The Higher Education System in Poland

In the heart of Central Europe, Poland stands as a beacon of academic excellence, boasting a higher education system that combines tradition with innovation. As an increasingly popular destination for international students, Poland has emerged as a key player in the global higher education arena. This article aims to provide an in-depth exploration of the higher education system in Poland. We’ll be shedding light on its unique features, academic offerings, and the cultural milieu that surrounds it. Whether you’re a prospective student contemplating an academic journey in Poland, or simply an enthusiast eager to explore the global tapestry of learning, this article provides valuable insights into the higher education system in Poland.

How is Poland for Higher Education?

When considering higher education, Poland stands out for its unique blend of historical tradition and variability in its academic landscape. Here are intriguing insights into Poland’s higher education sphere:

Diversity in Education

Poland boasts a robust higher education system comprising over 400 institutions, ranging from universities to technical institutions and private establishments.

Historical Tapestry

The significance of Polish universities transcends academics. Notably, the University of Warsaw served as a bastion of academic and cultural resilience during times of occupation and political tumult.

Academic Legacy

Poland’s commitment to higher education spans centuries, with the Jagiellonian University of Kraków, established in 1364, standing as one of Europe’s oldest universities.

Global Appeal

In recent years, Poland has emerged as a sought-after destination for international scholars. The country is currently hosting approximately 72,000 students from around the world.

Harmonizing Education

Aligned with the Bologna Process, Poland strives for a harmonized and standardized higher education system across Europe, ensuring the recognition of Polish degrees internationally.

Linguistic Diversity

While many programs are conducted in Polish, a growing number of courses in English, spanning bachelor’s to doctoral levels, attract a diverse pool of international students.

Erasmus Engagement

Active participation in the Erasmus Program enhances Poland’s global footprint, fostering cultural exchange as its universities host students from various European nations.

Economic Accessibility

Poland offers an economically viable option for education, with tuition fees comparably lower than those in Western Europe, although they fluctuate based on programs and student origins.

Check here our overview of the living and studying cost in Poland.

Research Involvement

Investments in research and development underscore Poland’s commitment to innovation, with universities of technology at the forefront of scientific and technological advancements.

Academic Stewardship

The Polish Academy of Sciences, established in 1952, stands as a cornerstone for scientific research, providing a collaborative platform for scholars.

Quality Assurance

Ensuring adherence to standards, the Polish Accreditation Committee (PKA) oversees quality assurance in higher education, safeguarding the integrity of institutions and programs. 

Global Rankings

According to recent assessments, the Polish education system has secured the 5th position in Europe and an outstanding 10th in the world. From literacy to numeracy, science, and foreign languages, Poland continues to carve a significant place on the international educational rankings.

With a rise in international enrollment attributed to quality education, affordable fees, and an expanding English-taught curriculum, Poland is emerging as a favored hub for higher education.

Types of Higher Education Institutions in Poland

The Polish higher education has over 800-year history behind it. This has led to the existence today of more than 400 institutions, many of them, offering programs in English. Notable alumni from Poland universities include Marie Curie and Nicolaus Copernicus. 

Moreover, there are currently 14 universities in QS World University Rankings®. When it comes to institutions categories, there are 2 types of higher education institutions (HEI) in Poland: public and non-public (private) institutions. These institutions further are divided into academic and vocational education institutions. 

Academic institutions are devoted to provide at least one scientific or artistic discipline. These are the types of institutions which conduct first-cycle (bachelor’s), second-cycle (master’s), and long-cycle studies. Academic institutions also provide education for doctoral (PhD) students. 

Vocational institutions, on the other hand, focus on practical education. They provide first- and second-cycle studies or long-cycle studies. Institutions of higher education in Poland are regulated by the Polish Accreditation Committee. This independent institution’s mission mostly focuses on ensuring and enhancing education quality.

Check out here our ranking of the best universities in Poland for international students

Poland Higher Education System: Structure of Studies

Higher education institutions in Poland offer both full-time and extramural education. As the country adheres to the Bologna process, using the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) for an easier international qualification recognition.

