University of Defence History

The Czech armed forces underwent a thorough transformation in early XXI Century. The changes were related to the institutional finalisation of the process of the Czech nation’s integration into Western structures. The transformation milestones are represented by accession to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation on 12 March 1999 and to the European Union on 1 May 2004. The need of a reform aroused from the changes in society and technology and the fact the Western nations had been, since the Gulf War in 1990’s and since the beginning of the 21st Century in relation to the global war against terrorism, engaged in a number of asymmetric conflicts. Small but mobile and highly qualified forces have become the order of the day. In connection with the Army of the Czech Republic’s professionalization as of 1 January 2005, a decision was made to reform the existing military higher education system. The University of Defence was established 1 September 2004.

The Ministry of Defence had sensed the necessity of a reorganisation of military schools since early 1990’s, but left unused the work outputs of several committees. Such unwillingness explicitly demonstrates the lack of interest paid by the leaders and indeed the society at large to military forces. However, the situation changed in spring 2001 with the defence lead taken by Jaroslav Tvrdík. The committee he had appointed presented the „Military Education System Reorganization“ document with an incorporated draft education reform as early as in July of the same year. The document suggested only one higher education institution be established on the principles of the higher education law (Act 111/1998) with the result that the future school would take the university form which it entitled to have its own and independent, though a bit limited in comparison to public universities, administration.

The brief, mere six-paragraph-long act „on establishing the University of Defence“ instituted the new university on 1 September 2004. It was formed by merging three existing institutions: the Military University of the Ground Forces Vyškov, Military Academy Brno and the Military Medical Academy Hradec Králové. Thus, only one military higher education institution has remained in the Czech Republic while each of the abolished schools was transformed into a Faculty. Consequently, the Command and Staff Faculty of the Brno Military Academy closed. Established to be the former schools‘ successor, the University of Defence took over their students and teachers, including all learning and accreditation requisites unchanged. The university was formed of the following faculties: the Faculty of Economics and Management (FEM) and the Faculty of Military Technology (FMT), both deployed in Brno, and Hradec Králové’s Faculty of Military Health Sciences (FMHS). Each of them was given the coat of arms in a variety based on University’s coat. The two former faculties‘ coats contain a sword placed across an opened book while the health sciences faculty’s coat issues from the ancient Greek symbols replacing the rod of Asclepius with a sword.

University of Defence headquarters are deployed in Brno, precisely in the building in Kounicova Street characterised by its concave shape that had brought its nickname of „Rohlík“ in Czech, which means a typical crescent-shape bread roll. The choice was rather more deliberate than accidental as from the year 1951, the building housed Military Technical Academy, the Military Academy’s predecessor. Today, it is the address of the headquarters of the University of Defence and of two of its faculties.

University of Defence commenced at the inauguration ceremony held on Friday, 8 October 2004, and was attended by the Czech defence and military leading personalities including the Minister of Defence. To lead the university in the position of „rector-commandant“, the minister of defence appointed Colonel František Vojkovský who had commanded Brno Military Academy. His appointed deputy was Colonel Josef Trojan, responsible for the military affairs, while the academic vice-rectors were brigadier general prof. Ing. Rudolf Urban, CSc., colonel doc. Ing. Alexander Sikora, CSc., lieutenant colonel doc. Ing. Luděk Lukáš, CSc., and major doc. MUDr. Jan Österreicher, Ph.D. (replaced soon by prof. Aleš Macela), and colonel Ing. Jiří Durec was appointed the University of Defence bursar. This exceptional period concentrated considerable power in rector’s hands. Because of missing all customary university bodies, the rector was in charge of the academic senate as well as scientific board roles.

The university closed its forming phase by electing the institutional internal control body and by holding university management elections. The elections for the University of Defence Academic Senate took place in February and March 2005. Four electoral districts consisted of the three faculties and of other units aggregated into the fourth district. 27 senators were properly elected, of whom 18 represented academic staff and the remaining 9 the students. The Senate held its founding meeting on 4 April 2005 electing prof. RNDr. Zdeněk Zemánek, CSc., for the chairperson and colonel prof. MUDr. Jiří Kassa, CSc., and lieutenant colonel doc. Ing. Miloš Andrle, CSc., for the deputy chairpersons. Only a few days later, on 29 April 2005, the University received a military unit flag presented in a ceremony conducted by the armed forces supreme commander and the Czech President Mr. Václav Klaus.

