Looking at the annual rankings of Polish universities and colleges, 2003-2015 (Part Three)
By Mark Wegierski
Today, I can unfortunately see how the country is in the throes of massive change. Indeed, one can see today that young people in Poland are being enchanted and entranced into new types of lifestyles – so-called "international" or "North American" modes of life -- where genuine patriotism and religious faith are playing less and less of a role.
Nevertheless, there is a definite presence in at least some of the higher-education sector of patriotic and religious themes and elements. One thinks of such institutions as the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin ( kul.pl ) – which had once been the only independent university between the Elbe and the Pacific. (The university, which had been founded in 1918, has a hybrid public/private legal status.) Two prominent Catholic universities are the Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski University in Warsaw (uksw.edu.pl), and the Pontifical University of John Paul II in Krakow ( upjp2.edu.pl). I would also like to bring the readers' attention to the Akademia Polonijna (Polonia University) in Czestochowa (ap.edu.pl ) – which has taken on a special mission to maintain contacts with the various Polish communities abroad. The very conservative Father Rydzyk (the founder of Radio Maryja and TV Trwam) has established a college in Torun (wsksim.edu.pl) which has ranked in the top thirty of non-public institutions which offer a master's degree.
As far as the rankings themselves, it's not surprising that the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, and the University of Warsaw, have always been ranked first or second. (In 2012 and 2013, the Jagiellonian University was first. In 2014, it was the University of Warsaw. In 2015, both the Jagiellonian University and the University of Warsaw received the maximum possible scores, so they were effectively tied in first place.) Perennially in a strong third place is the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan.
In the interwar period, the university in Poznan, and the city and countryside around it, were bastions of the right-wing Polish National Democracy movement. Today, however, AMU seems to be one of the most "politically correct" universities in Poland, with a special focus on "internationalization".
The Second World War and its aftermath caused enormous, virtually incalculable losses in the Polish academy. Huge numbers of Polish intelligentsia were massacred by both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. For example, in late 1939, the professors and research workers of the Jagiellonian University were treacherously invited to a meeting by the German occupation authorities, where they were brutally set upon and sent to the concentration camps. Many of them died of ill treatment. Many of the Polish reserve officers who died at Katyn were prominent professors and scientists. With the loss of Wilno and Lwow, the two, centuries-old Polish universities in those cities ceased to exist, although some of the scholars tried to resume work at Torun and Wroclaw, respectively (in the new People's Republic). The Stalinist period, which lasted until 1956, was mostly an era of darkness. It was only when Wladyslaw Gomulka came to power in 1956, and initiated the period of "the Thaw" – that the regime was essentially "polonized".
Nevertheless, the general level of most people's education in the People's Republic doubtless improved, although it was also mixed in with propaganda. Illiteracy virtually disappeared. The birthrates in Poland until the 1980s were also actually considerably higher than they are today, when they have fallen drastically.
Even these annual ranking issues have mentioned the fact that a "demographic low" is overwhelming Poland – which is clearly expected to have an impact on college attendance numbers. The only "solution" that is being suggested is "internationalization" of the student body. What is interesting, however, is that after all these strenuous efforts, most of the foreign students are from Ukraine, Belarus, and other Slavic and Eastern European countries – some of whom may in fact be of Polish origins.
To be continued.
(An earlier version of this article has appeared at Quarterly Review (UK) (September 28, 2012).)
Mark Wegierski is a Toronto-based writer and historical researcher.