WENR, March/April 2003: Education In Poland

By Robert Sedgwick, Editor
Nick Clark, Assistant Editor
Jennifer Dombkowski, Area Specialist


olish education has been undergoing major restructuring since the early 1990s. The introduction of a market economy has affected the country’s system of higher education in particular. Job competitiveness and the threat of unemployment have increased the demand for university places, as enrollment in higher education is generally perceived to be the best way to ensure financial success. 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.
In September 1990 three new education laws were implemented: the School Education Act, the Higher Education Act, and the Academic Title and Academic Degrees Act.
Primary and secondary education systems have also undergone extensive reforms, especially since 1999 (see below).
The academic year in Poland runs from September to June.
The medium of instruction is Polish.
Location: Central Europe, seven land borders: Germany, Czech Republic, Slovak Republic, Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and Lithuania
Land Area: 304,465 sq km
Major cities and their population (2000):
Warsaw (capital): 1,610,471
Lodz: 793,217
Krakow: 741,510
Wroclaw: 642,300
Poznan: 588,700
Total population: 38,633,912
Per capita income: $8,500
Literacy: 99 percent
Religions: Roman Catholic 95%, Eastern Orthodox, Protestant and other 5%
Number of students enrolled in higher education: 1,584,800
Number of Polish students studying in US: 2,606 (2001/02 – Open Doors)


Duration: Six years (ages seven to 13)
Curriculum: Polish language and literature, civics, history, modern languages, mathematics, biology, geography, physics, chemistry, music, arts, the environment, technology, computing and physical education
Leaving Certificate: Swiadectwo Ukonczenia Szkoly Podstawowej (Certificate of Completion of Primary School).
At transition in 1989, 45 percent of the secondary school students were studying at three-year basic vocational schools leading to worker qualifications, with the other 55 percent at general or vocational secondary schools, giving the possibility of access to higher education through competitive examinations. By 1999 the number of students enrolling in the shorter vocational courses had dropped to 30 percent marking a shift of emphasis from the provision of production workers to graduating better-qualified students able to proceed to higher education. The secondary school credentials of the former system will be issued until 2004. The credential that gives right for entry to higher education, before and after reform, is the Swiadectwo Dojrzalosci (Maturity Certificate), issued after completion of education in a secondary school and success in the Maturity examination (Egzamin Dojrzalosci/Matura). The only upper-secondary school that does not give access to higher education is the basic vocational school. Graduates from these schools may enter the work force or continue their education in different types of complementary secondary schools: liceum uzupelniajace or technikum uzupelniajace. Following the completion of education in these schools students can sit the maturity examination and become eligible for entrance to higher education.
Middle School (Gimnazjum)
Duration: Three years (ages 13 to 16)
Curriculum: Polish, two foreign languages, history, mathematics, physics, physical education and social education, chemistry, geography, biology and environmental studies
Leaving Certificate: Swiadectwo Ukonczenia Gimnazjum (Certificate of Completion of Education in the Gymnasium)
Upper Secondary General School (Liceum Ogólnoksztalcace)