The elected Senate then launched the elections of the candidates for rector-commandant. In those elections, the two candidates for rector-commandant position were the acting rector-commandant brigadier general doc. Ing. František Vojkovský, CSc., and brigadier general prof. Ing. Rudolf Urban, CSc. A senate ballot then elected Rudolf Urban by 10:17 votes on Friday on 13 June 2005. A month later he was appointed by the Czech president to assume the office period on 1 August. In his inauguration speech presented in November of the same year he summarised university’s goals: „[…] our graduates work under the conditions often making decisions on the highest values, values as high as human life.“ He also mentioned that such a responsibility and challenging attitudes apply to not only professionally but to life in general. „We want to educate professionals who honour and acknowledge traditional military values, such as honour, pride, courage, justice and loyalty not only in the time they are under contract but also during their personal life. That is what makes educated military professionals special and unique.“

Later, the new vice-rectors were appointed. Colonel prof. Ing. Bohuslav Přikryl, Ph.D., prof. Zdeněk Zemánek, major Dr. Jan Österreicher (in February 2007 replaced by doc. Jan Kohout), and colonel Ing. Miloslav Vácha took the offices. The last remaining university body, the Scientific Board, was appointed on 22 November 2005 manned by forty academic staff members.

The supreme university administration body is the Academic Senate elected for three-year periods in office. It is headed by a five-member presidium, while each of the five members represent an electoral district and the students body. As Professor Zdeněk Zemánek became a vice-rector, the deputy chair colonel Jiří Kassa, for the Hradec Králové district, was elected the new Senate chairperson on 6 October 2005. Professor MUDr. Jiří Kassa, CSc., chairs the Academic Senate also in these days.

In May 2008, BG R. Urban, as the only candidate, defended his position in the rector office, winning 24 of 25 votes. He then appointed Colonel Professor B. Přikryl and prof. Z. Zemánek his vice-rectors joined by colonel doc. Martin Macko and colonel Ing. Jaroslav Průcha. The new higher education law determined the rector office period for four years. At the end of BG Urban’s second period, new elections came in 2012. Two candidates for the position were presented in January and February. Colonel prof. Ing. Zdeněk Vintr, CSc., the FMT Dean, refused his nomination leaving the Academic Senate in the role of the approver or rejecter of the other nominee, colonel prof. Bohuslav Přikryl. The decision was almost unanimous with only one of the 25 present senators voting against. The new rector then proposed appointment of four new vice-rectors. Along with prof. Z. Zemánek and colonel prof. M. Macko it was colonel Ing. Miloslav Bauer, Ph.D., and prof. R. Urban for the new position of the vice-rector for marketing and external relations. 

The present University of Defence top management includes the following positions: rector-commandant brigadier prof. Ing. Bohuslav Přikryl, Ph.D., vice-rector for development and internationalisation colonel Ing. Luděk Jedlička, Ph.D., vice-rector for education and students affairs doc. RNDr. Marek Sedlačík, Ph.D., vice-rector for research and expert activities colonel of general staff prof. Dr. Ing. Alexandr Štefek, vice-rector for quality doc. Ing. Jakub Odehnal, Ph.D., deputy rector – bursar Ing. Milan Lauber and deputy rector colonel of general staff Ing. Milan Marek.

The University of Defence structure in September 2004 contained three institutes: Operational and Tactical Studies Institute, Strategic Studies Institute and the NBC Defence Institute (the last deployed in Vyškov). The former two merged into the Strategic and Defence Studies Institute as of 31 August 2008, to reform into the Lifelong Learning Department under the Faculty of Economics and Management since the beginning of 2010. At the same time, the NBC Defence Institute changed its place in the structure, newly reporting to the vice-rector for research and expert activities. Today, the University’s structure houses three centres working for the entire school. One of them is the Language Training Centre established on 1 September 2006 responsible for English and other three foreign languages teaching plus Czech language courses for international students. Physical Training and Sports Centre is another one, responsible for PT courses and a number of other sport activities, such as survival course and others. Eventually, the Centre for Security and Military Strategic Studies established in 2012 reporting to the vice-rector for education and student affairs is responsible for scientific research in security policy and military strategy analyses.

The University of Defence has primarily been established to educate military professionals and that goal is always kept in mind, even though interest in studying at military university by non-military population has been growing. 

In comparison to civilian schools, the University of Defence differs in that military students are under job contract implying the Act on professional military service (no. 221/1999) applies to them. It brings numerous benefits, such as regular salary, free accommodation and clothing, but also duties. These include fixed working hours and a specific schedule of academic year flow. Once admitted to studies, the freshmen start their experience with eight weeks of basic military training in the summer before the first year opens. The course takes place in Březina training area being arranged and controlled by the Vyškov Military Academy. The purpose is to teach them the crucial skills for surviving and fighting. However, military students should also expect to have the following vacations shorter as their duties include attending annual field training containing, among others, a comprehensive tactic drills. Besides studying, the University of Defence accents military traditions incorporated in the education. After all, the studies are to form officers-to-be in both the technical way and in the respect to common values. Therefore, the University rallies at the start of a new academic year and then on the occasions of independent state establishment or Czech Armed Forces Day.

The importance of physical fitness projects in the physical test held as a part of the admission procedure. During the academic year, the students improve their fitness at the physical training classes and by attending the Special Physical Training Course. In addition, they participate in a number of exercises, many times going beyond the national border. The purpose is to improve the professional part of their training, too. The regularly attended events include the international exercise of Air Shield or students training activity Fourlog. Probably the most famous one is the Winter Survival endurance competition held by the University of Defence and the Czech General Staff together. It is a four-day competition taking place in the Hruby Jesenik Mountains annually since 1994. Three-member teams compete in activities that simulate military patrol operation in the mountains in winter season.

