A recent declaration by the Conference of Rectors of Academic Schools in Poland about introducing tuition fees for all students has sparked a lively discussion as expected.
While some people see this proposal as an opportunity to increase higher education standards in Poland and to equalize academic access, a majority of students seem to oppose the idea.
The rectors conference, which brings together the heads of Polish universities, proposed ending the division of students.
Currently the state covers all the costs for students who pass the entrance exams for the state-financed universities, while those who fail the exams have to pay for every semester.
According to the rectors, no one should be exempt from paying, while a wide program of credits and scholarships should exist for the students.
Charging tuition for all should improve the financial situations of the universities. Even though the percentage of students in Poland is among the highest in Europe, the standards are often poor as the academies cut costs in order to keep the best employees and develop infrastructure.
As a result, annual expenses per Polish student are $3,300 while the EU average is $7,800 and the U.S. average is four times higher.
The Organization of Economical Cooperation and Development, which presented these figures in its recent report on education, has also urged Poland to introduce tuition fees for all.
But the students who now enjoy free studies don’t believe such a move would bring any benefits for them.
Basically they don’t trust that the government would guarantee suitable help in covering the fees.
Even though some students don’t have to pay fees now, the costs of studying in a city away from home are still high, especially for low-income families.
About half of the 2 mln students in Poland pay tuition fees. Some of them pay at private schools and some at state-financed schools where at least 50 percent should study for free, according to the law.
The rectors say those who pay usually come from lower-income families from outside big cities, where education standards are lower, and they more often don’t pass entrance exams.
The proposed reform should also help to make educational opportunities more equal, as the Polish Constitution states. The public discussion of fees in higher education in Poland is a very old one.
There have been previous attempts to expand the fees, but none of them succeeded.
In 2005 Marek Belka’s government planned to reform the financing system of universities, but an election defeat ended the attempt.
The winners of the Oct. 21 parliamentary elections – Civic Platform (PO) – are seen as a liberal party.
Even though they haven’t taken a position on university fees, it’s highly possible that they would back the reform. But it could also mean losing the backing of the students, one of most PO-friendly groups.