Stay in the loop! Subscribe to our mailing list

Poland: Legislation nudges higher education reform along, but critics see gaps

On 18 March 2011, the Polish parliament adopted an amendment that expands on the higher education reform legislation passed just last year. The amendment focuses on six key elements:

  • strengthening curricular autonomy for universities;
  • developing Leading National Research Centres (to be known in Polish by the acronym KNOWs);
  • simplifying and enhancing career paths for young researchers, as well as introducing greater competition and transparency in the employment and promotion of researchers and other academics;
  • increasing linkages between universities and the economy;
  • protecting students’ rights, particularly in terms of access (broadly speaking) and financial benefits; and
  • decentralising and deregulating higher education.

Hailed by the Minister of Science and Higher Education, Barbara Kudrycka, as a “quantum leap toward modern Polish universities,” the new legislation is consistent with ongoing efforts in Poland to align the country to broader European objectives for university modernisation. Particularly notable is the power now given to universities to create original programmes and courses of study. Also of note, individual institutions will no longer need ministry oversight for the approval of their regulations and statutes, and rectors themselves will be given greater power over the fate of institutional units within their institutions. The amendment additionally introduces competition procedures for all positions at universities, as well as mandatory periodic assessment of academic staff.

This latest legislative development is not immune to criticism, however. Topping the list of concerns, particularly in rectors’ circles, is the perception of the lack of sufficient funding in support of these modernisation efforts. The sense of underfunding is particularly acute when it comes to the promised “additional measures” for the newly named Leading National Research Centres. Meanwhile, the sizable private higher education sector in Poland, which enrols some one-third of students in the country, is frustrated with the way that the legislation does nothing to support their agenda; indeed, they feel it perpetuates the privileged status of public higher education in Poland. Finally, university instructors are unhappy about the amendment’s stipulation that they may be employed in more than one institution only after receiving permission from their rector. Despite these concerns, the Polish president is expected to sign the amendment into law any day now.

Ministry of Science and Higher Education (in Polish)