Poland: Witold Jurek

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Witold Jurek Undersecretary of State, Ministry of Science and Higher Education (MNiSW)

Please note: This interview was conducted by e-mail.

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Core characteristics employers look for irrespective of role/sector

Q. Are there core characteristics that all new entrants to the workplace should have?
A.
There are such characteristics and a good educational system needs to foster them.

Q. How would you describe these characteristics? e.g. soft skills/ employability/skills/attitudes/behaviours?
A.
One set of core characteristics is a reflection of the constant and rapid change that is a feature of today's labour market. It includes adaptability to a changing environment and readiness to undergo training to upgrade or expand one's skills. Another set of core characteristics is related to the modern workplace and includes ICT literacy, teamwork and problem-solving skills as well as self-reliance - to name just a few.

Q. How can these competencies be measured?
A.
Unlike hard skills, the characteristics mentioned above are not easy to measure. It is more feasible to evaluate the progress made against the backdrop of a baseline of soft skills, once personal development targets have been set. The assessment should enable employees to recognise the skills they already possess and identify their own capacity for learning.

Q. How can these competencies be further developed/upgraded through continuous/life-long learning programmes?
A.
Such competencies can well be developed as part of life-long learning programmes. The educational system is well positioned to play a fundamental role in this regard. At every level of education a certain amount of time could be devoted to building skills of this kind. This should be, and in many cases is, complemented by employer- and state-provided training opportunities for adults.

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The role of business and industry in designing education

Q. What role can/should employers play in the development of education and training?
A.
Employers can play a vital role in enhancing the alignment between the skills of graduates and the needs of the economy.
Where appropriate, they should be involved in shaping curricula for vocational schools and universities and participate in teaching activities. They should also be invited to to have a say in evaluating outcomes of vocational education and development of quality assurance systems.

Q. Do professional development programmes adequately contribute to the formation of ideal employees?
A.
Professional development programmes may aim to contribute to the formation of better employees ("ideal" seems too ambitious a goal), but their actual outcomes will vary depending on the design of those programmes. The more successful programmes are likely to have followed a considerable effort to adjust their content to the needs and profiles of the beneficiaries.

Q. Can you give any examples of high performing employees - what characteristics do they have and how did they attain these?
A.
High-performing employees typically have a number of features in common, including strong motivation, willingness to pursue additional training opportunities, or excellent time-management and communication skills.

Q. What responsibility does the individual have in their own personal development?
A.
It is ultimately up to the individual to be in charge of his or her personal development. However, the immediate social environment of a person also plays a role, particularly early on. It is vital for that environment, mainly the parents and teachers, to identify and nurture any creative endowment exhibited by a pupil or student.

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What in your view is the ideal experience of education?

Q. What does the school environment look like?
A.
The ideal school environment should, first and foremost, recognise and develop pupils' innate talents. It should inspire curiosity on the one hand, and scepticism towards common but unsubstantiated views on the other hand. It should also encourage independent thinking, rather than submitting to established authorities.

Q. What teaching methods are used?
A. Hands-on, interactive experience should be used whenever possible, involving open discussions and a free exchange of ideas. Committing minor details or formulae to memory should be de-emphasised.

Q. What kind of knowledge, skills and behaviours are prioritised?
A.
The main principles underlying each major area of study should be a vital topic, as well as soft skills that come in handy when functioning in a local community or in a work team. In vocational education, the input of industry should be taken into account.

Q. What other characteristics would you add?
A.
Teacher - pupil/student relations should be based on mutual respect and on a sense of partnership.

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The role of education systems

Q. Are employers' needs clearly articulated and reflected in existing educational programmes?

Q. How are the Polish Ministry of National Education and Ministry of Science and Higher Education working together to respond to employers' needs?

Q. What are the challenges facing policy makers in Poland looking to improve the design and delivery of vocational education and training programmes?

Q. What are the challenges facing educators/training providers in delivering appropriate education for employment programmes?

Q. What is the perceived value of qualifications provided by educational institutions - how important is certification in terms of evaluating the skills, attributes and behaviours of the ideal employee?

A.

In October 2009 the Polish Government adopted the Guidelines for the amendment of the Acts - Law on higher education and the Act on Academic Degrees and Title and on Degrees and Title in Art. These reforms introduce the following changes in terms of adjusting higher education provisions to labour market needs:

Possibility of providing degree programmes in close cooperation with employers and the involvement of practitioners representing
economic organizations in the teaching process in vocational education by a) creation of curricula, b) participation in teaching, c) defining and evaluating learning outcomes;

Developing forms of education orientated to labour market needs, among others, by commissioning fields of studies in compliance with the current trends in the economy;

Elaboration of a National Qualifications Framework and defining the curricula on the basis of learning outcomes;

Obligatory monitoring of graduates' career paths by higher education institutions and introduction of this requirement as a
criterion in the quality assessment procedure;

Obligatory collegial bodies (convents) in state vocational higher education institutions which will include, among others,
representatives of municipal authorities and the business sector. They are aimed at building a link between HEIs and the socioeconomic environment. They will be responsible for adopting the HEIs development strategy in accordance with a national and regional development policy, as well as for adopting the rules for monitoring the process of strategy implementation;

Introduction of new criteria to the quality assurance process, measuring the level of linkage between higher education
programmes and the needs of the economy.

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Impact of Education on Economic Development

Q. Poland was the only EU country to register positive growth in 2009. Has education reform contributed to this relative success?
A.
Education reform may have contributed somewhat to positive growth in Poland last year. This issue has not been studied, therefore any definitive assessment would now be premature.

Q.What new demands do the effort within Poland to build a larger knowledge economy place upon education systems?
A.
The educational system in Poland needs to be more responsive to the needs of the economy. As indicated above, this objective will hopefully be met through the reform of higher education. Polish HEIs also need to become more competitive so as to attract the best talent from abroad and to prevent young Polish academics and researchers from seeking employment in other countries. The reform contains measures designed to accomplish just that.

Q. How is education helping to foster innovation and entrepreneurship in Poland?
A.
The Act on higher education currently in force provided the legal basis for the establishment of academic business incubators and technology transfer centres. Academic business incubators may be created to support the economic activity of the academic community, including entrepreneurial students, whereas a technology transfer centre is usually set up to sell or provide, on a free-of-charge basis, the results of research and development work to the business sector. There are many such entities at Polish higher education institutions, contributing to enhanced innovativeness of our economy and strengthening an entrepreneurial spirit in the academic community.

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