Pay attention class. Up till now the primary degree in Poland was not a BA but an MA. This takes five years of study and is awarded on submission of an MA thesis. After the MA you can go on to do a PhD – also by research – and then a “habilitacja.” The consequences of this appalling system of education are to be seen at every step in Poland. Buildings fall down, doctors cut off the wrong leg, historians mix up dates, lawyers become ministers for justice… You can’t get a decent plumber for love or money. But all that is to change. The Polish higher educational system is about to be overhauled in order to – all together now – “bring it into line with Europe.” Dziennik (March 2nd) explains. From now on you will start with a three-year primary degree – just like in the west – and go on to do a two-year MA, if you want (read: if you can afford it). “As a result,” the (unnamed) reporter observes, “diplomas awarded by Polish universities will be accepted in all of Europe.” This no doubt will come as a great relief to Leszek Kołakowski (Berkeley, Oxford, Chicago), Zygmunt Bauman (University of Leeds) and maybe even Stanisław Barańczak over in Harvard.
As a matter of fact, in recent years something called a “licencjat” has crept in to Poland under cover of the Bologna treaty. This takes three years (often part-time, by some miracle of accelerated learning) and is supposed to correspond to a BA. Well sometimes, perhaps, it does. As the Poles say: “różnie bywa.”
The newspaper article suggests that the thesis requirement will disappear altogether and that Poland will no longer offer MAs by research (known sometimes by fuddy-duddies as “real” MAs). Why do away with independent research and presentation of one’s results at the lower levels of university education? Former minister for education, Krystyna Łybacka is disarmingly frank: because it’s too easy now to cog your MA thesis off the internet or pay someone to write it for you. In other words: we surrender. The cheats have won.
Another exciting development in the proposed overhaul is more input from employers. They will be able to order certain courses of study from the state – theology, one supposes, Latin, morphology, Semitic languages – that kind of thing. Andrzej Malinowski, of the Confederation of Polish Employers says: “Up until now our universities have been producing the unemployed.” He is entitled to his peculiar views on the causes of unemployment but it becomes alarming when the newspaper appears to accept them uncritically. On page one we read: “Thanks to this [employers ordering state-funded university courses to suit their desire for profits] the problem of finding workers will disappear and graduates will not be forced to spend month after month searching for work.”
It need hardly be said that universities will be forced to compete with each other for state funding. One of the criteria for gaining money at the expense of other universities is adjusting courses of study to the needs of the intellect — sorry, that should read “market.”