The Constitution for Science
Poland Today sat down with Undersecretary of State Piotr Dardziński at the Ministry of Science and Higher Education to shed a light on the new higher education reform.
What are the main objectives of the new so-called Constitution for Science initiated by the Ministry of Science and Higher Education?
The strategy points for Deputy Prime Minister Jarosław Gowin include improving scientific excellence, implementing organizational changes in higher education and opening up to the community. Today, universities are definitely too hermetic, poorly organized and, in a sense, are wasting the potential of Polish scientists.
How was the so-called Law 2.0 created?
We announced a competition for the academic community and we selected three teams that prepared three different proposals for the reform and based on these suggestions, we prepared the bill. We have been working on this reform for two years — 7,000 people took part in public consultations and we held 11 congresses to discuss individual aspects of the bill. We also invited the European Commission which stated that our plans are exemplary for reforming higher education. At many universities, teams have already been created to think about how to create a de facto new university, how to transform this university. Because it will be very difficult for many universities, especially for large ones.
What are Poland’s strengths in higher education?
We have a lot of scientists in relation to citizens, but we should definitely have more doctoral students – this is our weakness.
What is the biggest problem?
Our system is uncompetitive. The new reform will strengthen the real autonomy of the university, including financial autonomy, because it enables flexible management of financial resources. It also enables the university’s authorities to shape the organizational structure of the university more freely. We only provide a structure for the universities’ basic organs.
Some say Polish graduates are not ready to enter the workforce…
This problem does exist – students are maladjusted to the conditions of the labour market. Students should be educated based on the needs of employers. Some students will pursue academic careers, but a vast majority of students graduate and go to work. To help students choose the right track, we have an instrument that traces economic outcomes of graduates. Any high school graduate can choose a course and university and the system will indicate what the professional path will be. The student can tell how quickly graduates found a job after earning a degree and ascertain their average salaries.
You mentioned that universities are hermetic. What are the plans to open them?
In terms of opening universities, we have several priorities. First, we would like universities to cooperate with businesses, with the economy and the labour market. The Ministry of Science and Higher Education has been a leader in creating a reality that facilitates cooperation between entrepreneurs and scientists. Any entrepreneur who is able to establish cooperation with scientists will pay lower taxes and at the same time build their competences in the field of technology. The second initiative is doctorate implementation. In this model, a doctoral dissertation is prepared at an enterprise, not a university. This year, we recruited 374 such doctoral students. The programme provides for recruiting 500 people each year. In addition, we focus on practical studies that can be implemented in two ways. One way are studies that are combined with six month internships, and the other is a dual-study programme where during the academic year the student spends, for example, two days a week with the employer and two days at the university. Of course, apart from opening academia for business, we also have programmes opening universities for children, youth and seniors.
It is also said that the method of conducting classes at universities is instructor-centered. Do you agree and how will it be changed?
We should radically change teaching methods, but we should implement diversity. Therefore, we introduced three academic career paths: a teaching one, a research one, as well as research and teaching one. According to this plan, doctors with achievements can become university professors. However, we believe that didactics is as important as learning, so those who are great lecturers will also be able to become university professors even without habilitation (a post-doctoral degree) or published works. Secondly, we want didactics to start changing, so we developed a programme in which we work with several leading universities in the world that have agreed to train dozens of our teaching staff. Moreover, we want to recruit laureates of national and international science olympiads to come to universities and work in small groups. This does not mean, of course, that they will never take part in any lecture, only tutors will place them individually on the path of research processes. We plan to grant these students scholarships for one year so they can become young scientists. With this plan, we would like to achieve two goals: show how tutorial groups work and stop the best graduates from studying abroad.
In international rankings, Polish universities are ranked low. Is it important for the Ministry of Science and Higher Education that Polish universities are higher?
Rankings are not the most important, but they do matter. We are reforming the system of higher education because it is simply dysfunctional in many areas, not to advance in the rankings. However, we are convinced that the ranking will improve after the changes take effect and, in turn, this will motivate people to stay in Poland. We want to focus on quality, which is why the amount of funding a university receives will no longer be determined based on its number of instructors and students, but rather the quality of their work and achievements.
When will the reform take effect?
We hope the bill will be passed in April or May 2018. We plan to enforce the changes starting in the 2018/2019 academic year. The last regulations would take effect in 2026. Since we created an entirely new doctoral programme, those who have already started their doctoral studies can finish them according to the old plan. Now, everything will be in the hands of the academic community and the universities. We believe that freedom has great value, especially for academics so now their activity and the implementation of these instruments will depend on it.
Piotr Dardziński completed his doctoral studies at the Jagiellonian University, Institute of Political Science and International Relations, Department of History of Political and Legal Doctrines. He worked as an academic teacher at the university and then was a lecturer at the Józef Tischner European University in Krakow. Previously, he served as head of the Political Cabinet of the Minister of Justice, Jarosław Gowin before being appointed the Undersecretary of State in the Ministry of Science and Higher Education in 2015.