Duration: Three years (ages 16-19)
Leaving Certificate: Swiadectwo Dojrzalosci Liceum Ogólnoksztalcacego (Maturity Certificate of the General Lyceum) or Swiadectwo Ukoczenia Liceum Ogólnoksztalcacego (Certificate of Completion of Education in the General Lyceum)
Technical Secondary School (Technikum)
Duration: Four years (ages 16 to 20)
Leaving Certificate: Swiadectwo Dojrzalosci Technikum (Maturity Certificate of Technical Secondary School) or Swiadectwo Ukonczenia Technikum (Certificate of Completion of Education in Technical Secondary School)
Until September 1999 the 8 years of primary school, ages 7 to 15, which led to the Swiadectwo Ukonczenia Szkoly Podstawowej (Certificate of Completion of Primary School) was the first stage of education in Poland. After primary school, students could apply for admission to secondary, general or vocational schools. Secondary education covered the age group 15 to 18 and pupils had a choice between the following schools:
• 4-year general secondary schools
• 4-year technical secondary schools
• 5-year technical secondary schools
• 3-year basic vocational schools.
Only the first three types of schools offered the opportunity of taking the maturity examination (Matura). On the completion of the 4-year general or vocational secondary school, pupils obtained a secondary school leaving certificate mentioning the subjects and the marks obtained at the end of the final year, which gives access to the Matura examination. Pupils leaving the 3-year basic vocational schools had to sit for a vocational examination leading to a basic vocational school leaving certificate, conferring the title of a skilled worker.
The Matura examination is not compulsory in Poland, although it is necessary for all those pupils who wish to apply for admission to any type of higher education establishment.
The reforms of 1999 saw the introduction of new types of school: 6-year primary school, 3-year gymnasium, followed by the following types of post-gymnasium schools: 3-year specialized lyceum, 3-year general lyceum, 4-years technical secondary school, 2 or 3-year vocational school, 2-year complementary lyceum, and 3-year complementary technical secondary school. The system is in transition, with both the old and new systems coexisting, until 2004, when maturity certificates will be awarded for the last time based on the system functioning prior to reform. The Matura examination will remain in place after 2005.
Vocational Secondary (Liceum Profilowane)
Duration: Three years
Leaving Certificate: Swiadectwo Dojrzalosci Liceum Profilowanego (Maturity Certificate of Specialized Liceum) or Swiadectwo Ukonczenia Liceum Profilowanego (Certificate of Completion of Education from Specialized Lyceum)
Basic Vocational Secondary (Szkola Zasadnicza)
Duration: Two to three years
Leaving Certficate: Swiadectwo Ukonczenia Szkoly Zasadniczej (Certificate of Completion of Education from Basic Vocational School)
The higher education system is administered by the Ministry of National Education [2], which co-ordinates the activities of the institutions of higher education. The 1990 Higher Education Act restricted the authority of the Minister of National Education in the area of school management by granting autonomy to both individual higher education institutions and faculties within an institution. The responsibilities of the minister include, amongst other things, exercising general supervision over the higher education sector, controlling whether activities carried out by individual institutions comply with the legislation in force, and establishing new institutions.
The General Council of Higher Education, the elected representative body of all higher schools, with wide constitutional and advisory rights, cooperates with the Ministry of National Education. Higher education studies are almost exclusively covered by university-type institutions, although this term is not used in the Higher Education Act. Some higher education institutions are supervised by other ministries: Ministry of Health (Academies of Medicine), of Culture and National Heritage (Academies of Music, Fine Arts, Theatre and Film Studies), of Transport and Maritime Economy (Merchant Navy and Deep Sea Fishery Academies), the Office of Physical Education and Tourism (Academies of Physical Education).
There are more than 100 institutions of higher education in Poland. These include 11 universities, 14 technical universities, 4 higher schools of engineering, 8 agricultural academies, 5 academies of economics, and 10 teacher-training colleges.
For a listing of these institutions go HERE
Entrance requirements: The Swiadectwo Dojrzalosci with a minimum score of 2-mierny (mediocre) in the grading scale introduced in 1991. Before that, the minimum score requirement was 3-dostateczny. Some institutions require entrance exams for admission to their programs.
Programs and Degrees
Stage I: There are two academic/professional qualifications: the Licencjat (Licentiate), which takes 3-3.5 years to complete and the Tytul Inzynier (Title of Engineer) which takes between 3 and 4 years to complete. The Dyplom Ukonczenia Nauczycielskiego Kolegium Jezykow Obcych (Diploma of Completion of Foreign Language Teacher Training School) is for teacher training and takes 3 years to complete. The entrance requirement for all three qualifications is the Swiadectwo Dojrzalosci.
Stage I and II: Two academic/professional qualifications are awarded at this level: the Tytul Magistra (Title of Master), awarded after 4-5 years of study and the Tytul Magistra Inzyniera (Title of Master in Engineering) which is awarded after 5 years of study. The entrance requirement for both is the Swiadectwo Dojrzalosci.
There are also several professional degrees: The Tytul Lekarza (Title of Physician) which takes a total of 6 years to complete, the Tytul Lekarza Stomatologa (Title of Dental Physician) which takes 5 years and the Tytul Lekarza Weterynarii (Title of Veterinary Physician) which takes between 5 and 5.5 years.
Stage III: The Doktor Nauk (Doctor of Science) takes a minimum of 3 years and requires the Tytul Magistra or Tytul Magistra Inzyniera for admission. The Doktor Habilitowany (Habilitated Doctor) takes a minimum of 1 year and requires the Doktor Nauk.
The szkoly policealne and szkoly pomaturalne are the two types of institutions in Poland that provide non-university higher education.
The szkoly policealne train students in a variety of vocational fields, including technical, allied health and business. Students who successfully complete these training programs are awarded the Swiadectwo Ukonczenia Szkoly Policealnej (certificate of completion of education in post-secondary school). Programs at this type of institution lasts between 1 and 2.5 years. Graduates can then go on and take a vocational examination for the Dyplom Ukonczenia Tytul Zawodowego (vocational title diploma).
Nurses and midwives are only trained at the Szkoly Pomaturalne. Since 1999 the training of nurses and midwives has been incorporated into the higher education system. Graduates are awarded the Dyplom Ukonczenia Szkoly Pomaturalnej (diploma of completion of education in the post-secondary school). Programs at these institutions last 2.5 years.
Primary School Teachers
Until 1994 primary school teachers trained at teacher schools (Studium Nauczycielskie). They could either take a two-year post-secondary course or a six-year post-primary course (discontinued since 1992). In 1990 3-year teacher-training courses were established. Teacher schools were replaced with two types of school: teacher colleges (kolegium nauczycielskie) under local educational authorities awarding Dyplom Ukonczenia (certificate of completion of a given teacher college), and teacher training colleges (kolegium nauczycielskie) functioning within the academic structure and awarding Licencjat degrees.
Before 1990, the qualification awarded was the Swiadectwo Dojrzalosci (maturity certificate) and/or Dyplom Ukonczenia… of a given type of school (diploma of completion of education in… institute).
Secondary School Teachers
Holders of the master’s degree or its equivalent who have taken a pedagogical course are eligible to teach at the secondary level. Since 1990, specialized foreign language teacher training colleges (nauczycielskie kolegium jezykow obcych) functioning within the academic structure provide three-year courses for teachers of English, German and French. Graduates receive the Dyplom Ukonczenia Kolegium Nauczycielskiego and the professional title of Licencjat.
Higher Education Teachers
Holders of doktor and doktor habilitowany are eligible to teach at tertiary-level institutions.
Useful Sites
Ministry of Education and Sport [2] (Ministerstwo Edukacji Narodowej i Sportu)
• Conference of Rectors of Academic Schools in Poland
Bureau for Academic Recognition and International Exchange [3]
University Accreditation Commission [4]
• Listings of Institutions of Higher Education [5]
EuroEducation.net [6]
• The Admission and Placement of Students from the Republic of Poland.1992.
Projects for International Education Research.
• World Guide to Higher Education. 1996. UNESCO