Therefore, to complete successfully a year, a student needs to earn 60 credits, which comes to 30 per semester. When it comes to study levels, the options include: first-cycle studies, second-cycle studies, long cycle studies as well as doctoral studies. 

First-cycle studies

First-cycle studies last 3 to 4 years and lead to the licencjat or inżynier degree, the Polish equivalent for the bachelor’s degree. Studies focus on employment preparation or further education. Moreover, to earn this degree, students need to complete at least 180 ECTS credits. 

Second-cycle studies 

This is the cycle that lead to a master’s degree and last between 1.5 and 2 years. Studies at this point focus on theoretical knowledge and creative skills’ development. This degree also provides graduates entry into a doctoral program and requires at least 90 ECTS credits to complete.

Long-cycle studies

This is the study cycle you follow to pursue studies and degrees in medicine, law and arts in Poland. As their name states, long-cycle studies last between 4.5 and 6 years to complete and lead to a master’s degree. When it comes to credit number, students need to earn 300 to 360 ECTS credits to complete their program and graduate. 

Doctoral studies

The last cycle of studies are for students who are holders of a master’s degree and takes place at doctoral schools. Duration for doctoral studies in higher education institutions in Poland is between 3 and 4 years. Moreover, students get admission through competition based on the principles set out by the University Senate or the Scientific Council. 

Another particularity for doctoral degrees in Poland is that candidates benefits from a scholarship for the duration of their doctoral work. Moreover, by the end of their research studies and work, students earn a PhD degree upon passing a doctoral examination and a successful defense of a doctoral dissertation. 

Examinations & Grading System

All institutions of higher education in Poland are required to conclude their courses with examinations. Each subject therefore includes multiple independent examinations or tests. Generally, students, at the end of each semester, sit oral and written exams, covering each individual study subject. 

To successfully complete a year or a semester, students must attain at least a “satisfactory” grade in all assessments and examinations. Moreover, they need to obtain performance assessment credits for all integrated placements. 

Grading System

Each university or institution identifies its own grading scale. However, most common scale include the following marks: 

  • 5 for very good or bardzo dobry in Polish
  • 4 for good or dobry in Polish
  • 3 for satisfactory (the minimal score to complete a semester) or dostateczny
  • 2 for unsatisfactory/fail or niedostateczny

Occasionally, adjustments are made to numerical grades with the incorporation of the plus symbol or decimal. It’s essential to emphasize that grades awarded on this scale don’t have a direct correspondence with ECTS credits.

Academic Year at Higher Education Institutions in Poland

The academic year in Poland consists of 2 semesters of 15 weeks each: the winter semester and the summer semester. 

The winter semester starts in October and lasts until mid-February. During this semester, students get about 10 days of winter break in December, as well as an inter-semester break in early February. Winter semester exams take place in January and lasts 2 to 3 weeks. 

The summer semester, on the other hand, starts in mid-February and lasts in June. 4 to 5 days spring break takes place in April and the final exams take place in June for 2 or 3 weeks. Lastly, summer holidays take place from July to September. 

Also, those who failed their exams in January can resit it in March, while those who failed their June exam take it again in September. 

Recognition of Foreign Higher Education Degrees in Poland

Degrees obtained from EU, OECD, or EFTA countries are acknowledged in Poland. To confirm possession of a first cycle degree, you need to complete 3 years of studies or an equivalent duration. Similarly, for a second cycle degree, completion of second cycle studies or a 4-year-long cycle is necessary.

Equivalency Considerations for Foreign Degrees

Degrees from non-EU, non-OECD, or non-EFTA countries may be regarded as equivalent to Polish degrees. Recognition can be established through existing international agreements or by undergoing what is called “nostrification process” if no such agreements are in place.

The Nostrification Procedure

Nostrification serves as the process to validate a foreign diploma, equating it to a Polish one. A successful nostrification grants individuals the ability to use the corresponding Polish academic degree.

Authorities for Nostrification in Higher Education

Organizational units within higher education institutions take care of nostrification tasks. These units are the ones to confer the academic title of a doctor in a specific field of science or art.

Read also here our guide on how to apply for university studies in Poland.

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