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How media reflects and affects issues on internationalization of higher education in Poland? PDF Drukuj

How media reflects and affects issues on internationalization of higher education in Poland? Journal of University Development and Academic Management, Cluj Napoca – Rumunia

Developments in the field of higher education traditionally have not been THE topic for national and cross-border media. The situation, however, is now changing. The level of awareness of the importance of transformation taking place in the global higher education landscape is growing rapidly. The New York Times provides the best example of the new attitude media are adopting toward education. The Times has launched a series of front page feature articles on global education under the title: “Global Classroom”.

Yet, the leading role in providing information and raising issues for professional debate still stays with specialized, educational media. This is particularly true in these countries where the perception of relevance of globalization of higher education system is not strong, and where changes have just barely started. There the specialized educational media should provoke intellectually, initiate and moderate public debates, formulate important issues regarding higher education and its future. In other words – these media should prepare a field for future changes and provide their readers with a vision in what directions changes in higher education could go.

Internationalization of Polish higher education

The last OECD’s (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) report on the Polish higher education – Review of Tertiary Education in Poland (OECD 2007), summarizes the state of internationalization of this segment in rather unoptimistic words:
“Although Polish tertiary education has become considerably more open since the early 1990s, it cannot yet be said to have reached a high level of internationalization. (…)There is no national policy to stimulate activities directed towards internationalization. (…)There is no clarity about any legal instruments which might need to be put in place to foster the internationalization of the system. (…)At the same time, internationalization is very limited in scope. Forms of internationalization such as ‘internationalization at home’, for example in the development of joint degrees with foreign partners and the development of a European dimension in curricula, are underdeveloped”. It shows on how preliminary stage of this process Poland is and how much has to be done in this regard. We are on the last position among the OECD countries with regard to the share of foreign students in the total number of students – there are only 13 695  of them, i.e. 0,71% of all students. To compare, the Czech Republic, a state having four times smaller population (c.a. 10 million citizens) and comparable with Poland in other areas, is ahead of us not only in percents but even in absolute numbers. C.a. 26.000 foreign students study in the Czech Republic, what constitutes over 8% of the total number of students . Hungary and Slovakia also manage better than Poland. We lack a non-governmental organization that would stimulate the process of internationalization and that, at the same time, would be charged with the widely understood marketing of the educational offer of the Polish universities abroad, as DAAD (Deutsche Akademische Austauschdienst) in Germany, the British Council in Great Britain, CampusFrance in France and Nuffic in the Netherlands. Therefore, as OECD Report continues:
“TEIs have no strategy for attracting foreign students: they offer few or no study programmes taught in foreign languages, and typically they have not developed a proactive policy for international marketing”.

Our universities do not have individual internationalization strategies, and there is no homogenous, global strategy of the state in this scope. The awareness of the internationalization’s importance is only in its infancy – not only in the general media but also in the academic circles. Only two years ago, as the largest Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza informed, a rector of a big, national university asked of the possibility to bring in the students from China considered it as a journalist’s joke – so exotic and improbable it seemed to him. Meanwhile, as we all know, the entire world has treated China for several dozen years as the largest potential source of paying students; what is more, China, thanks to the economic and academic development, became an interesting destination for students, not only from Asia. The balance of powers is changing rapidly and the Polish academic circles have not got accustomed to a situation that was obvious for important players 10 years ago. The awareness of what is happening on other educational markets in the world is in Poland very low. Besides the Perspektywy Educational Foundation nobody prepares analyses on this subject.

The role of the Perspektywy Foundation and the Perspektywy monthly

The Perspektywy Educational Foundation is a non-profit organization, the goal of which is to promote internationalization of the Polish higher education. Its supervisory board is composed of the highest rank of representatives of academic circles, culture and widely understood education; all of them have exceptional merits in this regard. Together with the Conference of Rectors of Academic Schools in Poland (CRASP), the Perspektywy Foundation created a consortium composed of forty most prestigious and most interested in internationalization universities in Poland under the name of ‘Study in Poland’. This consortium organizes international and national conferences on the theory and practice of internationalization, as well as trainings and seminars in this scope; it also publishes materials on universities’ internationalization strategies and intensively promotes the Polish higher education abroad, in such countries as China, India, Vietnam, Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, United States, and in Europe: Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands or France.

