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Education has become one of the pillars of the modern world, in particular of the knowledge-based economy and learning society.
The era of industrial society had made place for the information society, what means the transformation from training and remembering information into the self learning, searching and selection skills, as well as using new information and communication techniques. The explosion of information (increase in knowledge and information) creates tension between limited capabilities of human memory and the overabundance of available and needed information. This is a new challenge for the education and the people motivation to life long learning.
The system of higher education before 1990
Until 1990 higher education had been provided only by state institutions with the sole exception of the non-state Catholic University in Lublin (Katolicki Uniwersytet Lubelski).  All higher education institutions were of university type (no distinction between university and non-university higher education), focusing not only on teaching but also on scientific research. Most of their faculties were entitled to award the academic degrees of doctor and doctor habilitowany. Even though few of them offered vocational studies (leading to a higher vocational education diploma), most of their students completed magister-level studies, which gave them the right to apply for admission to PhD studies.
The higher education system in the time of communism was completely elitist in form and scope. The model assumed that a state institution had provided free of charge stationary studies based on a face to face contact with the professors. If needed the students could have received a financial support, accommodation and full board.
Ironically, at that time the higher education did not lead to higher salaries. The access was restricted to a group of young people in higher education age. The average scholarisation rate  was 10%. In the industrial era it might have been enough, but in the information society era it is far too modest result. 
The system of higher education is based in principle on the Article 70 of the Constitution of the Republic of Poland and specified by the appropriate laws.
Legislation concerning higher education:
Article 70 of the Constitution of the Republic of Poland
Act of 27 July 2005 - The Law on Higher Education
Act of 8 October 2004 on the Rules for Financing Research
Act of 14 March 2003 on Academic Degrees and Title and on Degrees and Titles
Act of 17 July 1998 on Loans and Credits for Students.
Main regulations adopted by the minister responsible for higher education:
Regulation by the Minister of Science and Higher Education of 19 December 2008 on types of vocational titles awarded to graduates and the pattern for diplomas and certificates awarded by HEIs
Regulation by the Minister of Science and Higher Education of 21 September 2007 on criteria and procedure for granting and accounting for financial resources for science for academic stipends for outstanding young scientists.
Regulation by the Minister of Science and Higher Education of 12 July 2007 on the degree programme requirements for individual fields of study and levels of study, and on the procedure for the establishment of interdisciplinary degree programmes and degree programmes in macro-fields of study and the requirements to be fulfilled by higher education institutions in order to provide such programmes;
Regulation by the Minister of Science and Higher Education of 3 October 2006 on the requirements and procedures for the transfer of student achievements;
Regulation by the Minister of Science and Higher Education of 27 July 2006 on the requirements to be fulfilled by organizational units of higher education institutions in order to provide degree programmes in a given field and at a given level of study;
Regulation by the Minister of Science and Higher Education of 13 June 2006 on the names of fields of study.
The system of higher education in 1990 - 2009
The higher education system in Poland has been undergoing major restructuring since the early 1990s. The break down of the communism has introduced thorough changes in all spheres not omitting the country's system of higher education. It was particularly affected by introduction of a market economy. The newly released job competitiveness (and the threat of unemployment) has neglected the increasing demand for better qualified employees with high school degree. In those days the enrollment in higher education was generally perceived to be the best way to ensure financial success.
In order to address the needs of the new economy, changes have been made to the curriculum, and new training requirements have been introduced for some professions and also for workers and technicians. In addition, steps have been taken to reorganize vocational training along the lines of academic education and to make the country's system of higher education more compatible with other European systems. The new law also guaranteed the freedom of propagation of scientific arguments and opinions. At the same time, competition between institutions of higher education was introduced in the area of raising budget funds for research, as well as competition between researchers based on tender procedures.
In 1990 two new higher education laws were implemented: the Higher Education Act and the Academic Title and Academic Degrees Act. The Higher Education Act laid down rules granting autonomy to both individual higher education institutions and faculties within an institution at the same time restricting the authority of the Minister of National Education in the area of school management. Under the same law the private (non-state) institutions of higher education have started to operate and their number has been steadily growing since then. A private school of higher education must receive permission to operate from the Ministry of National Education, as well as be registered by the same Ministry to acquire a legal status.
With the implementation of the Act of Higher Vocational Schools of 26 June 1997, the first state and private higher professional (vocational) education schools began to appear. These schools train students in professional specializations and prepare them for specific professions by including 15-week internships and school practice in the mandatory curriculum.
