Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Recent stats about Polish academia, some hasty remarks

Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education has recently published this year's report on higher education in Poland. While the topic doesn't have much to do with logic, here are some points that caught my attention, together with my (sociologically incompetent) remarks.
  • FACT The number of students: 390 409 in 1990, peaking at 1 953 832 in 2005, now dropping and reaching 1 764 060 in 2011. While in 1990 the ratio of students among citizens aged 19-24 was 9,8% in 1990, it peaked at 40,9 in 2009 and is slowly dropping, having reached 40,6 in 2011.
    REMARK This shouldn't be taken as a direct measure of how educated the Polish society is. There are many factors which make (say) a Master's from 1990 in principle more valuable than that from 2010.
    - While there is a bunch of public higher education institutions (including 19 universities), there were practically no private higher education institutions in 1990 - so 100% of full time university students studied at public universities. In contrast, in 2006 there were 1 329 000 students at public institutions and 593000 at private institutions. While some of the private institutions are famously awesome, most of them provide education of somewhat lower quality than the one you can get at a public university and sometimes going to a private school is a contingency plan for a public institution applicant (cf. table 69, where 86% graduates from a public university would have chosen it again, compared to 76% graduates from a private institution - but even that is not an adequate measure of the quality of education, for many reasons).
    - The salaries at universities in Poland aren't always terribly exciting. In fact, more than 20% university professors in Poland hold at least two positions at different institutions (table 38). This means that the average time and effort they devote to a student is less than what you'd wish it to be (and also, that the amount of time they can devote to research is lower). In fact, I am surprised the table shows only 20% - I suspect they haven't registered many faculty members who teach at other institutions only part-time. (By the way, I don't think the Polish database of academic staff which they relied on is a reliable source of information - just a month ago I had to correct their information by explaining I got a PhD in 2008). This, of course, has some bearing on how to read the information in table 34 in a section titled "Availability of faculty to students". Table 34 tells us that there are around 15 students per a faculty member at a public institution, comparing it to around 16 in USA and 19 in Belgium. Given that 20% of faculty members work at at least two institutions, they're counted at least twice. Not to mention that the ratio itself is not a good measure of availability of faculty to students, which should be assessed in a definitely more complicated manner. (For instance, relatively strong hierarchization of academia in Poland is bound to make students spend less time asking extra questions, attending office hours etc.)
    - Nowadays, some public university faculties have to struggle to maintain a certain number of students (especially given the raise of private competition and the decrease in the number of young people in general). University senates often put minima on the number of students you have to have to keep the program running (for instance, I think at UGdansk, at least at my faculty, you have to have at least 25 BA full-time students in year one to start a new academic year with and you have to have at least 15 students who sign up for an optional course to start it) - in effect the faculty feels somewhat pressed to let some people pass the exams even if they shouldn't, just to make sure there is enough students to keep things going. 
  • FACT At universities there are around 1.8 PhD students per a professor (table 45).
    REMARK For one thing, some of the departments and schools have no PhD program, so faculty members do not supervise PhD students there. Also, usually, only a certain selected number of professors actually supervise PhD students, so from my experience it is more common to have one or two profs at a department in Poland who supervise 5-20 PhD students and quite a few who supervise no PhD students. It would be much more interesting to see how many PhD students there are per a professor who actually supervises at least one PhD student.
That's it for now, comments welcome.