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Poland: empty university degrees

Polish universities rank below most other European institutes for higher education.

As a result, the country's two largest and most prestigious universities, Jagiellonian University in Krakow and the University of Warsaw, rank 133rd and 134th respectively in the ranking and visibility of research among 171 European universities. The two are also the only Polish institutions to find a place in the influential Shanghai ranking of universities, although both place below 400 globally.

“The state of research is not good,” finds the report.

Added to the quality problems, Polish universities are also facing a quantity problem. The number of students is expected to drop by about a quarter as Poland's current demographic boom — the result of baby-making during the gray years of late communism — turns into a bust as Poland's low birth rate begins to bite.

On top of that, there is less and less demand to top up the education credentials of older Poles, as those who needed degrees have already earned them.

“Demographic issues will mean big changes for Polish universities,” said Krzysztof Rybinski, an economist formerly with Ernst & Young. Weaker private schools will likely be forced to close, or they will have to consolidate with stronger partners.

The report calls for dramatic changes to the education system, which are now being analyzed by Kudrycka. Some of the proposals include the creation of U.S.-style colleges that will grant four-year bachelor's degrees, a level of post-secondary education currently unknown in Poland, as well as institutions that will give practical professional training. At the top of the new structure would come top-flight research universities.

Kudrycka has scotched proposals to introduce universal tuition fees, something that goes against the current Polish constitution, which guarantees a free education to all.

“I believe that in the next five years, Polish schools will find themselves in the top 50 of European institutions,” Kudrycka said.