To sum up, until 2005, among higher education institutions were distinguished higher education schools and higher vocational education schools, established and operated on the basis of separate legislation - the Act on Schools of Higher Education and the Act on Higher Vocational Schools. The Act Law on Higher Education of 27 July 2005 repealed that legislation distinguishing university-type higher education institutions and non-university ones.
Main changes in higher education system
The higher education is an area where even radical changes taking place since 1990 pertain to the essence but provoke no spectacular social tension. The traditional components of university education have been preserved, while all high schools were undergoing radical transformations.
The foundations for such transformations have been provided by introduction of far-reaching independence and self-management, which is translated in the legal sphere to the following:
1. admission, on extremely liberal terms, of emergence of non-public institutions of higher education,
2. relegation of decisions pertaining to the merits to competent bodies appointed in democratic elections within the institution,
3. introduction of elements of collective and individual competition in fund raising (e.g. research grants),
4. relegation of detailed financial decisions to the level of emergence of costs (individual higher schools),
5. dissemination of information about the principles, course and results of decision-making processes.
The most radical change resulted from the admission of emergence of non-public higher schools. This has led to what is now the most developed non-public educational system in Europe: inÂ 2002, 250 non-public higher schools educated about 500 thousand students (that is 27% of the overall student population). By 2009, the number of non-public higher schools went up to 325, and that of their students to 659.8 thousand, that is 34% of the overall student population that year.
MoÅ¼e dobrze byÅ‚oby pokazaÄ‡ dynamikÄ™ wzrostu liczby uczelni oraz liczby studentów w latach 1989-2009? MyÅ›lÄ™, Å¼e dobrze byÅ‚oby zrobiÄ‡ sÅ‚upkowe wykresy i pokazaÄ‡ ile publicznych i prywatnych.
An other change implemented provision of some education services against payment, permitting the development of fee-based evening courses (a minority among fee-based studies) and extramural studies (constituting the majority), as well as postgraduate studies at public schools. It should be stressed that the growing number of evening and extramural students of public schools and from development of various forms of studies at non-public higher schools brought to the considerable growth of the student population. In 1989, Poland had 1,101 higher school students per 100 thousand of the population (compared to 2,700 in England, 2,995 in France and 1,927 in Greece). By 2002, the number of students in Poland was over 4,000 per 100 thousand of the population, raising the country to the European level.
The number of full-time students was 754 thousand, i.e.Â 44.4% of all students of higher schools. Taking the division into public and non-public institutions into consideration, the proportion of full-time students was 53.7% at public schools and 21.1% at non-public ones. In the academic year 2001/2002, all types of higher schools had 8.5% more students compared to the preceding year; the increase was by 8.7% at public schools (and by 9.7% for full-time courses). The popularity of extramural studies has been growing rapidly in recent years at non-public schools (by 22% since 2004), while the opposite trend (a drop by 17% in that same period) is observed at public schools. On the other hand, the full-time student population remained at very much the same level (or even grew slightly by 2.3%) at public schools, but decreased by 13% at non-public schools in that period.
Due to larger populations of secondary school graduates and a bigger proportion among them of persons who intend to enter higher schools, the number of students in the first year of study and of persons aged 19-24 taking any form of education has been growing gradually for several years now, which is reflected by the values of the net scholarisation rate. In the 1980s, 9-12% of each consecutive graduating class entered higher schools. This placed Poland among countries ranking lowest in Europe in terms of higher-level scholarisation rate. In the academic year 2008/2009, the net higher education scholarisation rate was 40.6%.
Today, Poland has one of the highest net scholarisation rates among the OECD countries: in 2007, the rate amounted to 31% in the 20-29 age brackets. Such a scholarisation rate could be achieved owing largely to the developing non-public higher school sector and fee-based courses at public institutions.
However, the permanent increase in the number of students and the corresponding considerable increase of of the scholarisation rate is no doubt a success in the development of higher education. It was namely a transition from exclusivity to generality of higher education. The rate is becoming stabilized and - as follows from the experience of other countries - its considerable increase in the future is unlikely (unless there is a significant growth in the number of foreign students).
Unfortunately, general free education turned out to be a fiction: about 60% of students pay tuition fees, and the rest are also charged various amounts. Hence the importance of the scholarship system, which features an amazingly high ratio of research scholarships to grants for low-income students. There is a striking territorial disproportion in the number of schools and students per capita between different provinces. The provinces with particularly few higher schools and students are Lubuskie and WarmiÅ„sko-Mazurskie, which are otherwise less developed as well.