An institution acting parallel to the Perspektywy Foundation is the Perspektywy Press Publishing House, with its leading product, a national educational monthly Perspektywy (circulation, depending on the edition, amounts to 40-70 thousand copies). It is devoted entirely to the higher education subject, seen from the perspective of future students. For the last several years the monthly has published specialist reports on internationalization of Polish universities, discussions on this subject; it also promotes best practices, especially those observed abroad.

The Perspektywy Foundation also prepares educational rankings, including the Ranking of Universities, published every year in the Perspektywy monthly and in one of the largest Polish dailies – Rzeczpospolita. The ranking criteria are divided into four super-groups: next to scientific strength, prestige, and studying requirements, there is also the criterion of the university internationalization, which is no less important. This criterion was adopted in the ranking 5 years ago; during the last three years it has become particularly significant and developed into many partial criterions – e.g. the number of programs of studies in foreign languages, the number of foreign lecturers, the multi-culturality of the academic circles, mobility of the personnel and students, number of foreign students. Now the criterion of internationalization influences the position of the university in the ranking with the importance of 10%. Indisputable leaders in internationalization are the Warsaw University and the Jagiellonian University, traditionally, for the last 10 years, at the top of the ranking, what indicates the strong correlation between the level of the entire institution and the level of its internationalization.

To summarize, the Perspektywy Educational Foundation plays the role of a think tank assembling experts, the mission of which is to propagate knowledge of the universities’ internationalization, lobby for political and legal solutions supporting this idea and help universities in resolving practical issues related to the internationalization. Its media supporting organ is the educational monthly Perspektywy.

Landscape of educational media in Poland

The Polish market of strictly educational media is a very tighny one. Practically, there are only two national titles: “Perspektywy” and “Forum Akademickie” (Academic Forum). Forum Akademickie adopts the perspective of the academic environment, university, its authorities and administration, its circulation is very small and sell by subscription; it is present in the Internet as well. There is no journalism but rather reporting. It is a strictly hermetical magazine, unavailable in general distribution, subscribed to by the university authorities.

In Forum there is no permanent column dedicated to the subject of higher education internationalization and the articles on this subject are published sporadically and in a very limited scope. Internationalization is not and has never been the center of interest of this medium; however, together with the modification of the universities’ needs, it has to be published the more and more often.

There exist also small magazines representing different universities and other educational or research institutions, but they are of no great importance. There practically are no high quality university newspapers in Poland. But of course, every university has its own newspaper that usually is also available on the Internet. These newspapers, however, have little ambition to be more than just a loudspeaker, presenting school officials and their strategy. They serve as a kind of university chronicle. The level of journalism and visual side of these newspapers have much to be desired. Universities are not taking proper advantage of the possibility their newspapers could really offer.

In this newspaper the subject of internationalization is brought up practically only in connection with concrete events: participation in recruitment fair abroad, organization of a thematically related conference, conclusion of an agreement on cooperation with a foreign institution or sometimes the recruitment of a group of foreign students. Deeper analyses, commentaries or other contributions to discussion are usually not published there.

An obstacle to create a reliable periodical devoted to the issues of higher education in Poland, such as Journal of University Development and Academic Management at the Babeş-Bolyai University (Romania), Die Hochschule at the Martin Luther University Halle Wittenberg (Germany) or International Higher Education  at the Boston College (US), is, as Philip Altbach describes it in his essay entitled Higher Education: An Emerging Field of Research and Policy, lack of institutional research, lack of centers specializing in research and functioning of the university as such. We should notice the fact that the vast majority of prestigious media titles has connections with such type of centers – especially in countries where the institutional research is considered as an important part of the universities’ activity: in the United States, Canada, Australia and China, and the more and more often in Europe. In Poland we are in a real need of such veritable centre.

Subject of higher education internationalization in general media

General media rarely reach for subjects related to the internationalization of education. Due to the wide lobbying activity led by the Conference of Rectors of Academic Schools and the Perspektywy Educational Foundation, media have recently started publishing information on foreign students, although in a very limited scope. Two aspect particularly stressed in such reports are: foreign students as economic factor (however, understood in a very simplified way) and the danger of illegal immigration from Asia. They also raise the alarm, informing the society of the ‘brain drain’ dangers. But the term ‘brain gain’, describing the policy of acquiring, keeping and recovering outstanding brains, is completely unrecognizable. As the aforementioned OECD’s report describes:
“(…) there is no active policy in place to repatriate Polish academics working abroad.   Finally, there is a lack of incentives for people from outside Poland to enter the Polish labour market or to start an academic career in Poland”.

