Govt. votes on education reforms

Piotr Gliński (L), Beata Szydło (C) and Jarosław Gowin (R) in the Sejm yesterday. PAP/Paweł Supernak

The reforms follow recommendations from representatives of three different universities.

Sweeping reforms to Poland’s tertiary education sector will be brought in after the Polish parliament voted in legislation late last night.

The reforms -- also nicknamed the ‘Gowin reforms’ after their main champion, Minister of Science and Higher Education Jarosław Gowin -- will see considerable changes to the management and financing of the country’s Higher Education institutions.

Among the changes, will be more external involvement from ‘lay people’ in the management of the universities and a more meritocratic funding system, with university rankings determining financial support.

It’s a move that has been opposed by academics and students, who claim the overhaul is a further attempt by the ruling Law and Justice party to politicise state-run institutions and consolidate power. Many have staged sit-in protests in the past few months in a show of dissent.

Gowin and his supporters, however, have long argued that the tertiary system in Poland was marred with inefficiencies and was beholden to what the Minister called an ‘ivory tower syndrome’. Part of the reforms are also intended to address poor PhD and academic salaries.

The new legislation is also a heavily watered-down version of the previous proposed reforms after parliament introduced at least 200 amendments to the bill, which was finally passed last night after two years of consultation.

The consultation came after the Ministry formed an advisory panel in 2016 made up of representatives from three different universities who then drafted reform recommendations. Gowin has long argued that the changes he has put forward come from the academic community itself.

In a speech in parliament yesterday, Deputy Minister Piotr Mueller defended the reforms against accusations of co-option.

“The Act increases the autonomy of the university by increasing its organisational freedom inside. It is the academic community that decides how the university works inside, not the law,” he said.

Mueller also emphasised that many academic bodies supported the decision, with the Student Parliament of the Republic of Poland, the National Representation of Doctoral Students, numerous student self-governments all expressing their support.