Gowin: Draft law establishing the academic exchange agency soon on the government's agenda

The draft law establishing the National Agency for Academic Exchange (Narodowa Agencja Wymiany Akademickiej, NAWA) should be on the agenda of the government and be should adopted within 2-3 weeks - Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Science and Higher Education Jarosław Gowin said on Monday in Kraków.

The Minister participated in the conference "Foreign students in Poland 2017" at the Jagiellonian University.

The National Agency for Academic Exchange - specialized government agency - is expected to begin operations on 1 January 2018. Its tasks will include supporting universities in their efforts to internationalise, including improving the skills of the university administrative staff needed to assist foreign students, and international promotion of universities. NAWA would also offer a scholarship scheme addressed to both Polish students and researchers going abroad and foreign students and researchers coming to Poland. Moreover, NAWA would support universities in the development of international study programs, including doctoral studies.

"The legislative process is already well underway. We have completed interdepartmental and community consultations. Over the next 2-3 weeks, the bill should be on the agenda of the government and be adopted" - said Gowin. "The main task is to create a system of exchange, both in higher education and in science, a pro-quality system of mobility support for the academic community, to support the process of university internationalisation" - said Deputy Prime Minister.

He stressed that his main goal was for the agency to help reverse the "brain drain".

"I would like the agency to become a tool to reverse the brain drain by bringing as many of the 35 thousand Polish scientists working outside the country as possible back to Poland, and by attracting a possibly high number of foreign scientists" - declared the head of the science ministry.

Jarosław Gowin told reporters that in the first year of operation NAWA would have a budget of approx. 150 million zlotys, and from 2019 this amount is expected to increase to at least 250 million zlotys.

During the conference, Deputy Prime Minister reminded that the internationalisation of higher education is one of the priorities, and at the same time an issue that largely determines the conditions for the development of Polish universities in times of demographic decline.

"Poland is perceived as a safe, financially and culturally attractive country" - said Gowin. He added that there were cases of xenophobia and racism, whose victims were foreign students. "Each of these cases is a shameful thing, and can not be justified" - he stressed. He assured that there would be no consent to any form of racism, but - as he noted - the scale of these events, compared to the Western Europe, was negligible.

The Minister stressed that in cooperation with universities, the principle of supportive activity applies. "Universities and research institutions have the tools to create an attractive educational and research offer on a global level. The task of the Ministry of Science is to create new opportunities, support emerging initiatives and direct them to support the development of the whole country" - said Gowin.

As he noted, currently only 3.5 percent fields of study at Polish universities are taught in foreign languages, mainly in English, and this - according to the minister - is not enough to attract foreigners. The head of the science ministry added that increasing the number of fields of study, not just individual courses offered in foreign languages, requires breaking the mental barriers at universities.

Gowin said that in 2016 the government spent more than 27 million zlotys on scholarship programs for foreigners (including summer schools and aid programs), and Polish universities educated more than 5 thousand Polish government scholarship beneficiaries.

"Achieving real internationalisation is possible only by improving the teaching and scientific quality of Polish centres. The effects will not be visible right away" - reserved the Minister of Science and Higher Education.

Rector of the Jagiellonian University Prof. Wojciech Nowak admitted that "the dream of every rector is an open, multicultural, smiling and safe university". In his opinion, a prerequisite for increased internationalisation of studies in Poland is a system of scholarship support for those interested.

President of the Conference of Rectors of Academic Schools in Poland, rector of Warsaw University of Technology Prof. Jan Smidt pointed out that this was not the first such conference, and the challenges remained the same. "Without the internationalisation there will be no development of science and higher education in Poland. It is one of the keys not only to appearing in the world as an important player, but to taking advantage of not even 100 percent, but 80 percent of our potential" - stressed Prof. Smidt.

He added that the rectors were relieved to hear the announcement of the establishment of the National Agency for Academic Exchange, because it would be a partner for universities to increase international exchange.

President of the Education Foundation PERSPEKTYWY Waldemar Siwinski reported that 65 096 foreigners currently study in Poland (over 11 percent increase of compared to the previous year), 62 thousand of which in fields leading to a diploma, and approx. 3 thousand on one year Erasmus scholarships.

"Internationalisation coefficient, the proportion of students from abroad to the total number of students in Poland, increased from 4.07 percent to 5.15 percent" - said Siwiński. But - as he noted - the total number of students in Poland dropped by nearly 140 thousand - there are now 1 264 451 students.

The largest groups of foreigners on Polish universities include: students from Ukrainie - 34 834 (more than half of all foreign students), Belarus - 5 118, and India - 2 156. More than 1 thousand students come from countries such as Norway, Sweden, Spain, Germany, Czech Republic, Russia and Turkey.

"With a big effort, achieving the level of 120 thousand foreign students in four years is possible. It is not easy, but the trends that we have and the level of preparation of universities are good" - said Siwiński.

Approx. 27 thousand Polish students study abroad.

The conference "Foreign students in Poland 2017" was organized in the framework of the program "Study in Poland" - by the Conference of Rectors of Academic Schools in Poland, the Jagiellonian University, the Kraków City Council and the Education Foundation PERSPEKTYWY.

PAP - Science and Scholarship in Poland, Małgorzata Wosion-Czoba