• October 2, 2019
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Professor Wołkonowski: The UwB branch in Vilnius is going through tough times

The university, which is supposed to educate the future elites of the Polish community in Lithuania and constitutes the finish line of the slogan ‘learning in the mother tongue from kindergarten to university’, is facing serious difficulties – alarms the first dean of the Vilnius Branch of the University of Bialystok (UwB), Jarosław Wołkonowski. This year, for the first time, the university failed to collect a sufficient number of candidates for the master’s programme, students have difficulties to continue studying at Lithuanian universities with a UwB’s diploma, and diplomas issued to last year’s graduates have not yet been recognized by the Lithuanian state due to technical errors. These are just some of the problems that Wołkonowski mentions.

“Today the Vilnius Branch of the University of Bialystok has started its 13th academic year. It turned out to be unlucky. Number thirteen turned out horrible for us. The branch has been operating for twelve years, we have expanded our study programmes – we started with economics and computer science, then added European studies and master’s programme in economics. This year, for the first time, there were no candidates for master’s studies,” notes Prof. Wołkonowski. In his opinion, one of the reasons for this are too restrictive formal requirements.

“They treat us in a bureaucratic way – there have to be twelve people. We remind them that Polish studies have been launched with four candidates. I understand that the requirements for the number of students may apply in large cities in Poland, where there are a lot of graduates. Meanwhile, if this year for the first time we’re experiencing an increase in the number of freshmen in Polish schools, and until now we have had a significant decline, it should be taken into account” – emphasizes the lecturer.

“I believe that the previous authorities made management errors, which caused, among other things, that those who completed bachelor’s studies did not follow with a master’s degree,” he adds.

There are also technical problems. According to Jarosław Wołkonowski, the Lithuanian authorities questioned 38 diplomas of the University of Bialystok issued in Vilnius in July. “They must be replaced because they didn’t meet certain conditions which must be fulfilled when issuing diplomas. Documents will not be exchanged until 15th October,” notes the speaker.

Wołkonowski has also commented on the international exchange carried out in recent years.

“I have told dean Zdanowicz many times that international exchange is very important, but this exchange ought to go westwards. Meanwhile, we were visited by professors from the Federal University in Kaliningrad. I bluntly asked – what can they teach us? They will only seed Kremlin ideology in their heads, poison our students who applied for European studies, so they could receive Western European values” – Prof. Wołkonowski laments.

In the lecturer’s opinion, another mistake was the transition to a practical profile, which was justified, among others, by the desire to bring studies closer to the needs of businesses.

“Such a diploma – a bachelor’s degree with a practical profile – is recognized by the Lithuanian side as ‘profesinis bakalauras’, and this degree in Lithuania is given to college graduates. If a college graduate wants to get a master’s degree at a Lithuanian university, they must complete compensatory studies. Other schools solve this by signing contracts with universities – if a graduate of such a college wants to get a master’s degree, paths are created that make it possible,” Jarosław Wołkonowski explains.

He also regrets that the Vilnius branch will no longer conduct scientific and research activities.

“Our department, by the rector’s decision, has been – I believe this word can be used – degraded solely to teaching activities. Meanwhile, the university will undergo institutional accreditation next year. Experts from Western Europe will come who, under Lithuanian law, will examine the university in terms of specific criteria, one of which is scientific development. There are five criteria and a negative assessment in the field of scientific activity will affect the overall grade. This was the case of the University of Education, which is now gone,” warns prof. Wołkonowski.

The doubts of the former long-term dean of the university are also evoked by the planned construction of the long-awaited headquarters of the university in Vilnius.

“I am very pleased that the Polish government has allocated 19 million for the new headquarters. I am glad that the university declares that it will contribute 4 million more. I do not understand, however, why we should build these headquarters on 11 ares at Aguonų street. How does one build a venue of three thousand square meters on an area of a thousand square meters? It will be impossible to fit parking lots or a sports hall there. After all, this university will serve us for over half a century – to us and future generations of Poles. Isn’t it better to build the university so that it would have about 100 parking spaces instead of 20? That there would be a place where students could play sports, where the faculty basketball team would grow? We’re creating a 21st-century university after all,” Wołkonowski wonders.

He reminds that he managed the branch for two terms. “We built everything from scratch, diplomas were recognized, we developed good relations with the Lithuanian side. Everything had to be rebuilt because after the excesses of the Polish University, they looked at us very suspiciously, believing that we could continue the illegal studies that were previously – in their opinion – conducted here. In the meantime, we have legalized everything, we have made this university connect Poland and Lithuania, understanding that these studies are very important for the Polish minority,” emphasizes the professor of UwB. As he says, he puts his hopes in the Vilnius branch’s new authorities.

“As long as there is time, everything could be done so that this university thrives and develops. I hope that the new authorities will rectify the situation, though it is not easy. The most important tasks are launching master’s studies, exchanging the 38 diplomas mentioned above, establishing good cooperation with the Centre for the Quality Assessment of Studies, and searching for a solution so that people with undergraduate degrees can continue studying without any obstacles” – indicates Jarosław Wołkonowski.

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

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