Friday, 29 May 2015

Reflections: Sheila Adamson

Now that the study tour is over, here is a series of reflections from members of the Study Tour team. The first is by Sheila Adamson. So you to you Sheila...

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.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Saturday 16th May: Sightseeing in Krakow...

Saturday was the sightseeing day. The team discussed what they wanted to see, but with so much choice we cloould not agree on one thing.

So, dear reader, here is a taste of the interesting suightseeing you can do in and around Krakow.

Angela, as the AUA's #1 Poland fan, already knew Krakow well, so spent her free day on Saturday on a pleasant walk in the warm sun west of Krakow to Kosciusko Mound, a man made hill inside an army fortress with amazing views of the city and some fascinating exhibitions of Polish defence works as well as waxworks of famous Poles.

Sheila and Marie took a tour to the infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.

Myself, I have seen concentrarion camps before, so Mala and I headed to the Wieliczka Salt Mine outside Krakow, that contained a church carved out of the salt (you can have weddings there apparently).

In the evening Angela found an excellent traditional Polish resturant. The large piece of meat I enjoyed was devine! Pierogi were enjoyed by my fellow diners.

All in all, an excellent end to an excellent Study Tour.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Friday 15th May: Krakow, Jageillonian University and Night of the Museums

We arrived in historic and beautiful Krakow.

The last meeting we had was to the Jageillonian University. It is the oldest university in Poland, the second oldest university in Central Europe and one of the oldest universities in the world. The QS World University Rankings rate it as the best Polish university among the world's top 500.

We had a most interesting meetiing with their intenational relations office discussing their a. We also had an in-depth briefing on their use of student surveys and were provided with an excellent overview document of the legal aspects of QA in Poland.

At this point we were exhausted. It has been work, work, work.  Dashing between HEIs and ministries. Making notes. Trying to ask intelligent questions and absorb the torrents of information received. A post-visit coffee, cake (in my case a beer) and a discussion lead us to the conclusion that we need a rest and a think before planning the report, lest our brains start to dissolve out of our ears...

As far the Study Tour is concerned we switched to sightseeing mode in a city were you could sightsee for a week and still have stuff to do. (Because we are worth it...).

Anyway, due to our fortutitous and insighful planning (ha!), we are in Krakow's 'Night of Museums', where most of all the museums are open for free. The Old Town had a buzz...

We noted the following points as being of particular interest.
  • We were impressed with the very high response rates of student surveys.
  • There are a lot of students from the Former Soviet Union in Polish universities (Ukraine and Belarus account for half of their non-Polish students).
  • Polish universities are heavily engaged in mobility programmes such as Erasmus Plus.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Thursday 14th May: Poznan Day 2

As always, links and pics to follow...

Another 9am start. Team arrives with luggage to the public Adam Mickelwicz University (after the famous Polish poet of the same name), the largest university in Poznan. 

Poznan is a student city, with c.a. 150, 000 students with a population of c.a. 600,000. The city had a different feel both in terms of aesthetic and vibe, in both respects it resembles a Polish version of a UK university town.

First a meeting with a HE researcher at AMU, providing us with a great insight into research and research policy in Poland. Though not one of the three main themes we may mention something in the report, if we can find space.

This was then followed by a meeting with AMU’s financial director who gave us an account of how finances are managed in public universities.

Next a meeting about the three main theme of this tour with a senior academic, AMU’s Pro-rector for Research and International Relations.

We then had a tour of AMU’s (most impressive) Morasko Campus.

Then a pleasant surprise. We had some time to visit Collegium Da Vinci, a smaller private provider that has a very creative ethos, with a brief meeting with the Chancellor.

Again, the three points that struck us most today about Polish HE were:

  • The private sector is not just business degrees, with also distinctive offerings in creative and niche markets.
  • The physical infrastructure and estates in public universities has been invested in over the last ten years. The best compares well with the best in the UK, and Polish HEIs have been successful in securing EU investment to this end.
  • The public universities have been in recent years moving to decentralised budgeting and even space charging, as well as greater overall reform of their financial systems.
Then it was a seven hour train journey to Krakow. The team spent a lot of long days in meetings, absorbing and making notes on vast amounts of material, and travelling between venues. Perhaps not surprisingly they fell asleep while I was drafting this blogpost. Then a midnight check in and to bed!

I may have broken them – sorry! Anyway, welcome Krakow.

Wednesday 13th May: Poznan Day 1

Sorry for the delay, you will see that we have been rather busy!

We visited the largest private higher education provider in Poland: TEB Akademia and its WSB University in Poznan. The TEB Akademia Group has around 50,000 students over 9 campuses in western Poland, and very recently one of its campuses gained PhD awarding powers in the area of finance. Very few of the private providers have this.

The first half of the day comprised of three talks and discussion with members of the management team on:
  • The structure of the private HEIs and their governance
  • The TEB Holding Corporation as a case study
  • Higher education enrolment in Poland 
After lunch we visited and met managers and the Rector of the WSB University in Poznan. The talks and discussion covered three areas:
  • The history of Polish Private Sector HE
  • Quality Assurance
  • Course offerings, industry links and careers services
They were also (rightly) proud of their recent accrediation by the AACSB in the US.


This was then followed by a tour of some of their buildings and facilities. Mala is behind the camera this time...

As always, here are three things that the team found especially interesting during the day’s visits.
  • The private sector shows a very high level of maturity in the use of data and market intelligence to inform strategy and marketing activities, comparable to best practices in UK HEIs.
  • The management and ownership structures of the private HEIs vary widely; some are even family owned.
  • Polish ‘part time’ students study at weekends and yet manage to compete a Bachelors (first cycle) degree in three years, usually while working full time.
In the evening we enjoyed the hospitality of our hosts and were shown round the old town of Poznan.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Tuesday 12th May: Day 2, Warsaw

Again, we will add links and more photos later…

We started early today. At 9am we were met at the Ministry of Higher Education and spent an hour getting the context of Polish higher education policy and how it has evolved during the post-communist era.

Then we had a quick metro ride to Vistula University, another private provider where we had an afternoon with members of their senior management, including rectors and the chancellor. The university is among the top 10 top private universities in Poland  in 5th place according to the 2014 ranking developed by Perspektywy and Rzeczpospolita.

Apart from a thorough discussion of the themes we are focusing on, we discussed their approach to student employability and their strategic view of where they see themselves.

Anyway, we have arrived by train in Poznan. Again, without prejudicing what may come in the report, here are three points (of many) that we found really interesting.
  • There is a clear and pressing issue of demographics in the sector. Since 2006 the student population has declined from about 2 million to just under 1.5 million. The situation will bottom out in 2025.
  • Students are required to be represented in key governance committees including some that make financial decisions, by law. This applies in both private and public universities.
  • The Polish QA body, the PKA, runs about 1000 reviews a year (QAA please note and do not feel the need to emulate).
Already the team have been impressed by the hospitality shown by our hosts. They have been open, welcoming and answered our questions with candour and humour.

Tea and biscuits are the minimum even if we are just there for an hour. If we are there for longer, we enjoy some good hearty Polish food.

We will have no fear of going hungry in Poland.