The number of University of Defence students has developed over the years of history. At the time of its establishment, the University of Defence had 1974 students, out of which 933 studied FMT, 843 FEM and 198 FMHS. In these days, the annual number of students attending the degree programmes varies around 1800.

A mission of University of Defence is also arranging courses intended for defence personnel, along with University’s own personnel the trainees come from the Vyškov Military Academy, Military Police, Ministry of Defence and, most of all, the Army of the Czech Republic units. The number of the course trainees shows how intense the effort is. Generally, their annual number exceeds the number of degree programme students. The lifelong learning programme was attended by 2162 people in 2005, while in 2012 the total number fell only negligibly to 1939 people. The top representatives of the programme are primarily the General Staff Course and Senior Officer Course teaching security policy, military strategy, art of war and tactics, etc.

The University aspires to the level of pre-eminent scientific research institutions as well. Each of the Faculties and Centres specialises in its own topics. The most apparent evidence of research effort outputs are the five technical journals published either by the University of Defence or its units. The journal with the longest history is Military Medical Science Letters with the first issue dated as early as in 1925, published now in the English language. Since 2001, Defence and Strategy Journal has been issued twice a year whose focus of interest, as the name indicates, is security and strategy and international relations. With the same periodicity, the Advances in Military Technology journal aimed at theoretical considerations and practical innovations in the field of defence and security technology has been issued since 2006. The youngest one is the Economics and Management journal published since 2007, which focuses on national defence economics and military management. In the mid 2013, the University of Defence resumed issuing the Military Views quarterly of more than fifty-year tradition.

The activities of the University of Defence personnel are rather vast and are not limited to teaching, research and development. Job duties have often led staff members abroad to various institutions, for example the European Union Military Staff in Brussels, or to multinational missions, such as the deployment of the field hospital in Afghanistan or EUFOR forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The University cooperates with NATO in the support of military education development in several countries, such as Serbia and the former Soviet states of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Moldova. In addition, University personnel have several times contributed to flood relief operations in the Czech Republic.

Since 2007, as an Erasmus University Charter holder, the University of Defence has been involved in the international programme of student/academic staff exchange. The closest cooperation is practiced with the Central European area countries. The options for exchange programmes enhanced with the international placement in 2013 through achieving the Extended Erasmus University Charter. Awarding the Diploma Supplement Label Certificate to the University of Defence in 2013 proved the quality of the activities. Besides, bilateral agreements form the basis for its cooperation with a number of military universities, primarily the Schools of Saint-Cyr, France, University of Defence in Belgrade, Serbia, or Bundeswehr Medical Academy, Germany. There has been quite close, though one-sided, cooperation with the Military Technical Academy of Vietnam, which since 2008 has regularly sent several students to Brno.

The University of Defence regularly participates in a number of events presenting its research plans, projects and outputs. The most significant events worth mentioning here include first of all IDET – the International Defence Technology Exhibition held biannually at Brno Exhibition Centre. Every year the University participates in the NATO Days at Ostrava airport, Land Forces Day „Bahna“, Support Forces Day „Cihelna“ or the Tank Day. The University of Defence sees the key marketing opportunity in its participation in Gaudeamus education fairs in Brno and Prague.

The University informs of the most relevant events and this results in the University of Defence News, which is printed and issued quarterly.

Similar to other state institutions, there is a trade union organisation working at the University of Defence. The newly reorganised „Czech and Moravian Civilian Employees in Military Forces Union“ came to existence at the moment of University of Defence establishment i.e. on 1 September 2004. Its Vyškov cell closed and the newly established cell of the union working at the University of Defence subdivided into two units operating in Hradec Králové and Brno, respectively. The Brno cell was established as the largest trade union cell within the Ministry of Defence. The university unit was first headed by doc. Jiří Hanák, succeeded then by Dr. Šárka Sobotková and now by Mgr. Iva Taušová.

The University of Defence is concurrently the guarantor and protector of national military traditions. In those terms, the University plays the role by organising regular commemorative meetings and events as well as by spreading history awareness and learning new knowledge. To aid military traditions, the university cooperates with many civic organisations and associations or their local branches, such as: Czechoslovak Legionnaires Community, Czech Freedom Fighters Union, Czech War Veterans Association, Ludvik Svoboda Community, Czech Air Force Association, Czech Union of Support Technical Battalions – Military Forced Labour Camps, Czech Political Prisoners Confederation military section and Czech Military Rehabilitated Persons Association, and also the Military Retired Persons Club at the University of Defence and Jan Kubiš Airborne Veterans Club Brno.

The University of Defence offers support to several cultural clubs including dancing, folk or musical activities. However, attention is paid to spiritual care,