Ombudspersons from universities from not just Europe but around the world are currently meeting in Prague at the 18th International ENOHE Conference (14-16 June).
To share their experiences and jointly seek effective ways to improve safety in the academic environment.
While Charles University got its first ombudsperson just this year on 1 January 2023 (Kateřina Šámalová), the European network of ombudswomen and ombudsmen in higher education have been active within ENOHE since 2003.And since it was 20 years ago that ENOHE was founded in the capital of the Netherlands, the Prague annual conference is titled: From Amsterdam 2003 to Prague 2023.
At theopening, before the participants divided into working groups and dived into practical workshops, Milena Králíčková, the rector of Charles University welcomed attendees to the historic Carolinum building.In her speech, she outlined significant milestones in the history of Charles University and Czechoslovak, or Czech society. She spoke of the past and present but also the future: for example, how the university has progressed not only in the area of ombudship but many other area besides, wihin the framework of the 4EU+ alliance, where CU is a full-fledged member of a group of seven prestigious European universities.
Rector Králíčková also expressed her personal satisfaction that Charles University is hosting the prestigious ENOHE conference. “Our university is ready and looking forward to working with you, the ombuds of European universities and universities across four continents,” Milena Králíčková stressed. She made clear that ombudship is only at the beginning in the Czech Republic. Nevertheless, but that she was certain that Czech universities are determined and ready to cooperate with their more experienced foreign colleagues and share the knowledge they have gained, in the framework of intensive cooperation in the field of protection of the rights of students, academic and other university staff.
Radka Wildová, Deputy Minister of Education, Youth and Sports of the Czech Republic, also spoke at length about the need to protect rights at universities. Professor Wildová, who has long worked at CU, was brought ‘home’ by the ENOHE conference (she was the Vice-Rector for Conception and Quality of Educational Activities at Charles University from 2017 to 2022). She said in her speech that university ombudship “has strong support at the ministry. And the conference contributes to our efforts to have ombudspersons in Czech universities."
Why should universities have ombuds?
Josef Leidenfrost, president of ENOHE, spoke to Forum magazine's Marcela Uhlíková. “The bigger the institution, the more difficult it is for students to navigate, understand the structures and know about all their rights (and obligations). Therefore, it is useful to have a neutral place where they can go for either help or advice.” He said the ombuds should be as visible as possible on campus and understandably accessible to everyone.
“Universities are special places. I think quite different from other environments. Students are in a sense 'consumers' and the relationship between student and university is very different from the normal 'customer/business' relationship. Higher education needs ombudsmen and ombudswomen who understand the unique environment in which students find themselves at university,” added Jean Grier, vice president of ENOHE.
She herself is said to be an advocate for an “early resolution" of issues”. “I spend a lot of time encouraging staff to look at ways in which issues can be addressed in a timely manner. During the conference, I will hold a workshop specifically on this topic,” she revealed.
The three-day conference session was preceded by a two-day training session in ombuds skills and knowledge. The conference itself then offered 40 debates, exercises and workshops focused on current issues in higher education.
Text: Marcela Uhlíková
Photos: Hynek Glos
Date: 14. 6. 2023