Student protests in Poland delay ‘authoritarian’ law

Biggest campus protests since 1989 have disrupted legislation that many fear will lead to more state control of universities

June 27, 2018
Warsaw city centre

Student protests in Poland have delayed a bill that critics say will threaten the autonomy of universities.

The proposed act, known as Bill 2.0, would diminish the control held by a university senate – a body of students, academics and other university employees – in favour of a university council that consists of individuals from outside the institution.

However, in protest against the draft law, a series of occupations have in recent weeks hit Poland’s universities, the first nationwide protests on campus since 1989, the Global Voices website reported.

Students fear that the bill will allow Poland’s ruling right-wing nationalist party, Law and Justice, to further increase governmental control over society, the website says.

“The new law on higher education centralises responsibility at universities and withdraws autonomy from individual faculties,” Dawid Czajkowski, an activist who has campaigned against the bill, told Global Voices.

“Smaller universities are [also] marginalized in favour of the larger ones,” he added, claiming that few universities would allow the “obvious possibility to control doctoral students, their future”.

The wave of protests, which began at the University of Warsaw, is now believed to have delayed the planned reforms, which were due to take effect in October.

Many have also objected to a clause of the bill – one of more than 100 amendments added to initial legislation – that would force female academics to retire at the age of 60, five years earlier than male academics.

However, Jaroslaw Gowin, minister of science and higher education, who has sponsored the bill, has remained adamant that the act will improve university education.

According to the newspaper Wiadomości, he claimed that he did not understand the protests, explaining that he had consulted “all academic groups” about the bill in recent years.

However, one anonymous participant of the protest in Warsaw told OkoPress that students decided to react because “the consultations were conducted only with people supporting the law”.

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