Following the advantageous changes, the quality of education is likely to decrease due to multiple jobs taken by academic teachers, differences in the student-teacher ratio in different fields, the growing mean age of the academic staff and the generation gap affecting the classes that graduated in the 1980s, and the remuneration system providing for a low base pay.
During the past decade, Poland passed from exclusivity of general access to higher education. Despite the disclosed weaknesses of some schools and lines, this is an unquestionable sucess. Never before in the nation's history were the Polish people as educated as today, never was higher education as strongly related to greater employment opportunities and to earnings above the average. Keeping up this dynamic development, and particularly incessant improving of the quality of education, is the basic challenge for the Polish higher education system during the first decade of the 21st century.
Poland belongs to the group of countries (comprising generally the countries of Central and Easter Europe) with a dual education financing system (government grants and tuition fees). The higher education financing in Poland is today regulated by two statutes. The first of them is the Higher Education Law of July 27, 2005 (Journal of Laws No. 164, item 1365 as amended), which defines the principles of financing of educational activities, the other one is the Act of October 8, 2008, which regulates the financing of research activities and the principles of financing science (Journal of Laws No. 238, item 2390 as amended). As follows from closer analysis of the Higher Education Law, its provisions differentiate between two systems of financing, one for public and the other one for non-public higher schools. As regards this latter system, the activity of non-public schools is financed mainly from tuition fees charged from the students. Other methods of financing such institutions include revenues from services they provide, research and EU projects, as well as grants that used to be unavailable to them still during the latter half of the 1990s. Although grants may be awarded today both to public and non-public higher schools, they tend to remain a theory in that latter case, as 95% of the grants are in practice awarded to public schools.  Grants from the state budget awarded to students of non-public schools amount to non-returnable material aid irrespective of the type of course, granted according to the same rules as in the case of public school students. Beside such grants, a non-public higher school may also count on partial financing of the tution fees paid by full-time students and postgraduate students, and on additional financing of e.g. repairs, health services or education and rehabilitation of handicapped students. However, the investment expenditures on non-public schools still remain much lower compared to public ones.
The proportions of different sources of financing of the public schools are the exact opposite of those observed in the non-public sector. Public higher schools are financed mainly from the state budget with designated subsidies. The major types of budgetary subsidies to higher schools include: subsidies to finance didactic activities and subsidies for research projects. The Budget Law defines the overall amount of the subsidy to be assigned for specific purposes only. The entity responsible for disposal and distribution of those funds is the minister competent in matters of higher education, and with respect to department higher schools - the minister in charge of the particular department. Since 1993, the distribution of funds earmarked for higher education bases on an algorithm that should ensure objectivity of the criteria and rationalization of the schools' activities. The purposes for which designated subsidies may be awarded include projects related to education of full-time students, full-time postgraduate students, and the research staff, and also to school maintenance, repairs included. The decision awarding a subsidy is taken on the basis of material and financial plans prepared by schools. The fact that the subsidies constitute the main source of financing of public higher schools does not mean that such institutions ignore other possible sources. There has recently been a systematic growth in the utilization of sources other than the subsidies, mainly the tuition fees for extramural studies, in the financing of public schools. The scale of financing of the higher education system through subsidies from the state budget in the preceding decade corresponded with the possibilities depending mainly on the macro-economic conditions of distribution of public funds.  Retrospectively, the 1990s were a period of profound transformations in the Polish higher education system. According to A. KoÅ‚odziejczyk, the transformations resulted from three main factors. The first such factor was the much greater autonomy of the institutions of higher education, the second was the greater interest in education, and the third factor pertained to reduced budgetary financing of the higher education system, which - combined with a considerable increase in the number of students - led to a drastic lowering of the amount of the state subsidy per student.  Today, the situation has much improved in this respect. To quote J. BieliÅ„ski's article in the monthly "Forum Akademickie", in 2003-2005, the subsidy for didactic activities of Polish universities increased considerably. In 2003, it was PLN 1,664.3 million, in 2004 - PLN 2,004.0 million, and in 2005 - PLN 2,334.8 million  . However, according to W. Mendys, the aforementioned amounts would only finance a part of remuneration of the staff - 74.5% in 2003, 76.9% in 2004, and 73.4% in 2005. The subsidy accounts for approximately 60% of the revenue of Polish public higher schools.  From analysis of the budget spending on higher education in Gross National Product it follows that the expenditures incresed from about 0.65% in 1995 to 0.93% today. This situation resulted mainly from the increase in salaries. The budget spending on higher education in European countries are about 1.0% on the average. Thus, not counting Scandinavia (Denmark, Sweden), Poland does not fall behind in this respect. Instead, as regards the costs of education incurred by the public and non-public schools, such costs are definitely lower in the latter case. As calculated by the Central Statistical Office, The mean cost of education per statistical student in 2007 was, according to variant I, PLN 11,924 in public schools and PLN 5,606 in non-public schools, and according to variant II - PLN 10,330 and PLN 5,469 respectively. Compared to the previous year, the cost of education per student (variant I) in public schools increased by 6.2% - from PLN 11,228 to PLN 11,924. At the same time, the cost of education per student in non-public schools decreased by 1.2% - from PLN 5,541 to PLN 5,606  . One might state, therefore, that the introduction of competition (that is, fair competition) in the sector of public institutions of higher education in respect of funds for education, and additional financing of full-time students of non-public schools, would result in reduction of the costs of education.
