2015 was a very good year for me – and here is why.
It seems that Polish graduates have been naughty last year. In an unexpected turn, the Polish government yesterday suspended the program of financing graduate studies at world’s best universities.
“Studia dla wybitnych” (Studies for the excellent”) is a much discussed multi-year government internationalization initiative, budgeted for over 330 m PLN for the years 2016-2015. According to the former government, more than 750 graduate students from Poland would benefit from the program, taking off the costs of tuition, accommodation and daily allowance for the selected candidates undertaking studies in top universities according to ARWU general and field rankings. The call opened in November, with the first deadline set for the end of March.
The program was the first example of generous government support for the top students who wanted to study at the top universities. Poland joined numerous developing countries who made such a move, with various effects. Students would be pardoned repaying the support if they pay social security in Poland for 5 years after graduation, or complete PhD studies at a Polish university. I have discussed the issue with Philip Altbach in our summer interview.
Critics pointed out extremely low levels of government support for Polish higher education and questioned the need of financing academic big leagues abroad. Marcin Zaród, on behalf of Citizens of Science (grassroots organization of young Polish faculty) pointed out lack of serious analyses of how the program in the proposed form would benefit Polish economy or Polish science. It finally limits itself to uncoordinated, individual development of limited number of individuals at the most expensive degree granting programs in the world, rather than more cost-wise studies or fellowships at equally good European institutions.
But even if the program was an example of Polish prestige-seeking, PR-driven public policy mimicking questionable ideas of how the world class science is created, it was also a chance for raising consciousness of internationalization before the PhD. Stable, multi-year funding allowed for planning on the part of students, and tweaking on the part of the government. Surely the money may have been spent better – but at least there was money.
Now, in the middle of a Christmas break, everything broke apart.
Yesterday’s decision to suspend the program indefinitely was allegedly based on two reasons: lack of applicants and concern of the academics.
As for the lack of interest, it should be pointed out that with a 31st March deadline and letters of acceptance coming no sooner than February, only very few students may be ready to apply now (mostly enrolled and postponed to the next academic year). But even them were not able to officially apply, as there was no application system yet running. The board of the program, consisted of professors, business and cultural leaders, were not yet appointed. No funding was secured for the 2015 budget year.
As for the concerns, those were voiced by some members of the academia since early Summer, when the program was announced. New higher education minister, Jarosław Gowin, did not mention the program during his first two months in office. Whoever was concerned with the program, there were also young people believing that if they are successful in their application, the costs would probably not hold them off. We do not know how many applied, how many would be successful, and how many would finally receive government scholarships – but there is also this group that has now landed on a thin ice.
Although the program has not been officially cancelled, suspending it now means that it will probably not run in 2016, if ever. With the high spending of the new government, internationally oriented program seems an easy target for budget cuts. However, it was not the cost, but the structure of the program, its criteria and aim that has been questioned yesterday. The communique signals the need of consultations with various stakeholders in the academia, care about potential candidates’ disappointment (?) and the windy road of making amendments in the program run by the whole cabinet rather than a proper minister.
All of this suggest, that very soon the Polish Parliament (that recently works late hours passing questionable bills) may scrap the program altogether, to the joy of some Polish faculty and indifference of most of the others. No Harvard* for you, dear Polish student.
It has been an unusual year thus far: exciting, but also incredibly rewarding. Two last things are making me busy for the rest of the time that is left before the holiday season.
The first one is a Winter School in Oslo. The theme is “Mapping knowledge economies” and it is offered under the UNIKE project. UNIKE, which is Universities in the Knowledge Economy, is run collaboratively by six universities under prof. Susan Wright from Aarhus University, and aims to investigate current challenges for the universities in Europe and on the Asia-Pacific rim. The current winter school has been offered with the support of University of Oslo, to UNIKE fellows, their supervisors, partners and just two external participants (one of which is he who writes it now). The program is really intensive, includes discussion of research projects, debates, workshops on academic mobility and policy briefing as well as discussions on doctoral education. The opportunity to have a talk with extraordinary people, including renowned scholars as Peter Maassen, Chris Newfield, Davydd Greenwood (pictured), Pavel Zgaga and António Magalhães, as well as numerous promising early stage researchers, was an incredible intellectual experience.
In two weeks, I will be in the Netherlands, where I plan to continue my liberal education study by visiting university colleges in Maastricht and Leiden, as well as finally meeting prof. Hans Adriaansens. Then I will attend International Human Rights Education Conference. As the running theme is, quite properly, “Translating Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms to Today’s World”, Iw would present a paper on how universities in several European countries are helping the refugees – and why they should care more about taking real action. Returning to Middleburg is a wonderful vision as I truly find this little Zeeland city academically charming in many ways.
After that, I plan to really take some time off – and look back at this wonderful year. Then I can plan some new adventures.