Polish activists vow to win big budget U-turn

November 20, 1998

An ad hoc emergency committee of Polish academics has won a U-turn on higher education and research funding from finance minister Leszek Balcerowicz.

Instead of planned cuts, next year's allocation has been nudged up. The committee, whose members read like a roll-call of Solidarity movement activists, is campaigning to get an increase commensurate with the rise in GDP.

Since 1991, GDP has risen more than fivefold, but the percentage of the budget allotted to higher education and research has fallen from 0.74 per cent to 0.47 per cent.

The promised increase represents 0.82 per cent of GDP in 1998 going to 0.84 per cent in 1999.

Prices in Poland are now at Western levels, yet academic salaries are derisory - $400-500 a month for a full professor, less than $150 a month for a young academic employee.

The result is that few young people want an academic career. Three years ago, it was calculated that more than 60 per cent of professors were over 60. There is no one to replace them.

Departments, courses and research units have already had to close and many others are threatened. Demand for undergraduate courses has risen as young people see a degree as a key to a good job in commerce. But the uptake of postgraduate courses has plummeted.

The extra cash will do no more than pay for a few of the most urgent repairs to dilapidated and near derelict university buildings. There will be no wage rises.

The education ministry is financially crippled by the new student loan system. Although the sum per student is small - about $55 a month - the ministry has to service the loans at a cost of some $1.5 million a year.

The scale of Mr Balcerowicz's U-turn cannot remedy this "tragic situation", said the committee. But members commended his effort - and intend to fight on.

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