While the priority is internationalisation in higher education, improving the level of education in the country’s high school system through international activities is also central to the government’s plan.
“Twenty years ago internationalisation was synonymous with mobility of students. Now the situation has changed; the international environment has changed,” said Marek Korowajczyk, Director of the Ministry of Science and Higher Education’s International Cooperation Department, at the Leadership Forum in Higher Education in Warsaw last week.
“Twenty years ago internationalisation was synonymous with mobility of students. Now the situation has changed”
“We want to improve the position of Poland at the international level and say that Polish higher education is as a good place to study and research.”
University leaders, however, have welcomed the announcement but said it is long overdue and and are concerned it lacks the financial backing needed to effect real change.
Jacek Witkoś, Vice-Rector for Research and International Cooperation at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan, said an internationalisation strategy “should have been put on the table about a decade ago”.
“Without the strategy and clear support of the ministry for key actions we are set to lag behind not only the key players in Europe – Germany, UK, France, the Netherlands – but also other new member states,” he told The PIE News.
Initially, the government plans to implement the strategy via foreign language programmes and exchanges with key countries that could provide best practice advice.
Strengthening promotion in key markets is also a priority as well as establishing a network of diplomats and Polish experts in foreign outposts to champion the campaign.
And to to attract the “best candidates”, the government plans to develop a scholarship programme.
Witkoś said previous efforts to boost research financing have been successful but that the focus should now be on mobility of students and scholars.
“What we need now is a similar agency for student and scholar mobility, with an initial budget of about €10m,” he said. “It could also run a number of mobility programmes, distribute scholarships to incoming students as well as outgoing Poles… Now individual schools are left to their own devices.”
Zdzistaw Lapinski, Rector at the Akademia Muzyczna W Krakowie, agreed, adding: “International relations help us to build self confidence because when there was the Iron Curtain our level of higher education was more or less on the lower side of Europe; now we see that we also have some advantages.”
“When there was the Iron Curtain our level of higher education was more or less on the lower side of Europe”
“When we meet other institutions through projects or through exchanges we see that we can learn with them but also we can show them something.”
Of the nearly 30,000 foreign students in the country in 2013, almost a third came from Ukraine and the number of Belarusians has tripled since 2005 to 3,000.
Radek Stanczewski from the International Studies office at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities is hopeful more promotion of the country could help diversity foreign student populations.
“Poland is more recognised internationally as a strong economy and as a country worth coming to, so I think the government will now concentrate on just continuing to promote Poland as a country where you can study at university and it will be a good quality education at a much lower cost than in Britain, France or the US,” he said.
Still, there are concerns the government’s plans lack adequate financial backing to make an impact.
“Generally if you want to do something more than you need more money,” said Lapinski. “They may say you should better prepare your teachers, maybe you should better select your students to go abroad, maybe you should have a better website, but I don’t expect a revolution.”
Witkoś added: “Following a decade of investment in modern research infrastructure, we have great campuses, dedicated English speaking scholars with international experience but we lack faith, on the part of the decision makers in the ministry and the government, that education at the university level could become our new export commodity.”
Following internal review, Korowajcyk said the proposal document should be released for public consultation at the end of February.