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Polish universities at crossroads

The new law on Polish universities, also referred to as the Constitution for Science or Act 2.0 is a comprehensive reform plan of Polish higher education. Everyone agrees that in whichever way higher education is transformed, will have important repercussions for the whole of Polish society. That however seems to be the only common point that everyone can agree on.

Constitution for Science: Farewell to Education

21/03/2018 - 11:00
As domestic and foreign commentators seem to be paying attention mostly to the government’s intentions to infringe on the independence of Polish courts and tribunals, it may occur that the reform of higher education, possibly of even greater importance for the future of Polish society, will remain unnoticed.

Citizens’ education is an everlasting struggle for every political regime. Does anyone doubt that the way in which society forms the minds of future generations has an enormous impact on their development? The Western World almost exclusively bestowed the education process on universities. Therefore, whether higher education will be subject to political influence or not, becomes one of the key issues. Even Karl Marx addressed this problem posing a question “who will educate the educators?” implying that ideas dominating universities will eventually take over the entire society. This is also a problem that Polish politicians recently had to face.

Education: servant of the economy?

“I want to correlate the reform of higher education and science with the plan of Prime Minister Morawiecki. Since its goal is to construct an innovative economy, universities have to provide it with innovative researches as well as innovative employees” – said Jarosław Gowin, Minister of Science and Higher Education. According to a few press publications, universities will have to seek external funding, becoming outsourced R&D departments of the biggest corporations. By these means government intends to tighten the relations between universities and businesses.
Having the above in mind, it is hard not to be under the impression that Polish higher education has succumbed to economy. Its aim is no longer to encourage students to develop the habit of independent thinking, but rather to gain a competitive advantage in modern economy. Such approach however is not at all innovative, but rather already quite widespread in the so-called developed world. Western scientists are encouraged to dedicate their careers to researches that may be profitable both for their university and business partners.

Lessons from the ancient Greeks

But is that what universities were really made for? One of the most brilliant XX. century philosophers, Hannah Arendt, reminded that the word “school” was rooted in the greek “skholē” meaning primarily leisure time and the freedom from political activity. But in fact for Ancient Greeks the meaning of this word was much more profound. “Skholē” was a state of mind, a condition free from worries and cares. Thus, to really do schooling, one had to distance himself from worldly affairs, from all the business of this world. Consequently, economy was the very last thing students had to worry about.
What lessons should we learn from the ancients Greeks? It goes without saying that universities cannot emancipate themselves from economic and cultural underpinnings. Both students and universities ought to be aware of the labour market’s demands. But we must not forget that “innovative employees” of whom spoke Minister Gowin, are not simply engineers, programmers or neuroscientists. They are also citizens. The greatest challenge faced by reformers is therefore to reconcile training and education. I dare to say that their success or failure may define Poland’s status in the forthcoming decades.

This article deliberately presents only one of the many existing points of views of this contorversial subject. Its content is not necessarily representative of its author's personal opinion. Please have a look at Duel Amical's philosophy.

Academia and business joint forces – challenge for innovations

28/03/2018 - 23:00
The new Law on Higher Education, proposed by the Polish Ministry of Higher Education and currently processed by the government has received much attention in the Polish academic environment and by some, was called revolutionary. Actually it is not the only process aimed to reform the Polish higher education system and to make it competitive. But will this law be enough to change people’s mindset?

One of the main goals of the new Law on Higher Education and its associated acts is to create a better environment for cooperation between universities and the industry. Just to name two innovation Acts , industrial PhDs and venture capital funds created at the governmental level that are already functioning.

The cooperation between universities and industry in terms of research and development should be one of the basis of research activities the universities conduct, especially in the field of applied sciences. It does not mean that we should abandon basic research because we can never say what is going to have a practical application in the near or far future, and it gives us a better understanding of the world we live in. It means we should find a model of universities-industry cooperation that will be beneficial and suitable for both. It seems to be the only way to create an innovative industry.

The main problem – different expectations

What was said many times before is still valid. The main problem in cooperation between business and academia is their different expectations. While business works mostly within the restrictions of time and budget, academia tends not to consider those factors as crucial, especially the former. For academics, their output should have scientific value that can be published, as it is their KPI (Key Performance Indicator) that they are evaluated on. And intellectual property, that is crucial for business, is publicly available after publication (of course we can solve this problem with patents but first, not everything can be protected with patents and second, the whole procedure takes time). Furthermore, the number of people who tend to stay in academia and do PhDs is clearly decreasing. People do not see their carrier at universities. And here we come to the question asked at the beginning. Even if we introduce a perfect legislation system, as long as people will tend to protect their status quo, nothing will change. As an academic, I want to say that we should start with ourselves, prepare an environment at the universities for which companies will compete. Mutual understanding is the key to successful cooperation in this case.


Closer cooperation will be beneficial for both parties. Companies can subsidize universities and get access to world class specialists . Business will have their problems solved and academics not only will get higher salaries (unfortunately, this is still a huge issue) but will be closer to “real-world” problems and better understand the economic surroundings of the country. Moreover, students will be closer to potential employers as well as present and predicted market demands. The best example to back my words up is Finland and their business-academia cooperation that became a benchmark for other countries. But for this cooperation we need to rethink the way researchers are evaluated because the one who devote themselves to industrial research should not be evaluated based on the amount of number of citations of their academic publications.

This article deliberately presents only one of the many existing points of views of this contorversial subject. Its content is not necessarily representative of its author's personal opinion. Please have a look at Duel Amical's philosophy.

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