Market intelligence for international student recruitment from ICEF
30th Oct 2015

Poland launches internationalisation strategy

Although Poland’s international student population has increased markedly in the last few years, the Polish higher education sector remains among the least internationalised of European Union - and OECD - countries, with international students making up just 2.3% of the total student population. However, a new government strategy and financial commitment to international education is a signal that this may be about to change. This past June, the Polish Ministry of Science signed the Higher Education Internationalisation Programme, a strategy that aligns with a new goal announced at the beginning of the year: Poland wants to host 100,000 foreign students by 2020 - more than twice the number currently studying in the country. The new target was set in January 2015 at an annual international education conference that brought together 240 rectors, vice rectors, and international officers representing 80 Polish universities. According to the strategy, the Ministry of Science will allocate EUR57.5 million to funding international education programmes, international summer schools, and language training, and will encourage universities to:

  • Offer more degree programmes in foreign languages;
  • Create more joint educational projects.

The strategy also encourages institutions to seek international accreditations and has earmarked EUR112 million to attracting foreign researchers to Poland through the creation of both international doctoral programmes and post-doctoral fellowships. An additional area of focus is the development of e-learning opportunities, such as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

Internationalisation of staff

Staff training and professional development will be cornerstones for Poland’s higher education internationalisation. The strategy includes provisions for both language training and training in best international practices for university staff. In 2012/13, Poland sent 7,000 university staff and faculty abroad through the Erasmus+ programme, more than any other EU country. Another example is the Top 500 Innovators programme, designed to boost Poland’s ranking in European innovation indices. Top 500 allows Poland’s leading academics to learn about technology transfer and entrepreneurship from US universities in Silicon Valley. Since late 2011, the initiative has sent 320 Polish academics to California.

Two decades of reform

The new strategy follows an extended period of educational reforms in Poland stretching back over the last 25 years. After declaring independence from the Soviet Union in 1989, the country underwent a series of political, economic, social, and educational reforms to prepare for EU accession in 2004.

In the early 2000s, Polish higher education institutions faced a growing exodus of Polish students to the EU and increased competition with foreign universities, but this trend now appears to be reversing.

Since it signed the Bologna Declaration in 1999, Polish higher education has undergone a series of further reforms, including a clear separation between bachelor’s and master’s degree programmes. It has also joined the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) and become both a major sending and host country within Erasmus.

Who is studying in Poland?

According to a recent analysis by Warsaw-based Perspektywy Education Foundation, there are over 46,000 foreign students in Poland, an increase of more than 10,000 from the previous year. The jump is largely attributed to the growth in the number of Ukrainian students, around 23,000 in total in 2014/15, and an increase of 8,200 from the previous academic year. With that significant year-over-year change, Ukrainian students now currently make up more than half of the total international student population in the country. Observers attribute the change to a ten-year marketing campaign promoting Polish universities in the Ukrainian market, and, more recently, to Ukraine’s military conflict with Russia in the eastern part of the country. The Polish government provides financial support for some international students. In 2014, for example, the government announced an Erasmus programme specifically for Ukraine, offering scholarships for 400 undergraduates and 50 postgraduates at Polish institutions, and with priority from students from war-torn areas of Eastern Ukraine. After Ukraine, Belarus is the second-largest sending country, followed by Norway, Spain, and Sweden. In the 2014/15 academic year, over 83% of international students studying in Poland came from other European countries. Erasmus is the most comprehensive mobility scheme that Poland participates in. As the sixth-most populous country in the European Union, Poland was the seventh-most popular destination country in 2012/13 with 11,000 incoming students, with Spain, Germany, Portugal, France and Turkey as the major sending countries within the Erasmus programme. We noted in 2013 that the number of Asian students in Poland was on a downward trend. However, Perspektywy Education Foundation reported growth in the number of students from Asia for the first time in five years in 2014/15. Polish universities currently host 785 students from China (an increase of more than 100% compared to 2013/14), 410 from Taiwan, and 545 from India (a 227% increase). At the same time, the number of Vietnamese (205) and Malaysian (211) students have decreased slightly. While only 2% of international students in Poland are currently from China - a relatively low number compared to its neighbours in Western Europe - Poland has also recently focused on increasing its collaboration with the world’s largest sending market. In September 2015, Warsaw hosted the China-Central and Eastern European (CEE) Countries Education Policy Dialogue, attended by the ministers of higher education from 17 countries and rectors of Polish and Chinese universities. Poland has also recently launched a Chinese-language version of it’s Go Poland! website.

Outbound mobility from Poland

According to UNESCO, Poland sends approximately 23,000 tertiary-level students abroad each year. The most-popular destinations for Polish students are Germany, the UK, France, the US, and Italy. In 2012/13, Poland was also in the top five sending countries for Erasmus with 16,221 outgoing students, with most choosing to study in Spain, Germany, Portugal, France, and Italy. According to the UK-based Higher Education Statistics Authority (HESA), enrolment of Polish students at higher education institutions in the UK decreased from around 8,500 in 2009/10 to about 5,200 in 2013/14. The decline coincides with the 2012 tuition hikes at UK institutions for both domestic and EU students, and effectively ended a period of rapid growth in the number of Polish students in the UK after Polish accession to the EU in 2004. The number of Polish students studying in the US has also declined slightly, from 1,581 in 2012/13 to 1,520 in 2013/14, according to Institute for International Education’s Open Doors data.

Demographic challenges

Demographics are also playing a part here as the Polish population is ageing, and this has led in turn to a decline in the country’s post-secondary enrolment. In the 2014/15 academic year, 1,469,386 students were enrolled at Polish universities; 80,491 students fewer than the previous year. Going forward, the British Council estimates that the population aged 18-22 will decrease by an average of 2.7% every year between 2013 and 2024. Opportunities for recruitment continue to exist in Poland, but joint research collaboration, staff and faculty exchange, and international and joint graduate programmes appear to be the most promising given the recent priorities of the Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education.

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