Sunday, 14 June 2015

Reflections: Angela Pater

The third of the series of reflections on the study tour is by Angela Pater, so over to you...

The Study Tour was a fantastic opportunity to meet a wide range of people in Higher Education in Poland. I was touched by their kindness and willingness to give substantial amounts of their time to us to explain their systems, especially as many of them were senior staff and exceptionally busy. I was surprised to note that many staff held more than one role, often at more than one institution; this was perhaps because of the PKA rules about minimum numbers of academic staff required to run a programme, but perhaps also because of that famous ‘Polish work ethic’ well known in the UK?  Students too, often seem to work full-time during the week and then study at weekends for an undergraduate degree which they would complete within three years. The private universities we visited (perhaps because they were the more successful ones) were very professional and strategic in their approach, being aware of the ‘demographic cliff’ which means the number of young Poles entering the higher education market has dropped dramatically since 2006. The key role of the ‘Founder’ in private universities was also unexpected; the provider of the funding has substantial executive powers in appointing staff and running the institution. State regulation of HE seems high, with a constitutional right to free higher education, and legislation setting the percentage of student representatives which must be included on decision-making bodies in universities.

Everyone we met upheld the magnificent Polish tradition of hospitality, with excellent provision of food and drink at every opportunity; I particularly liked the Polish ‘cheesecake’ sernik, of which I think I ate my own bodyweight over the week. We were welcomed at the main door of many university buildings, without even having to step inside to ask for our contact, and were escorted courteously onto our next destination, which even included walking us to our hotel in Poznan at 11pm (rather out of the town centre) after a starlit tour of the city’s beautiful main square and castle. Even strangers in the street were helpful in giving us directions, despite my appalling Polish.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Reflections: Marie Holmes

The second of the series of reflections is from Marie Holmes, so over to you...

Being a participant in the recent AUA study tour to Poland has proved to be a very beneficial and interesting experience for me.  Having the opportunity to meet with a broad range of people from both private and public universities has given me an understanding of Polish HE. 

I anticipated that there would be some similarities and expected there to be differences in structure and quality assurance processes and this proved to be the case.  I have also learnt from discussions with fellow tour participants about operations within UK institutions.

The welcome from individuals from all the institutions visited in Poland was brilliant; all were very generous with their time and hospitality. Some points which left an impression; both private and public university representatives talked of the challenges that lay ahead particularly of demographics/declining student numbers and the strategies to combat this situation. 

External evaluation is undertaken at either programme or institutional level by the PKA (Polish Accreditation Committee equivalent of the QAA) who carry out approximately 1000 reviews per year. Polish Universities don’t operate a system of external examiners as in the UK. Some institutions reported that student engagement and participation on university’s committees was very high others that it can be sometimes difficult to encourage students to participate (sound familiar?) even though students in Poland are required by law to be represented on committees and can have significant influence on policy and decision making including financial decisions. And the fact that plagiarism is seen as a criminal offence was a very interesting point of view.