Management-speak for Poland

July 7, 1995

Polish universities, overgoverned by generations of academics tied to a rigid career structure, should be opened up to professionals with management experience, according to the first Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development's review of educational policy in Poland.

Since the overthrow of communism in 1989, the government has given more autonomy to higher education and introduced competition for funding allocations.

But the authors of the review, published in conjunction with the Polish ministry of education, believe new blood is needed in higher education to help the country further on the path to a Western-style market economy.

Following reforms in 1990, the power of the centalised ministries has been reduced, with individual institutions being given the rights to hire and fire staff, lay down course requirements and manage admissions and examinations.

But the OECD examiners attacked the present structure for being over-regulated by academics and not sufficiently matched to the demands of the rapidly changing labour market.

The ministry for national education also admitted in its background report that the post-communist legacy is producing too many graduates with technical expertise and not enough with administration, marketing and service skills.

By taking higher education in hand, the ministry hopes to stall the growing unemployment rate - currently at 15 per cent - and help boost Poland's highly inflationary economy.

There are 90 public higher education institutions in Poland, ten of which are traditional universities teaching humanities, natural and social sciences, law, economics and management studies. The others are highly specialised institutions like medical and agricultural schools and teacher training colleges.

Key policy decisions are made by the governing senates and the faculty councils, which are staffed entirely by academics and dominated by professors.

The OECD review also attacks the Central Council for Higher Education, which defines subject programme requirements and oversees funding, for being purely academic, over-centralised and remote from industry.

Higher education in Poland is said to be a "closed sector". Academics work their way up a rigid internal ladder, normally within the same university, qualifying for highest degree - the "habilitation" - only between 40 and 50.

Funds are barely available now to match the expected doubling of student numbers by the end of the century, the OECD says.

There is great resistance in Poland to charging all students for higher education. Opponents say such a move would go against the constitutional guarantee of a free education and would be socially unjust.

But the OECD insists that the question of charging standard fees for all courses will have to be considered "for equity reasons".

Universities are already taking on more extramural students, who only get half the grant given to full-time courses, because they can charge them higher fees for fewer teaching hours.

The present situation is already unfair, the review argues. It calls for all students to pay a "modest fee" and for scholarships to be made available for disadvantaged students. Shorter, cheaper courses are encouraged to replace the single-subject five-year masters.

The OECD also recommends mergers between higher education institutions to prevent overlapping in teaching and encourage inter-institutional teaching and research; investment to enhance the managerial, communication and budgetary skills of leaders in higher education;; and standardisation of the school-leaving Matura examination, as an entrance requirement for all higher education institutions.

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