For the second year in a row, the Economics & Business department jetted off to the capital of the Czech Republic to learn about how the economy has changed since the fall of Communism and to visit some local businesses and consider their marketing and production processes.
The very first activity was a lecture at CERGE-EI, a specialist Centre for Economic Research with links to both Czech and American universities. Here the students were treated to a fascinating and informative talk by the Director of the MA Programme, titled ‘Czech Republic: Transition and Beyond’. This provided the students with both a better understanding of where the Czech Republic had come from, in terms of it’s Communist past under Soviet rule, but also how the economy had undergone an incredibly rapid transition from a purely command economy to a liberal, free market economy in a very short period of time. This was further enhanced by a visit on the last day of the trip to the Museum of Communism, where the students learnt about what life was really like living under Soviet rule- for example, the schools would all close in the summer so the students could be sent to the fields to harvest potatoes.
On the business front, we visited two very contrasting firms. Ruckl is a high-end crystal glass manufacturer that has been around since 1845, with the current factory operating since 1903. We saw the glass blowers in action, melting and blowing glass in the furnace which reaches temperatures of up to 1450 degrees celcius. This furnace has to be kept going 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year- so even on Christmas Day they will be working. One of the students was even given the opportunity to etch a star shape onto a crystal glass vase- and the results looked pretty impressive! The other main business visited as part of the trip was Pilsner Urquell brewery, another very historic Czech business- although now owned by giant Japanese brewer Asahi. This visit afforded students the chance to see mass production in action, particularly in the firm’s highly automated and efficient bottling facility where glass bottles and cans were whizzing along production lines so fast it was almost a blur. This contrasted with a visit underground to the brewery’s cellars to see how things were done prior to the huge investment that has gone into modernising the plant. the cellars used to be essential to keep the beer at a cool enough temperature, now of course they can make use of electricity to solve this problem.
The students also had a behind-the-scenes tour of Prague Airport, where we had the unique opportunity to be on a bus parked by the runway as the Airbus A380 from Dubai came hurtling in to land- it’s certainly a massive plane when you see it that close! On the cultural side we also had a guided tour of Prague’s old town, a visit to the original historic centre of Prague at Vysehrad, a cruise along the Vltava river, and a trip to a farmers market.
In just three days the students managed to see so many things and learnt a lot about the Czech economy and businesses which will be invaluable to them in their studies as they move into year 13.