics can use the opportunity to make new contacts and also invite their colleagues from abroad to Masaryk University.

Academics can take a paid six-month sabbatical every seven years. Irena Kašparová, a social anthropologist, has used it for gaining a number of international contacts.

When it comes to the number of foreign student exchanges, Masaryk University is at the top. Over the last decade, the number of international employees among the university’s researchers and faculty has also increased. At the end of last September, the total was around 500 – three times more than in 2007. However, the number of international employees has been stagnating in recent years and the university management is looking for new ways to attract them.

Ivan Malý, vice-rector for internationalization, gives the reasons why the university needs to be more open to international employees, “There can be no doubt that there is no excellence without internationalization in academia – whether in teaching or in research. An open HR policy helps attract first-class people from abroad, bringing fresh air into the university and promoting motivation. Most importantly, though, it supports innovation and prevents stagnation.”

According to Martin Bareš, vice-rector for academic affairs, the European Structural Funds were instrumental in bringing in international experts several years ago. Masaryk University now needs to look for new ways to attract foreigners.

In his opinion, one of the options is to take more advantage of sabbaticals and take the opportunity to travel abroad. At MU, though, this has been rather sporadic. According to the information available, only 18 out of the 68 employees who took a sabbatical between 2010 and 2015 actually travelled abroad. On the other hand, 12 scholars from abroad spent their sabbatical in Brno.

The institution is governed by the Higher Education Act: academics can take a paid six-month sabbatical every seven years. “It not only beneficial for those going abroad but it also helps increase the prestige of Masaryk University. Our employees can use the opportunity to make new contacts and maybe also invite their colleagues from abroad to Brno,” suggests Bareš.

Irena Kašparová, a social anthropologist who has already taken one sabbatical, agrees with him. “My six-month stay in Sri Lanka gave me valuable experience as well as a number of contacts that I have been using in my academic work. I also had the opportunity to teach there and see what it’s like to work in a very different environment,” she says.

In Bareš’s view, there are two main obstacles to people actually taking the sabbaticals they are entitled to. The first is job duties, especially teaching. This is why a number of universities in the Czech Republic and elsewhere promote sabbaticals by providing financial support to cover the employee’s absence. The second obstacle is a likely drop in pay, as there is no stipulation as to how much you have to be paid during your sabbatical, which means that you might only be paid your base tariff salary.

Nevertheless, there are ways to deal with both situations. Kašparová, who is the head of Social Anthropology, supports her colleagues in taking their sabbaticals. “We try to help each other out by standing in for each other during the given semester. As regards salary, you have to be prepared for it and find another source of income, such as a grant,” says Kašparová. She herself took her sabbatical when she left for a research project funded by Erasmus Mundus.

To help support sabbaticals, the university management and the deans have been discussing the option of developing basic rules in order to establish guidelines for approving and funding sabbaticals.

They are also looking at ways to help attract international scholars to MU. According to Bareš, the language barrier and the low ratio of study programmes in English are still a problem. This is why the university’s strategic plan addresses these two areas and proposes to include international experts in PhD committees as well as changes in HR policy, such as offering employment to family members and partners of visiting scholars.