• January 10, 2018
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Prof. Henryk Malewski: Higher education reforms raise doubts

Prof. Henryk Malewski, chairman of The Association of Polish Scientists of Lithuania in conversation with “Vilnius Courier” (Kurier Wileński) talks about higher education in Lithuania and the uncertainty with which academics of Lithuanian universities meet on a daily basis.

We are observing the next steps related to the reform of higher education in Lithuania. How is the reform perceived by lecturers?

Each reform raises uncertainty among lecturers. This is completely understandable. We do not know the objectives or the assumptions of the reform, and most importantly – the anticipated effects, or what will result from all of this.
Considering the currently occurring changes – they are very serious. Adding a university to another institution is in practice equal to liquidation. For many people, these are very specific problems, they simply do not know whether they will keep their jobs. This uncertainty is becoming visible. Another issue is that the reform itself is necessary. The situation in Lithuanian higher education system was not good. Certainly the number of universities was considerable (also colleges) and the number of students was constantly decreasing. It caused not onlyn a demographic decline but also significant emigration.

Is joining universities the right way?

I am not a specialist in this field, but it seems to me that reforming by reducing the number of universities is not a basic way to repair higher education. This is not a sufficient instrument. As far as the connection is concerned, it may turn out that some maws will be created with the same cadres, way of acting. We need not only structural changes but also conceptual ones. We just need to know what we’re striving for. First, one needs to set real goals, but of course, their implementation without a proper financial or human resources will not be easy.

On Wednesday, the Ministry of Education and Science proposed that the Lithuanian University of Educational Sciences should be deprived of the right to conduct studies from July 1, and the existing students of this university would graduate as graduates of the Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas. Is it a good idea?

In my opinion, the problems of the Lithuanian University of Educational Sciences are very worrying. This is not one of many universities. As an institution educating teaching staff, it is of strategic importance for education in Lithuania. The fact that this institution not only existed, but was at a high level, should concern not only the university authorities, but also the Ministry of Education. In other countries, such universities are doing well, if we have such a facility, it shows that not only there is lack of students, but also a vision of education. Unfortunately, this can affect the children first.

We often hear that university employees are in a difficult situation not only because of high uncertainty but also very low earnings. On the other hand, it has been repeatedly emphasized that in terms of education, representatives of the Polish minority are definitely on the very end in Lithuania. Are the changes taking place in education in Lithuania even more discouraging young Poles to continue their studies, not only at the level of the magisterium, but also the third degree studies?

This is what was mentioned by prof. Jarosław Wołkonowski in volume 17 of the “The Association of Polish Scientists of Lithuania (SNPL) Annual”. The difference between Poles and Lithuanians is slowly decreasing, but we are still lagging behind. Young, talented people find it hard to encourage doctoral studies if the prospect of a very low income awaits them. Intellectually, this is definitely an interesting way. It would be good if we changed our view of doctoral studies somewhat.

In the United States around 80 percent of people who have a PhD degree, do not stay at universities, but use their education at work in various types of companies. Certainly such employees, with some significant knowledge in their field, would be very good employees also in our environment. But in countries with a slightly more stable educational situation, university staff also earn very well. As the Association of Polish Scientists of Lithuania, we have reasons to be happy because new members are still coming to us and young people are interested in our association. Last year, our association grew by 10 people. There were ordinary members, that is, people who have at least a doctoral degree, but also supporting members, that is, people during doctoral studies.

What is the association’s current activity focus on?

In recent years, our activity has been concentrated on carrying out our basic tasks, which can be considered in several blocks, so it is a statutory activity, scientific activity, cultural activity, education and cooperation with various types of institutions. It seems to me that nowadays we emphasize this dimension of scientific work the most. As for the organization of our work itself, we are moving towards the greatest possible transparency. Board meetings are held regularly, once a month and are open to the public. All our plans, proposals and reports are available on the website. We want our members to be aware of what we are working on and have the opportunity to join the work of the association. To this end, last year we started sending information about the plan and topics of each approaching board of management, so that all interested parties could take part in it.

The largest of our initiatives is the scientific conference organized every year. Last year was devoted mainly to the issue of education of national minorities, this year will be dedicated to the anniversary that we celebrate. In volume 17 of the “The Association of Polish Scientists of Lithuania (SNPL) Annual”, an invitation to participate in the 5th International Interdisciplinary Scientific Conference of The Association of Polish Scientists of Lithuania “100th anniversary of the breakup of empires. National states and the issue of national minorities in Europe”(historical, socio-political, legal and cultural aspects), which will take place on 19-21 April 2018 in Vilnius.
The latest “Annual” appeared a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, it cannot be purchased. The expenditure is intended primarily for the members of the association, its part also goes to libraries and various types of institutions. However, if you would like to read its contents, you can do it through our website, because the whole is available in an electronic version.

Translated by Katarzyna Widlas within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.

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