The statistics from Perspektywy Education Foundation show that this academic year the number of international students in Poland has increased from 35,983 students to 46,101 – with almost 24,000 coming from Ukraine.
“The perception of security has been shattered”
Justyna Giezynska, the head of Studybility, a higher education consultancy company, told The PIE News that the conflict in Ukraine is a push factor for students to take their studies abroad.
“In the context of the military conflict in the east of Ukraine, the perception of security has been shattered and in many cases there simply is no security,” she said.
“Students, and their parents, choose to undertake studies in the neighbouring Poland.”
In 2013/14, there were 15,123 Ukrainian students in Poland, but over the last academic year the number has risen by 8,206 students.
The introduction of the Polish Erasmus Programme for Ukraine, which has awarded 500 scholarships to Ukrainian students since last year, also facilitates study in the country.
On its website, the Ministry of Science and Higher Education states: “Priority is given to applications from persons from areas of military operations, who lost livelihoods,” with the intention of supporting “the development of democratic institutions and social capital in Ukraine.”
Giezynska commented, however, that some perceive this practice controversial. “Because the student quality element is not considered as strictly as it should be,” she said.
“In effect, a resentment can be heard from Polish students that the Ukrainians are treated preferentially just because they are Ukrainian.”
Andrey Filonenko, a student from Ukraine currently studying at Lazarski University in Poland, told The PIE News that being able to take a degree in either Polish or English was also a big incentive to move to Poland.
“It’s quite easy to study Polish as a Ukrainian, and Polish programmes are very cheap,” he said.
“The opportunity to study in English was the basic factor for me to move here, but for others, the Polish language is still the case.”
The state of the higher education sector in Ukraine is likely another reason as to why so many students are emigrating.
“Its quite easy to study Polish as a Ukrainian, and Polish programmes are very cheap”
“Ukrainian universities have been experiencing irregular flows of funding and many have lost their financial support from the state because the state needs to divert the funds to the defense sector,” explained Giezynska.
“There have been reports of heightened corruption with a concurrent further decline of quality. So the trend we are observing is very logical.”
Despite the increase in international students, which now make up 3.1% of the Polish student body, the number of domestic students in Polish universities has dropped by 80,491 since the last academic year.
Jacek Witkoś, vice-rector for research and international cooperation at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan, said that while growing numbers of foreign students are good for the sector, he’d like to see more diversity in the population.
“So far we in Poland seem to be capitalising on the woes of our neighbours,” he said but added that “On a larger scale, by taking advantage of the situation we function as a lighthouse or beacon of western European values spread eastwards, which may ultimately prove beneficial for this part of the continent.”