Higher Education in Poland has an impressive tradition, which can be traced back to 1364, when University of Kraków (today known as Jagiellonian University) was founded. Today, there are over 400 public and private institutions that deliver education in the whole range of academic and vocational areas. Among them, Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education distinguishes Universities (a category awarded to institutions that show high quality of research and teaching in at least 3 different fields, for example in Humanities, Engineering & Technical Sciences and Medical & Health Sciences), Universities of Technology (Politechnika, a category awarded to institutions that similarly show high quality of research and teaching in at least 2 different areas of Engineering & Technical Sciences), Academies (Akademia, a category of institutions which can award doctoral title in at least 2 academic fields) and Institutes (Instytut, which can either function on its own or be a part of a larger Higher Education institution). In 2017/2018 academic year, there was over 70 thousand foreign students in Poland, which is almost 6% of all students. For more information, please refer to the official government website: https://www.gov.pl/web/science.
Poland participates in the Bologna Process, an agreement made between most European countries in order to harmonise their educational systems and allow a shared framework. This means that studying in Poland is divided into three academic levels:
- First Cycle: the initial level of higher education that can be accessed with completed Matura qualification (a final qualification that Polish students leave secondary education with) or equivalent. It takes 3 or 3.5 years to complete and concludes with the award of the Bachelor’s title (Licencjat) or Bachelor’s of Engineering (Inżynier)
- Second Cycle: the second level of higher education that can be accessed with completed First Cycle qualification. It takes between 1.5 to 2.5 years to complete and concludes with the award of the Master’s title (Magister) or Master’s of Engineering (Magister Inżynier)
- Third cycle: doctoral studies – the final level of higher education that can be accessed with completed Second Cycle studies. It takes between 2 to 4 years to complete and concludes with the award of Doctor of Philosophy (Doktor) title.
Some degrees can only be studied for in Integrated Master programmes (studia Jednolite Magisterskie which encompass First and Second Cycle of higher education), which take 5 or 6 years to complete. These are regulated by the Polish government and currently include degrees such as: Pharmacy, Physiotherapy, Medicine, Dentistry, Veterinary Medicine and Law. Usually universities will also offer a wide range of postgraduate studies (studia podyplomowe). Such courses do not award academic degrees – students obtain certificates of completion instead. However, one has to complete at least First Cycle studies before applying to a postgraduate programme. Degrees in Poland can often be completed in two ways: via intramural programme (studia stacjonarne) or extramural programme (studia niestacjonarne). The distinction is that in intramural programmes at least 50% of the curriculum needs to be delivered via university classes, lectures, labs and seminars. In extramural programmes direct involvement of academic staff in teaching can be smaller. However, intramural and extramular distinction can be interpreted in various ways by different universities, so it is always worth reading up on it. For example, some public universities will provide the same curriculum and the same amount of teaching to students of both programmes, only difference being that intramural students do not pay any tuition fees but extramular students do.
There is no universal online application system in Poland, so students usually apply via websites of respective universities. Most higher education institutions support application process in this way for degrees of all levels of study. Some institutions, however, will also require hardcopies of student’s documentation or original high school diploma to be delivered to the university by post or in person. Admission is granted based on the grades obtained on a student’s high school diploma – Matura in Poland. However, equivalent diplomas are accepted, and most of the recognized and highly esteemed institutions will share information on their websites about how International Baccalaureate (IB), European Baccalaureate (EB) and other countries’ diploma scores are compared to Polish Matura. This possibly makes the application process easier for many international students who come to study in Poland, as their number has been growing rapidly over the last few years.
International students can study in Poland without paying tuition fees if they are enrolled on terms that apply to Polish students, that is: they have been granted a residence permit; they hold refugee status; they have been granted temporary protection; they are a migrant worker, EU/EEA national or a member of an EU/EEA migrant worker family; have been granted an EU long-term residents residence permit or they are a EU/EEA citizen with the right of permanent residence. Other foreigners are required to pay tuition fees, which are, on average, 2000 euro per year for Bachelor’s or Master’s degree level, and 3000 euro per year for Doctoral degree level and postgraduate and post-doctoral internships.