The Bologna Process in Poland
The Law on Higher Education of 2005 takes full account of the recommendations of the Bologna Process. The aim of the Process, named after the Bologna Declaration, signed in the Italian city of Bologna on 19 June 1999 by ministers in charge of higher education from 29 European countries  , is to create a European Higher Education Area by 2010 and to endorse the European system of higher education worldwide. The Bologna Process aims to provide the tools to connect national educational systems rather than harmonise them. The Bologna Declaration has put in motion a series of reforms needed to make European Higher Education more compatible and comparable enhancing competitiveness and attractiveness for students and scholars from around the world. The reforms are based on following objectives:
to introduce a easily understandable and comparable three cycle degree system for undergraduates (Bachelor degrees) and graduates (Master and PhD degrees);
to create a framework of comparable and compatible higher education qualifications at national and European level (qualifications framework) and introduce a credit transfer system (ECTS);
to promote the mobility through suitable measures (e.g. the introduction of cooperation between higher education institutions, including the removal of obstacles to mobility and joint degrees);
to improve the recognition of degrees and academic achievements by ratifying and implementing the Lisbon Convention; to introduce the transparency instruments such as ECTS and the Diploma Supplement;
to cooperate in the field of quality assurance and its promotion at institutional, national and European level; to implement the standards and guidelines for quality assurance agreed in Bergen;
to promote the higher education's European dimension;
to integrate Bologna Process into the concept of lifelong learning;
to involve students in the Bologna Process in order to strengthen the social dimension of higher education;
to enhance the attractiveness of the European Higher Education Area in the global context;
to increase the employability of graduates from all three cycles.
Currently, the European governments and institutions are making efforts to implement those ten simple objectives.
As far as Poland is concerned, the Ministry of Education established the Bologna Promoters Team in order to follow up and support the Bologna Process in 2004. As a result, as from 1 January 2005, a Diploma Supplement for all graduates of Bachelor's as well as Master's degree programmes is issued by all higher education institutions.
Since the mid- 1990s, the higher education institutions have introduced the ECTS by a voluntarily decision.
All institutions are required to use ECTS for both accumulation in their Bachelor's and Master's degree programmes and credit transfer based on the Regulation on the requirements and procedures for the transfer of student achievements adopted by the Minister of Science and Higher Education in October 2006. The Regulation entered into force on 1 January 2007.
In January 2002 was established the State Accreditation Committee responsible for external quality assurance.
As far as the teaching standards are concerned the Ministry is working on adjustments to the qualifications requirements already implemented in the EU states. This action is necessary in order to ensure that people who undertake studies in Poland will have qualifications comparable to those acquired in the other EU countries. At the same time the National Qualifications Framework for lifelong learning is being elaborated by a special Inter-ministerial Group for Lifelong Learning (established on the basis of the Ordinance by the Prime Minister of 17 February 2010) chaired by the Minister of Science and Higher Education.
The majority of Polish higher education institutions have already adjusted their study structure to the "3+2+3 years model" (Bachelor's degree, Master's degree and doctoral programmes). The Act "Law on Higher Education" prepared the education system for introduction of 3-cycle studies, but the higher education institutions had been obliged to introduce such a structure not until 2006 by the decision of the Minister of Science and Higher Education. For the time being 102 of 119 existing fields of study are offered exclusively as 2-cycle studies, 4 fields are conducted exclusively as first cycle studies, 11 fields are offered exclusively as unified magister studies and in 5 fields students are able to choose between 2-cycle studies and unified magister studies.
According to the Act "Law on Higher Education" universities can award diplomas confirming the completion of Bachelor's degree and Master's degree programmes provided in cooperation with various, even foreign higher education institutions. No such regulations have been adopted for doctoral programmes.