The general media do not talk of the basic importance of the internationalization process as an indispensable element of academic development and of the state of science, and, what follows, of building the state’s potential in the world and its future as an economy based on knowledge and innovation. The public opinion is not sufficiently aware of correlation between the scientific and economic development of the country. It is one of the reasons why in Poland only 0,88 GNP is allocated to the higher education, much below the EU average, much below the final coefficient set by the Lisbon strategy.

The vision of the higher education internationalization emerging from the discussion led in the general media in Poland is very simplified. It also visibly lacks the background knowledge on what in this subject inspires emotions in the global debate.

The first media fact related to the internationalization and place of the Polish universities in the global context that got through to the general public opinion were the results of the ‘Academic Ranking of World Universities’ of the Jiao Tong University in Shanghai. The year 2003 was a turning point. Before, in Poland there was a general belief, supported by facts quoted without context, that our universities represent a decent level also in comparison with other schools in the world. A general myth was nursed about the excellent quality of the Polish universities’ offer, achievements of Polish researchers and the talents of our students, much above the average. The first global ranking brutally confronted this vision with the reality.

The Shanghai Ranking and its exceptional influence on the world education landscape shows a new role of the educational media - not only as a reporter and commentator of events but also as a real player, having actual influence on the reality. We should however stress here that the reactions to the Shanghai Ranking were in Poland weaker than in other European countries – for example in Germany.

The Polish indifference to the educational subject is brought in relief in comparison with the situation in Germany. German society masters a higher level of the art of using media (56% of the age group above 14 years old  is considered as regular and intensive press readers, while in Poland the press is read regularly by every fifth person and 16% does not read press at all – this is second after Malta worse result among the countries that joined the EU in 2004 ) and due to the appropriate education it is better prepared for the existence in the civic society. When the first results of a research comparing the abilities of the fifteen years old from the OECD countries – PISA were published in 2003, Germany witnessed a true upheaval. The German youth came out as relatively weaker than youth from other countries; almost as weak as the Polish youth. A debate on the inefficiency of the system, on its social injustice and on what was perceived as educational catastrophe was launched. The interest in the subject was huge. Christine Burtsheid, the then director of the educational department of the prestigious daily Süddeutschezeitung, remembers that for a year, each day, all articles having PISA in their title were received by the readers with huge interest. In the educational debate, also on the international level, the notion of ‘PISASchock’ appeared, describing this exceptional German reaction to the results of research. In retrospective we can state that due to a wide debate in specialist, but mainly in general media, PISA provoked real changes in the German educational system.

In Poland the results of the PISA research came through practically without response. They aroused interest only in a narrow circle of experts. Till today this term is not recognizable even by well-educated receivers.

It is also one of the reasons why the Polish party did not show interest in participation in the PISA university edition - OECD Feasibility Study for the International Assessment of Higher Education Learning Outcomes (AHELO), which will be carried out in the years 2008-2010. It is also the proof that, after their experience with the Jiao Tong University ranking, the Polish educational authorities do not feel comfortable in international comparisons and they prefer to avoid them, whenever possible. Hence the important role of media – Polish and international, which force such evaluations through different rankings, comparisons, analyses and summaries. Without competitiveness there is no possibility of a real assessment of situation and therefore there is no improvement strategy, and, finally, no development and no progress.

Future of the educational media – Poland, Europe, the World.

The more and more important role in supplying the current educational information is played by the electronic media – on the supranational, as well as on the national and local level. Thematic newsletters have recently become a particularly important tool. Professionals, specialists in the international education, often quote them as the main source of information. In their everyday work they use newsletters prepared by such organizations as: ACA (Academic Cooperation Association), EUA (European University Association), IIE (Institute of International Education), DAAD or OECD. This phenomenon can also be observed in Poland. Almost two years ago the Perspektywy Educational Foundation decided to create a free, two-week newsletter Study in Poland devoted uniquely to the subject of higher education internationalization – in Poland and in the world. At present among its recipients are over 150 higher education institutions. It is the only in Poland medium devoted strictly to the subject of education internationalization.

