So, I’m back from my week in Poland on the AUA study tour. Apart from finding myself with a strange craving for high carbohydrate food, what have I gained from this experience? I have pages of notes from our meetings with a wide range of people working in higher education and I’m still in the process of making sense of them all. At this stage all I can give are my initial impressions.
Firstly, there is no doubt that the Polish university sector is very different from the UK’s. With most students paying nothing, and the rest paying very little, it’s a different atmosphere in the public sector – hugely competitive, yes, but not as commercial. Non-Polish students form only a tiny proportion of those in the public sector and few public universities have any plans to make much change to those figures, despite offering a growing number of degrees in English. The large private sector is much more business-like and, at the top end of the scale, more slick.
Secondly, it was an eye-opener for me how much direct interference there is from the state in how universities are run. In the UK, the QAA might set up a working group and then hold a consultation and then run a few sector discussion events, before issuing some delicately worded guidance about how programmes probably ought to be organised if the universities didn’t mind. In Poland, the Minister for Higher Education can simply enact a law. I’m also still boggling at the news that plagiarism is a criminal offence.
Mainly, I would like to say how grateful I am that so many people gave up their time to talk to us. They were all very informative and open and answered our naive questions with great good humour. It was clear that people are hugely passionate about education and rightly proud of what they have achieved in the last twenty-five years. I came back wanting to tell all our students to consider going on exchange to Poland – I’m confident they would have a great time.