POSITION OF THE UNION OF ENTREPRENEURS AND EMPLOYERS ON THE DRAFT OF THE ACT ON HIGHER EDUCATION AND SCIENCE OF JANUARY 22ND, 2018, THE SO-CALLED CONSTITUTION FOR SCIENCE
The proposed new act can be considered the beginning of positive and much anticipated changes. Polish higher education is in a serious long-term crisis. There is can be no doubt that we are witnessing a multi-faceted problem that has a significantly negative impact on the condition of the Polish economy. Hard data, such as the places of our universities in the prestigious Shanghai Ranking, only prove how dire the situation is. Among the 500 best universities in the world, there are only two Polish institutions – the University of Warsaw and the Jagiellonian University. For a large country with ambitions to join the richest group in the world in a short time, this is definitely not enough. The situation seems to be even worse when we look at the places that Polish universities took – Warsaw University ranked in the fourth, whereas the Jagiellonian University in the fifth hundred of higher education institutions. This proves that the world in terms of the quality of higher education has overtaken us by several lengths. It will be a long time, before we can, even in the most optimistic scenario, take up competition in this respect with countries such as the United States, Great Britain or Japan. Moreover, it is worth noting the fact that Czechs, Estonians and Serbs have universities placed on higher positions than any of the universities from Poland. Polish universities in the third or second hundred of the ranking seem to be the minimum plan for the nearest future, and ultimately, we should fight for at least one institution to be among the best one hundred universities in the world.
The consequences of the current crisis in higher education in Poland are quite complex. From the point of view of current economy, it negatively affects the access to qualified staff. Not only do Polish companies have to deal with the natural shortage of employees resulting from demographics (the generation born in the demographic low is entering the labour market, as well as many young Poles migrated to Western Europe in recent years), while those who stay in the country and obtain university education often leave them unprepared for the actual work in their profession. In the course of teaching, they do not obtain the necessary competences or practical experience, they often only have dry knowledge acquired in the course of their studies, which turns out to be insufficient on the market. As a result, employers who hire fresh graduates have to train them on their own, or even educate them, so that they are able to perform their tasks on their own. In a more strategic perspective, however, the poor state of Polish universities means that it will be impossible to carry out the kind of economic transformation in accordance with the key ideas of the Plan for Responsible Development authored by Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. Its very accurate recommendations related to transforming the economy in the direction of innovation, generating high added value, and developing new solutions will be possible only provided there is an effective tertiary education system characterised by a high level of education.
All attempts to execute a wholistic and comprehensive reform of the higher education system in Poland deserve full support from the Union of Entrepreneurs and Employers. We believe that one of the most rudimentary conditions for the further dynamic development of the Polish economy is the high level of tertiary education. Therefore, we support the drafted act.
Above all, attention should be paid to the fact that unusually broad public consultations concerning the act took place – the discussions regarding the final shape of the project lasted for two years. It seems that this is a very valuable and necessary practice, so different from the increasingly more often used standards, in which new laws are created very quickly, are processed in a haste, often with by way of parliamentary legislative paths and thus avoiding official consultations. In this context, such in-depth and extensive consultations should definitely be appreciated.
Concerning the substantive proposals included in the project, most of them should also be assessed positively. The proposal to introduce University Councils is quite noteworthy. More than half of its composition is to be represented by the socio-economic environment – this way one of the basic postulates of business communities is addressed: to involve entrepreneurs operating on the local market in the process of education in a much larger degree, including higher education. The University Council would have quite broad competences – it would approve the university’s financial statements, give opinions on the drafted statutes, or would select (or nominate candidates for the office of) rector or chancellor. These bodies would also determine their remuneration, and could also provide them with allowances, thus indirectly obtaining a tool to assess and control their work. The Council is to be mainly a supervisory body, but it has been given several executive competences, for example, adopting university strategies, thus arming it with having a real impact on the development of a teaching facility. The provision that more than half of members of the Council must come from outside the university community guarantees the social side, including representatives of business communities, participation in it. This way, local communities have a real influence on the development of higher education institutions.
In order to tighten cooperation with the business community, other proposals were included in the project, among others the postulate that a researcher with a Ph.D. title and extensive professional experience might be employed as professor. To a large extent this may affect the number of didacticians with practical experience, and the same effect might be achieved by the abolition of staff minima. Moreover, in the drafted act, universities are explicitly granted the right to conduct dual studies with the participation of partnered companies, with the detailed organisation of such studies being defined in a written agreement. Providing such flexibility may be beneficial to the development of the dual study formula, very attractive from the point of view of the labour market needs.
The draft also proposes the introduction of entrance examinations at universities (however, the results of exams confirming completion of secondary education would have an at least 50% weigh), or the introduction of a program dubbed “Didactic Initiative of Excellence” involving the financial support of those vocational higher learning institution that achieve the best monitoring results concerning the professional careers of their graduates. Moreover, it is postulated to prolong apprenticeships for undergraduates to up to six months, which obviously translates into greater practical competences of graduates of these studies.
The presented draft is heading in a definitely good direction and takes into account a large part of the postulates raised in recent years, including those raised by the business community. The introduction of cooperation mechanisms between the world business and universities, the introduction of practitioners to universities, as well as greater emphasis on the practical aspects of education deserve our support. Of course, the presented draft law should not be the last step in improving the quality of Polish higher education institutions – the legislator ought to also consider the possibility of modifying the path of obtaining licences and the rights to practice in such a way that it can take place within the framework of university education, and not outside it. We hope that more projects will be prepared, which might have a chance of a deeper impact on the level of higher education in Poland.
The Union of Entrepreneurs and Employers
Photography: Luke Jones/ licence: Creative Commons / flickr.com