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.