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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Higher education


7.Higher education

Last update: 6 June 2024

Higher education currently includes the following types of programmes:

  • College programmes (ISCED 5): 3-year programmes, provided by public colleges of social work (kolegium pracowników służb społecznych), which are classified as tertiary education for international comparisons, but are not recognised as part of higher education in the national legislation.
  • Specialist programmes (ISCED 5): programmes of at least 3 semesters, provided by public and non-public non-university higher education institutions. A specialist programme sets out learning outcomes which integrate universal first-stage descriptors as defined in the Integrated Qualifications System. It includes classes developing practical skills.
  • First-, second- and long-cycle programmes (ISCED 6-7), provided by public and non-public university-type higher education institutions (uczelnia akademicka) and non-university higher education institutions (uczelnia zawodowa), which comply with the following requirements:
    • first-cycle programmes leading to a Bachelor’s degree (licencjat or inżynier): programmes which last at least 6 semesters and lead to a licencjat degree or last at least 7 semesters and lead to an inżynier degree, depending on the area of study;
    • second-cycle programmes which last 3 to 5 semesters and lead to a Master's (magister) degree or an equivalent degree, depending on the area of study;
    • long-cycle programmes which last between 9 and 12 semesters and lead to the same Master's (magister) degree or equivalent degree as awarded upon completion of second-cycle programmes; the areas in which long-cycle programmes can be provided are specified in the national legislation.
  • Doctoral education / training (ISCED 8): a 3- to 4-year training cycle. A doctoral degree in a given discipline can be awarded by a higher education institution, research institution or an international research institute which holds a research category of A+,A or B+ (one of the three highest research categories).

The duration of a programme may depend on its form (mode of study); part-time programmes may last longer than the corresponding full-time programmes.

Higher education institutions (HEIs) and research institutions also offer 1- to 2-year non-degree postgraduate programmes which are open to applicants holding at least a Bachelor's degree. However, non-degree postgraduate programmes are considered part of adult or continuing education.

Classes in HEIs usually begin on 1 October and finish in June. The academic year is divided into two semesters. In addition to the summer holidays, there are the following breaks: a 1- to 2-week break around Christmas and the Three Kings’ Day (Epiphany); the winter break of 1 to 2 weeks (in February) and the Easter break.

Detailed arrangements for the academic year are laid down by each HEI.

Specific Legislative Framework


Legislation for colleges of social work which are classified as ISCED 5 institutions:

The Regulation of the Minister of Family, Labour and Social Policy of 15 September 2016 on colleges of social work lays down detailed arrangements for the establishment, restructuring and liquidation of colleges; organisational and operational arrangements for colleges, including appointment to management positions; arrangements for academic supervision exercised over a given college by an HEI and pedagogical supervision over colleges exercised by the educational authorities; conditions and procedures for issuing, and specimens of, documents provided to college students and graduates, including graphic symbols on college diplomas which identify the level of the Polish Qualifications Framework.

The Regulation of the Minister of Social Policy of 7 April 2005 on the national standards for initial training programmes in colleges of social work lays down national requirements for programmes to be offered by colleges: duration of programmes, groups of courses (subjects) to be taught, the minimum course load and general curricular contents, the scope and duration of practical placements, and the profile of graduates. The requirements provide the basis for curricula developed by colleges.

Specialist programmes

Specialist programmes are provided within the same legislative framework as other higher education programmes (see below). More specifically, the arrangements for specialist programmes are laid down in the Law on Higher Education and Science of 20 July 2018, as subsequently amended, in a dedicated chapter where the provisions on specialist programmes are included together with those on non-degree post-graduate programmes. This, and the fact that some provisions of the Law apply to both specialist and non-degree postgraduate programmes indicate the legislators’  intention to organise specialist programmes in a form analogous to that of non-degree postgraduate programmes.

Higher education

NB: In the years 2021-2023, the Ministry of National Education and the Ministry of Science and Higher Education operated as a joint Ministry of Education and Science. Since 1 January 2024 the two separate ministries have been reinstated. This situation is reflected in the regulations presented below.

