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Do worse candidates in Poland displace better ones during admission procedure for 2nd and 3rd cycle studies?

Over 16 months Polish Student Support Fund team was investigating improperties in 140 admission procedures for 2nd and 3rd cycle studies. It was all started by a request from one aggreviated student, and ended up with fundamental questions about the objective of the university and the boundaries of its autonomy.

In 2013 one student from middle-sized Polish university contacted the Fundation. She had not been  admitted to 2nd cycle studies to one of the biggest Polish public universities. She asked for help in writing an appeal letter to the admission decision. As she claimed, instead of her and other non-resident students, students with worse performance from previous education level have been accepted and those who presented themselves worse in the collage interview but were familiar to the members of the admisssion comittee. Closer consideration of this case has shown that her opinion was not isolated and furthermore:

  • the problem concerns many other universities in Poland and not only humanities
  • admission decisions which are difficult to explain, are also connected to admission procedure to 3rd cycle studies
  • previously completed university is not the only reason for discrimination.

In the face of such alarming situations, Fundation's experts dealt with this topic comprehensively and from November 2014 to February 2016 examined  the course of 140 admission procedures (120 at universities and 20 in other higher education institutions authorized to confer an academic degree of a doktor (doctor). In the completed report, they used different research approaches (legal, statistical, purposefully) and all of them gave a similar result- there is something wrong with the admission procedure.

Law regulations' analysis concerning admission procedure has proven numerous mistakes in admission regulations. Statistical analysis revealed absurdly high number of ''own'' candidates admitted in comparison to graduates from other universities. Procedures which accompanied the choice of future beneficiaries of free education also did not look good – for example, not everywhere the guarantee of excluding persons directly interested in the final decision (thesis supervisors) from admission procedure, was introduced.  Finally, universities' admission strategies  did not always looked like, as though the university cared to attract the best candidates, e.g. to reach with the educational offer and presentation of social conditions to talented but non-resident candidates.

Universities developed the whole catalogue of ways, due to which, worse but ''own'' candidate  could beat the better one (but unfamiliar) in the admission procedure. There is a special allotment of places for ''own'' candidates, a handicap of 1000 extra points for ''own'' candidates, priority for own graduates, provided that, the grades obtained by them were not lower than 3,5; ''free admission'' to a university and acceptance of documents only from ''own'' candidates on the first day of admission procedure.

In Poland, the subject of faulty admission procedures is rarely raised by the media and organisations  operating in the academic environment. Injustice felt by candidates, who had not been accepted to their dreamt university is partially alleviated by the fact, that they are quickly admitted to other university courses. It happens like that, because universities in the time of demographic boom got bigger in terms of faculty and infrastructural size in order to accept as many candidates as possible.  When the population decline came, universities did not ''shrink'' proportionally to the anticipated numer of students. People who became victims of discrimination during admission process are admitted to other free university courses, where they lack candidates but there is a glut of faculty.

Problems with admission procedure are one of the symptoms of main flaws of Polish higher education:

  1. It lacks certain impulses to enter the global education level. Communities interested in making the universities offer educational and scientific services on the possibly the highest level (good at recruiting the best students and researchers) have weaker impact than those comminities which want universities to offer stable employment for the same employees as for now.
  1. Polish students and faculty display limited mobility. The method of recruitment for studies restricts student's mobility but, above all, is an element of a university's closing-up. The most striking indication of this situation is dramatically low percentage of foreign researchers taking up jobs on Polish universities or foreign students, who come to study in  Poland from other reasons than just low study cost.
  1. The idea of university's  autonomy is badly interpreted by Polish universities. The autonomy concerns mostly the freedom of forming university's internal structure and governing it; the freedom of doing researches and artistic activity, however it cannot be an excuse for avoiding the principal of equal opportunities during the admission procedure and realization of public tasks as: creating the right conditions for development for talented young people, creating possibly the best staff for economy, administration, culture and social activity, reasonable distribution of limited free places at a university or equalising development chances between regions. Locating over the half of the places for 3rd cycle studies in three cities (Warsaw, Cracow, Poznan) for example, does not mean that these places should be distributed between residential graduates form 2nd cycle studies.
  1. Actions taken by universities are marked by little transparency. Fortunately, this is the only area in which a significant change has been noticed in recent years. The number of institutions refusing access to public information is gradually decreasing.

Team of's project

Here you can find information about the organisers of the monitoring:

More information about other watchdog activities organised by the FPS Foundation available at this website: