18.05.2017 change 18.05.2017

PhD students are positive about the direction of higher education reform

We have no major objections to the direction chosen by the Ministry of Science in preparation of the new law on higher education. We agree on the vision; we are waiting for the provisions that we will be able to address" - told PAP president of the National Representation of Doctoral Candidates, Michał Gajda.

Work is underway in the Ministry of Science and Higher Education on the Law 2.0, or the new Law on Higher Education. In September this year the Ministry of Science is expected to present its assumptions; extensive consultations are currently conducted. However, the image of the reform already emerges from the announcements of the Ministry of Science leadership.

"The plans of the ministry concerning changes in doctoral studies are consistent with our expectations, and we agree that the current formula of doctoral studies is outdated" - said Michał Gajda, president of the National Representation of Doctoral Candidates (KRD - Krajowa Reprezentacja Doktorantów).

He pointed out that during third degree studies, doctoral students are very often forced to complete courses contribute little to knowledge. According to the KRD, while working on a PhD it would be more important to improve the skills associated with the research methodology or commercialisation.

The Ministry of Science wants to rebuild the model of doctoral education. In May, Minister of Science and Higher Education, Deputy Prime Minister Jarosław Gowin announced the introduction of three paths to obtain a doctorate. The first possibility is to participate in university or intercollegiate doctoral programs. The second path would be extramural studies. The third solution would involve grants in the National Science Centre competition for outstanding doctoral students and promoters.

KRD agrees with preserving the possibility of obtaining a PhD extramurally. In the case of the third path - obtaining a PhD through grants, such as the NCN grant, doctoral students do not have sufficient information to address this proposal.

"First and foremost, we want universities to create conditions for conducting research, but we are also in favour of introducing central projects, such as those awarded by the National Science Centre, for those PhD students who have specific ideas for research PhDs. Thus, they would be able to obtain funding and carry out their projects at their chosen universities" - added Gajda.

The Ministry of Science also plans to transfer the right to offer studies, teach doctoral students, and award degrees from the faculty level to the university level.

"We support this solution because it will make it possible to pursue PhDs in broader areas. Currently it is a very big problem for PhD students - especially when the disciplines they are dealing with are connected" - said Gajda. He noted that nowadays scientific councils that confirm where the doctorate is supposed to be defended often to seek to "flatten the topic" to make it fit into a particular discipline.

"That\'s why the new solution will help increase the amount of interdisciplinary PhDs" - Gajda said on behalf of KRD. He also noted that today doctoral students are often isolated in their small scientific units.

"Doctoral students often have no idea who pursues similar topics at the same university" - noted the doctoral students\' representative.

The Ministry of Science has not worked out a consistent vision of habilitation. "In fact, it\'s still one of the topics of discussion, also among the doctoral students. There are supporters of both preserving this degree and completely removing it" - Gajda said.

"Finally, we have come to the conclusion that there is no point in fighting habilitation, we should focus on improving its quality. We also think that doctors should be given more rights and the status of independent academic employees" - explained the doctoral students representative. In such a scenario, habilitation would allow to promote PhD students.

The Ministry of Science wonders whether habilitation shold be a separate scientific degree, or rather a particular qualification, giving certain rights, especially to promote doctors. In both cases - according to the Ministry of Science - doctors should have the status of independent researchers, which is consistent with the doctoral students\' vision.

"First we need to ensure a high level of doctorates, then we can think about removing the habilitation" - Gajda commented.

Gowin\'s announcements also included a proposal that professors after the age of 70 should be excluded from the decision-making process at universities and enter the state of rest.

"This is a real problem. In some centres, places for young researchers are blocked by senior professors, only to meet the minimum staffing criterion, and this is often the case when staff members include a person with certain degree. Such artificially maintained employees are often unproductive" - admitted Gajda.

He noted, however, that doctoral students are not in favour of "cutting off" senior scientists, as many of them are very active academically. In KRD\'s opinion, a good solution would be to remove them from the administrative decision-making bodies. Doctoral students also agree with the Ministry of Science that staff minima should be abolished.

Unlike the Ministry of Science, the KRD believes that the return of entrance exams would be a good solution.

"We receive such signals even from students. It is a mechanism that verifies competencies and is a real competition that tests the candidate" - Gajda added. However, PhD students are ready to leave the decision on how students are admitted to the universities themselves. "Let us give them autonomy in this matter" - he said.

Jarosław Gowin would like a group of research universities to be established in Poland alongside the teaching only and research and teaching schools. KRD agrees with this concept.

"The problem in the development of Polish higher education is that all universities want to be jacks of all trades" - Gajda said.

Doctoral students also agree with expanding the autonomy of the university, proposed by the authors of the new law.

"We support greater flexibility and simplified procedures. But we fear that giving full autonomy to universities can lead to the violation of students\' and doctoral students\' rights" - Gajda said. In the KRD vision, the rights of these groups should be protected by the law.

The Ministry of Science expressed interest in the idea of creating a new body at universities - boards of trustees elected by the university senates. These would be composed of university representatives and people from the socio-economic environment. Their task would be to select the rector.

"We should not avoid tying universities to the environment in which they should cooperate. We want young scientists to have a representative on the board, like they do now in the Senate" - emphasised the president of the National Representation of Doctoral Candidates.

PhD students, however, perceive the danger of the procedure for electing representatives of the board of trustees. "The political interests of the various groups will certainly clash here, so it is important to precisely define the board members selection criteria" - Gajda pointed out.

"We watching the directions that the Ministry of Science is taking during the work on the Law 2.0 with hope. We do not have many objections, but we are waiting for the specific provisions of the law. We agree on the idea, but we are curious about its implementation" - concluded the representative of doctoral students.

PAP - Science and Scholarship in Poland, Szymon Zdziebłowski

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