Due to relatively limited number of recipients and general tendencies regulating the market of information, the internet seems the most predestined tool to play the role of the main distribution platform for the information on higher education internationalization. Therefore the strictly internet media in form of informational portals and websites are becoming the more and more prestigious and popular. The best example of it may be the new University World News, for the last year supplying free information on the development of higher education on the global scale, and described as
“the first high-quality truly international newspaper and website on developments in higher education with „a particular focus on the internationalisation on higher education, including the recruitment and retention of international students and the growing number of international partnerships”.
The motto describing the mission of such new medium is: “We provide a truly international perspective to an international higher education readership”.   

It seems to me that a shift is taking place in the paradigm of the function of media specializing in higher education issues, which, for the first time in history, are becoming truly global. It is due not only to the technical possibilities favoring such development, but mainly because of the fact that, in times when the world is becoming a global village and the global links and connections on the level not only of single educational institutions but of the entire systems are strengthening, the knowledge of what is going on in the village becomes crucial for our work, for our activities, for our aspirations. As the process of globalization becomes stronger, the role of media grows dramatically.

There is one, very important question: Will we need, now and in the future, a greater number of more specialized pan-national media?

In this context it is worth noticing that there is no specialised European magazine on higher education. As there are no truly common European media and no European public opinion. We are only at some rather preliminary stage of elaborating a modern European identity. But, as always underlines prof. Andris Barblan: What Europe had in common for ages were always only universities.

There is of course prestigious quarterly “Higher Education in Europe” (UNESCO-CEPES), but this is more academic, quite hermetical project with tendency to deepened, scientific and para-scientific analysis – only for very narrow group of professionals and experts. What we need more in this moment is a journalistic, lively creation, which could bring dilemmas of European Higher Education closer to the public opinion. And, what is crucial, be an source of newest, most updated information on recent developments in European Higher Education Landscape.

It could be a professional journalistic medium, vividly reacting to changes in the European higher education, promoting the knowledge of the European system, currently informing on the development of the common European higher education area, reporting on stages of Bologna Process implementation, bringing up common matters specific for the landscape of the European universities, promoting the best practices and maybe something like European path of intenationalisation of HEI’s (if something like this exists. Which is rather doubtful, but who knows). And all this using journalist approach - classical journalist forms to present the content. And – very importand thing – using high-quality visualisation - for example showing phenomena in the photo-reportage convention. It significantly increases the understanding of things. Due to the journalist approach such magazine would have a chance to reach a wider audience.

Another thing is, such medium would of course have to have a strongly developed extra-European context, a global one. In today’s world we cannot limit ourselves only to the European matters; it would be a very artificial and counter-effective approach. Such magazine would however represent and promote a special, unique European point of view – because I think, even though we all are global and our institutions have also global aspirations, there are still common European interests. For example common promotion of a strong logo, a strong brand of the European higher education outside Europe – on Asian or Latin American markets – this is only small example or another example – we are all interested in increasing of competitiveness  of our EHEA in the global-context. Besides the strictly informational function such magazine would also serve to help building the common identity of European universities, encourage common actions, obviously only in areas where it does make sense.

Finally, I would like to ask a few questions, also those concerning the future: Who would be predestined to create the concept of such magazine and then run it? How would financing look like? What would be its main target group? What would be its form – printed or only on-line, or maybe both, complementing each other? And last but not least: Would such magazine have a true raison d’être?

The last question is the crucial one. Because the media reflect not only facts and their interpretation, but mainly the state of awareness of the society for which they work, as well as its dreams, aspirations and interests. Therefore we cannot ignore the basic doubt: is Europe ready for a supra-national medium devoted to the higher education?

BIANKA SIWIŃSKA

Bianka Siwińska - editor-in-chief  “Perspektywy” educational magazine
MA in cultural science, Warsaw University
Currently PhD candidate, Faculty of Political Science, Warsaw University
Scholar of the EVZ Foundation, Germany
Scholar of the European Journalist Fellowship, Friedrich Ebert Foundation, Germany
Studied at Humbold University, Free University in Berlin, Germany, and at Columbia University, New York, USA
Initiated national campaign “Dziewczyny na politechniki!” (Girls go to Technical Universities!)
Co-chair “Study in Poland”, a joint program of the Conference of Rectors of Academic Schools in Poland and the Perspektywy Education Foundation
Author: Education goes global! Strategies of Internationalization of Higher Education, the first book on internationalization of higher education published in Poland