Despite the fact that since early 1990s polish higher education has been developing systematically, it is characterized by a poor internationalization indicator in comparison to the EU countries. The important activities concerning internationalization process concentrate mainly in universities, which participate in EU programs, conclude the international agreements with foreign universities, employ foreign academic lecturers (mainly from neighboring countries).
An important indicator measuring the level of internationalization of higher education is the number of foreign students (staying in Poland for the whole studies) in the total number of students at polish universities. In Poland this indicator amounts to 0,5% and at the same time this is the worst result among the 27 OECD countries. According to OECD specialist, the reason consists in the poor and unattractive didactic offer of polish universities.  Among the foreign students at polish universities the majority are Ukrainian (15%), Belarusian (10%), Norwegian (6%) and US (5%). 
The ratio between numbers of polish students studying abroad and polish students in Poland amounts to 1,5% - this is still below the average ratio for EU countries.
Polish institutions of higher education are contributing to international student exchange programmes like SOCRATES/Erasmus, and engaging in bilateral agreements and individual exchange programmes pursued by particular schools. The level of polish students going abroad to study is growing rapidly since the Socrates-Erasmus program introduction. The programme gives the polish students an opportunity to study in partner universities in the European countries, and at the same time, hosting their students in order to complete the study programme which can last from 3 month to one academic year. Students can participate in intensive courses (didactic lectures prepared and lead by international group of lecturers for international group of students). For the time being, over 250 of polish universities take part in Erasmus programme (they have an Erasmus Charter given by European Commission). In the academic year 2007/08, 12 854 polish students studied abroad within Erasmus programme - this is the triple of the number of foreign students coming to Poland (4 446). The number of Polish higher education institutions being a part of Erasmus University Charter is around 200, but still only the 1% of student population is going study abroad. The most popular country among polish students were: Germany (40% of the total number of polish students studying abroad), Great Britain (17,7%), France (8,9%) and US (7,5%). 
Academic recognition of education in Poland
The academic recognition means the recognition of a foreign qualification to enable further studies. The procedure consists in establishing whether the applicant is able to continue studies in the chosen direction and at the chosen level.
Seeking for academic recognition of the credentials of previous studies is essential in the following cases:
holding a degree or diploma of the native country and seeking an admission to a next stage of studies abroad;
seeking an admission for further studies in native country after finishing the previous stage of studies in a foreign country;
moving from one foreign country to a different one in order to continue studies in the further stage of studies;
returning to homeland higher education institution after having finished a stage of studies abroad.
The body responsible for academic recognition in Poland is the Bureau for Academic Recognition and International Exchange, state institution subordinated to the Minister of National Education. Acting as the Polish ENIC centre the Bureau cooperates closely with the ENIC/NARIC Network as well as provides information on higher education institutions and diplomas. The procedures and institutions involved in the foreign diplomas recognition differ according to higher education diplomas and school certificates.
On the basis of the Ordinance of the Minister of National Education on the Rules and Procedure for Nostrification of Certificates Obtained Abroad (October 15, 1997) all foreign school certificates have to be firstly legally recognised by the issuing country and later by the local educational authority in Poland.
The foreign credentials providing the access to the foreign higher education are recognised in Poland as well (similarly to other school certificates), but they must contain a clause that confirms holder's access to the higher education institutions in the home country. Otherwise the authorities of the institution that has issued the certificate might give a separate note confirming this fact.
As far as the recognition of foreign higher education diplomas is concerned relevant provisions of the Regulation of the Minister of National Education on the Rules and Procedure for Nostrification of Diplomas and Professional Titles Obtained Abroad (December 10, 1991) state that the holders of such diplomas must apply either to the council of faculty or to another organizational unit of a Polish higher education institution. However the chosen higher education institution has to be authorised to provide degree programmes and award the academic degree of doctor.
The system of higher education has made an immense contribution to the social and economic transformations taking place in Poland since 1989, but it was underghoing deep changes as well. The main directions of those changes were as follows:
- the emergence and dynamic development of the non-public education system: the first non-public higher schools opened in 1991, and by 1996 they much outnumbered the public ones (although generally the non-public schools have significantly smaller student populations compared to the public ones);
- the very rapid increase in the number of students of both public and non-public schools in 1990-2004; in that period, the student population grew almost 5 times, i.e. by about 1.5 million persons; 60% of the growth in the number of students over those years was accounted for by the public, and the remaining 40% - by non-public schools. Most of the new places were at that time offered at extramural courses;
- the drop in the number of students by 1.3% in 2005-2008, caused by a decrease by about 5% of the public school student population. In that same period, the non-public higher school student population grew by about 6%.