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27th Jun 2013

Market snapshot: Poland

The first Polish university dates back to 1364. Today in 2013, Poland has almost 2 million students at over 450 higher education institutions,* and is making moves to boost overall mobility by internationalising its universities and building regional and global links. ICEF Monitor offers a snapshot of Poland's higher education sector, as well as a look at where it is headed in the future.

Poland education sector basics

Looked at broadly, Poland’s tertiary sector has improved remarkably in the last twenty years. University enrolment has quintupled since the 1990s, with private university enrolment now accounting for around 25% of the total. The proportion of Polish citizens aged 25 to 34 with college degrees has increased from 15% to 37.4% since 2001. Poland is a signatory of the Bologna Declaration, adheres to the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS), and has a higher education system divided into three stages corresponding to bachelor, masters, and doctoral. This structure applies to all fields except law, pharmacy, veterinary medicine, medicine, and dentistry, which are based on a two-stage system. The country’s top two universities, Jagiellonian University and the University of Warsaw, both have strong reputations, but neither is ranked within the top 300 globally, according to Times Higher Education. However, Polish universities in general are known for graduating highly trained engineers, and foreign tech firms such as Google and IBM compete to hire Polish graduates. In addition, the country’s medical schools are attracting an increasing number of overseas students. One attractive element of Polish universities is their cost. Tuition fees often range between €2000 to €3000, and daily living expenses are also much lower than in Western or Northern Europe. In addition, students of EU/EEA countries may seek employment without a work permit, although finding a job without Polish language skills could be difficult, and wages are low.

International students in Poland

Right now, just over 24,250 foreign students are enroled in Polish higher education, comprising 1.39% of the total population. This figure represents an increase of nearly 4,000 over the previous academic year. However, it is a lower proportion than neighbouring countries or EU states such as Romania and Bulgaria. In fact, the rate is the lowest percentage of all Euro nations, and 40% of higher education institutions have no international students at all. The most popular Polish universities among international students are:

  • Jagiellonian University with 1197 foreign students;
  • Medical University in Poznan with 1031;
  • University of Warsaw with 944;
  • Medical University in Lublin with 766.

In terms of areas of study, 28% of international students in Poland choose economics and business, 26% medicine, 11% technology, and 8% social sciences. Poland’s higher education sector wants to expand its reach toward English-speaking students. At present, there are over 400 courses offered in English, many of which are at undergraduate level.

Building regional ties

Poland is working toward bolstering foreign student numbers via international linkages. A few of the initiatives that are occurring or which are planned include:

  • EEA and Norway Grants 2009-2014 earmarking €36.8 million for the Polish-Norwegian Research Programme to enhance bilateral research cooperation and strengthen research capacity.
  • Poland University Research Support, which is a project proposed by the European Investment Bank to spend €480 million for public sector research activities in public scientific institutes and public universities, and capital investments in research infrastructure and scientific equipment.
  • 2nd Polish-Israeli Intergovernmental Consultations: Poland and Israel have been discussing science policies, scientific research cooperation, and prospects for further bilateral development.
  • Polish-German Foundation for Science: this was created to deepen cooperation of Polish and German students, academics and researchers. Its main goal is to support innovative projects and new models of cooperation.
  • Poland and Azerbaijan have growing links as well. Universities from both countries recently signed agreements designed to strengthen bilateral ties in the areas of science and education by setting up working groups comprised of representatives of both countries.

A list of other international programmes is available on Poland’s Ministry of Science and Higher Education website. Poland has already had some success attracting more internationals, for instance from Ukraine. There are 6,321 students from that country enroled in Polish institutions of higher education, more than triple the amount of eight years ago. The credit for this goes mainly to the Conference of Rectors of Academic Schools in Poland (KRASP), which prioritised attracting Ukrainian students. Ukraine was a natural fit for such an initiative. Many western Ukrainians speak a dialect close to Polish, allowing them to quickly adapt to Polish academic instruction. Poland even allows graduates from Ukrainian high schools to enrol in regular academic programmes directly, while students from other destinations require preparation programmes. After Ukraine, the largest groups of international students in Polish universities come from Belarus (2921), Norway (1514) and the United States (970). There is also a fast growing influx of students from Spain (1177), and a threefold increase in the past three years of the number of students from Saudi Arabia (387).

Drawing students from Asia

The number of Asian students in Poland is on a downward trajectory. Right now, 565 Chinese students are studying there, along with 533 Taiwanese, 215 Indians, and 187 Vietnamese. But efforts are being made to bolster these figures. In December, marking the first trip to China by a Polish president in fourteen years, Polish president Bronislaw Komorowski took part in an academic forum and urged Chinese students to consider Poland. Bronislaw told his audience, “I would like Polish-Chinese relations to find a new expression in the framework of cooperation between academic centres, higher education and the academic community.” At the end of the forum, Poland's Lodz Polytechnic signed a declaration of cooperation with China's University of Minz. Months later, in April, the Regional Forum Poland-China brought the same two countries together once more, this time in Gdansk, Poland. The forum attracted more than 600 participants and education was one of four subjects on the agenda. The timing is good for such outreach, because according to data from Poland’s Department of Public and Cultural Diplomacy, the study of Poland is popular in Asia: 318 universities in 56 countries offered Polish studies in 2011, and the subject is very strong in Korea, Japan, China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan. But whether this heralds more mobility between Asia and Poland remains to be seen.

Poland education resources

Below is a list of Poland links covering a broad spectrum of educational information of use to agents, recruiters, and prospective students:

  • Ministry of Science and Education: comprehensive information about Polish higher education, including information about recognition of foreign qualifications.
  • Study in Poland: contains university links and details about the more than 400 English language study programmes available.
  • European Education Directory: contains a summary of institutions types, structure of the educational system, and a list of relevant national bodies with contact information.
  • College Scholarships: on this website it’s possible to access information for government and private scholarships for study in Poland.
  • Eduniversal Ranking: a list of universities and businesses ranked according to quality.
  • Study Portals: contains a breakdown of Polish higher education, including structure, cost, and documentation information for prospective students.

*This fact was amended on 27 June 2013. We regret the original error.

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