With its long-established education system and competitive studying and living costs, this welcoming central European nation is a fine choice for international students
Located at the crossroads between eastern and western Europe, Poland is a large and populous country boasting a wonderful mix of cultures - possibly explaining why it has enjoyed such an influx of students from abroad in recent times, with the figure now standing at over 46,000 (around 3% of the total student population).
Away from the lecture halls and university campuses, there's plenty to do; you can take time out to explore its charming cities and historically-significant sites including Kraków, Gdańsk and the capital city of Warsaw, indulge in outdoor pursuits such as hiking, canoeing and kayaking, and sample Polish cuisine.
Study opportunities in Poland are widespread, as there are more than 500 public and private higher education institutions (HEIs).
As you begin to hone in on possible study options, it's worth noting that the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2016-2017 lists nine Polish institutions among the top 980 universities in the world, while six feature in the QS World University Rankings 2016-2017.
Warsaw was also placed 63rd in the QS Best Student Cities 2016. The city is home to the top-Polish-ranked University of Warsaw - according to both these university rankings - as well as the Warsaw University of Technology. Another major student destination, Kraków, has the highly regarded Jagiellonian University and the AGH University of Science and Technology.
The Polish academic year runs from October to mid-February (fall semester), and from mid-February to June (spring semester); each term ending with exams.
Teaching is delivered in the form of classes, seminars, discussion groups, lectures and laboratory sessions - depending on the nature of study and your specific course.
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Students attending UK universities can take part in the European Union's (EU) education, training and youth support programme Erasmus+. The scheme provides study, training, work experience and voluntary placements to students in partner countries. Opportunities last from three months to one academic year.
Financial support is available through the Erasmus+ initiative to any UK public, private or not-for-profit organisation actively involved in education or training.
Your university must have a formal agreement with a partner university in another EU country, so be sure to check that your university is involved in the programme and offers the scheme in your subject. Speak to the Erasmus+ coordinator at your university about any available opportunities in Poland.
Degree courses in Poland
A Bachelors degree in Poland is split between the Bachelor of Arts (Licencjat) and the Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Engineering (Inżynier), typically lasting for three to four years. Studies are usually focused on preparing students for future employment or continued education in the form of a postgraduate qualification.
Many Bachelors degree courses are offered in English, with these full-time programmes amounting to 180-240 European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) credits. Applicants must have successfully completed upper secondary school (sixth form or college).
To successfully complete a semester, students will need to pass all examinations according to the common grading scale, as published by Go-Poland:
- 5 - very good (bardzo dobry)
- 4 - good (dobry)
- 3 - satisfactory (dostateczny)
- 2 - unsatisfactory/fail (niedostateczny)
- credit/pass (zaliczenie)
If you're looking to study a postgraduate qualification, you have the choice between a five-year Masters (Magister) programme starting in your first year of university, or a supplementary two- to two-and-a-half-year course following a Bachelors degree. The latter equates to 90-120 ECTS credits.
The course content is usually based on theoretical knowledge, and the development and application of creative skills.
Doctoral (Doktor) studies typically last for four years and lead to a PhD. They're only open to those students who have gained a Masters qualification and are offered by universities and a number of research institutions.
PhDs are awarded to Doctoral students who submit and successfully defend a dissertation when presenting to a thesis committee. You'll also have to pass an examination.
Full-time education at Polish HEIs costs nothing for Polish citizens. In addition, it's free for international students from the EU/EEA and in some other cases. To define your status, see Go-Poland.
For those expected to pay their course fees at these public institutions, the current averages are:
- €2,000 per year for Bachelors and Masters courses
- €3,000 per year for Doctoral and specialist courses.
Fees differ in private institutions, ranging from €2,000 to €6,000 per year depending on the course and institution.
Funding to study in Poland
The Polish government has a list of current scholarships (in Polish) for international students, available in specific subjects, typically as part of agreements with other nations - see the Bureau for Academic Recognition and International Exchange (BUWiWM).
A number of Polish universities also have their own scholarship programmes and these may be open to international students too. However, you'll need to enquire at your chosen institution about what's on offer before applying.
How to apply
Each university and course will have different entry requirements, so make sure you check what's expected of you before applying to your chosen institution. Details for postgraduates are usually listed on university websites by the end of May.
For admission onto degree programmes in Poland, you must hold a matriculation certificate (or equivalent document) stating that you are eligible for admission to higher education in the country in which you completed secondary school.
To enrol on any postgraduate programme, you'll need an undergraduate degree that's legally recognised in Poland, and you must provide proof of recognition to the Polish university by the end of the first term.
While a large selection of Bachelors and Masters programmes are taught in English, it's worth learning Polish in any case - even if it's just to enjoy a balanced life outside of the classroom. You can arrange for intensive language courses before you go. Speak to the Erasmus+ coordinator at your university about your options.
If you're considering courses in Polish as a foreign language, visit the Bureau for Academic Recognition and International Exchange (BUWiWM) to get the latest information.
As an EU citizen, you're permitted to live in any EU country while studying as long as you:
- are enrolled at an approved university/other educational institution
- are studying for more than three months
- have comprehensive health insurance cover
- have sufficient income (from any source) to live without needing income support.
Students looking to study at a Polish university for a minimum of three months will still need to obtain a residence permit from your local Voivodeship Office. Speak to your university's international office for further guidance, or visit the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
If you are from a country outside of the EU and you plan on studying in Poland for a minimum of three months, you'll need to contact your local Polish embassy to process your visa application, which can take up to 15 days. You'll require all the necessary documentation and to pay the visa fee.
This visa information is still valid following the UK's decision to leave the EU and will be updated if changes happen.
Comparison to UK qualifications
Existing undergraduate qualifications acquired in other European countries will usually be recognised and accepted by Polish universities. Your Polish Masters degree or PhD will also be internationally recognised, including by UK employers, due to the Bologna process.