The Law on Higher Education and Science has consolidated key regulations on higher education and science, integrating arrangements previously covered by the Law on Higher Education and the Acts on research funding, student loans and credits, and the doctoral and post-doctoral degrees (doktor and doktor habilitowany) and the professorial title (profesor). Most provisions of the Law came into force on 1 October 2018, but the process of its implementation was completed in 2022. The Law applies to both public and non-public HEIs but does not apply to higher education seminaries administered by churches and denominational organisations, except the Catholic University of Lublin, unless stated otherwise in an agreement between the Polish Government and church authorities.

Information on legislation is also available in Chapter 15: Legislation

General objectives

Programmes at the higher education level are offered by colleges of social work (kolegium pracowników służb społecznych) (ISCED 5), higher education institutions (HEIs) (ISCED 5 to 8) and research institutions (only ISCED 8).

The 2018 Law on Higher Education and Science is based on the following principles:

  • It is the responsibility of public authorities to provide optimal conditions for the freedom of scientific research and artistic creation, freedom of teaching and autonomy of the academic community.
  • Every scholar takes responsibility for the quality and reliability of the research conducted and for the education and training of the young generation.
  • HEIs and other research institutions carry out a mission of special importance to the state and nation: they make a crucial contribution to the innovativeness of the economy and contribute to the development of culture and moral standards for public life.

In this context, the mission of higher education and science is to provide education and conduct research of highest quality, shape civic attitudes and contribute to societal development and the creation of an innovation-based economy.

The main responsibilities of academic staff vary depending on the category of staff:

  1. teaching staff train and educate students or participate in the training of doctoral students;
  2. research staff conduct research or participate in the training of doctoral students;
  3. research-and-teaching staff conduct research, train and educate students or participate in the training of doctoral students.

Academic staff are required to participate in the performance of organisational tasks in their higher education institution and improve continuously their professional competence.

The primary aim of research institutions other than HEIs is to conduct research and development activities, but many institutions also provide doctoral education / training to prospective research staff.

Specific aims of college programmes, first-, second- and long-cycle programmes and doctoral education / training are described below.

College programmes

College programmes (ISCED 5) prepare students for employment. Colleges of social work train prospective social workers and may also offer in-service training courses in the areas of welfare and social work.

Specialist programmes

Specialist programmes are offered in non-university HEIs and intended for applicants who are unable to tale a first-cycle programme for various reasons. They are designed to provide students mainly with practical competences.

The establishment of specialist programmes has filled in a previously existing gap in the range of programmes offered by Polish HEIs where such a type of short-cycle programmes at the ISCED-5 level was missing.

First-, second- and long-cycle programmes

First-, second- and long-cycle programmes are provided by both university-type HEIs (uczelnia akademicka) and non-university HEIs (uczelnia zawodowa). First-cycle programmes (leading to a Bachelor’s (licencjat or inżynier) degree) aim to provide knowledge and skills in a specific area of study, preparing students for work in a specific profession. First-cycle graduates have access to second-cycle programmes. Second-cycle and long-cycle programmes, both leading to a Master’s (magister) degree, aim to provide specialist knowledge in a specific area, preparing students for creative work in a specific profession. The completion of a second-cycle or long-cycle programme provides access to doctoral training.

Currently, the main aims of the education policy for first- and second-cycle programmes are to:

  1. reduce the extent of mass participation in higher education by promoting appropriate student to academic staff ratios;
  2. boost internationalisation through adequate financial incentives (the algorithm for the distribution of State-budget subsidies for HEIs) and institutional arrangements (the establishment of the National Agency for Academic Exchange);
  3. intensify activities encouraging quality enhancement (funding streams);
  4. ensure closer linkage between the programmes offered and labour market needs.

Doctoral education / training

A doctoral degree (doktor) (referred to in the national legislation as a research or scientific degree as opposed to the licencjat / inżynier and magister degrees which are referred to as professional titles) in a discipline can be awarded only by an HEI, an institute of the Polish Academy of Sciences, a research institute or an international institute (an international research institute established in Poland by a separate Act of Parliament) which has the A+, A or B+ research rating / category in the discipline concerned. (Ratings are awarded based on an external evaluation of the quality of research.)

Doctoral training, which is provided by doctoral schools within university-type HEIs and research institutions, aims to impart advanced knowledge in a specific field or discipline of science, and prepare students for independent research and creative activity and for obtaining a doctoral degree. Thus, it prepares students for the procedure leading to the award of a doctoral degree. Doctoral degree holders may continue their research career to obtain a post-doctoral degree (doktor habilitowany) and subsequently a professorial title (profesor).