You've probably heard of the famous astronomer, Nicolaus Copernicus and might also be familiar with the novelist, Joseph Conrad, but would you know them as Mikołaj Kopernik or Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski? What about the composer, Fryderyk Franciszek Chopin, or the radiographer, Marie Skłodowska-Curie? As even this short list indicates, Poland's contribution to important cultural developments and scientific breakthroughs has been far more extensive and exceptional than you might initially realise.
The Polish higher education system combines this rich cultural and intellectual heritage with a commitment to international engagement and development that reflects the country's involvement in key European networks and organisations. Poland's first university was founded in 1364 (making it the second oldest in Central Europe) but modern Polish higher education is also innovative and outward looking; the country is a signatory of the Bologna declaration and the ECTS credit system is used throughout its institutions.
All of this makes Poland an attractive option for international postgraduate study. As a PhD student in Poland, you'll have the chance to conduct research in a country that has a prestigious intellectual and creative pedigree across various disciplines and takes the quality and recognition of modern doctoral training very seriously.
There are two broad categories of higher education provider in Poland:
Schools of Higher Vocational Education (uczelnia zawodowa) specialise in professional training. Some offer long-cycle Masters (Magister) level qualifications (for which a student enrols as an undergraduate) but none award PhD (Doktor) degrees. They make up around 30% of Poland's tertiary education institutions.
Higher Education Institutions (uczelnia akademicka) are defined by an authorisation to conduct higher level research training and award doctoral degrees within at least one faculty. As such, they usually offer qualifications at all three levels of academic study. Other non-university research facilities are sometimes entitled to award PhDs in very specific fields, but as a doctoral student in Poland you're most likely to be studying at an uczelnia akademicka. Some offer qualifications in a range of disciplines across different faculties, whilst others are smaller and focus upon specific fields such as medicine, economics or the arts. Collectively they make up around 70% of Poland's tertiary education institutions.
An uczelnia akademicka can only award PhDs in a given field by meeting strict criteria. These include stipulations as to the number of staff with recognised research outputs (including demanding post-doctoral qualifications) and the ratio of students to supervisors. As a result, doctoral training at Polish uczelnia akademicka usually benefits from an exceptionally close-alignment with the proven expertise of academic staff.
Polish higher education providers may be state-run or private, with the former overseen by the Polish State Accreditation Committee. At present, the majority of higher level research and doctoral training is undertaken by state-run uczelnia akademicka accredited in this way.
The academic year in Poland is organised into autumn and spring semesters, running from October to February and from February to June. Each comprises around 15 weeks of instruction, followed by an examination period. Holidays are within semesters at Christmas and Easter and a long summer break concludes each year of study. As a full-time PhD student in Poland you can expect to be registered for at least three years, with many projects taking four years to complete.
The process of completing a Polish PhD may be subject to a comparatively large amount of monitoring and active involvement on the part of your supervisor. This may require you to be very disciplined in the targets you set and the frequency with which you submit research reports, but you will benefit from the involvement of a mentor whose own expertise will usually be closely aligned with your specific needs.
A Polish PhD programme will also encourage you to develop yourself as a researcher and professional academic in ways that extend beyond the completion of your thesis. Your supervisor will be able to offer guidance in pursuing research outcomes, whether in the form of conference presentations or publications and most uczelnia akademicka will also require you to undertake teaching responsibilities as part of your course (the maximum load is usually 90 timetabled hours per academic year). These activities will enhance important areas of your academic CV and help you develop additional transferrable skills and work experience.
A Polish doctoral programme may include various assessment components in addition to the final defence of a research thesis. These will usually involve a series of doctoral examinations conducted within your institution and associated with courses of study deemed relevant or necessary by your supervisor and faculty.
At the conclusion of your programme, your supervisor will confirm that your thesis is of a suitable standard to be presented for examination. You will then be required to defend it before one or more academic experts, including representatives from outside your institution. This defence will often be public and, if so, you may be able to invite family members to take pride in your success. Following a satisfactory thesis defence and the completion of all required coursework, teaching duties and other training, you will be awarded a PhD qualification that represents a particularly comprehensive level of academic achievement.
Applications to study for a PhD in Poland may be made to individual institutions. If applying from outside the EU or EEA, you should aim to apply early in order to allow sufficient time for visa application and immigration procedures.
Admission to a Polish PhD programme will usually require you to hold a Masters degree in a relevant field, but more specific requirements may be set by individual institutions. As a general rule you should expect to provide academic references alongside an appropriate research proposal and personal statement.
Due to Poland's participation in the European Higher Education Area, recognition of qualifications gained in other European countries are not usually a problem. Degrees awarded by universities outside Europe may be subject to additional investigation, but this is also unlikely to be a significant issue as the Polish higher education system is keen to welcome international students. More information on the recognition of foreign qualifications is available from Poland's Bureau for Academic Recognition and International Exchange. If in doubt, you should seek advice from your prospective institution.
An increasing number of Polish universities are adopting English language teaching, but this will vary between institutions and between individual departments within institutions. Where a programme is delivered in English, non-native speakers may need to demonstrate proficiency through a recognised English language test; and where programmes are delivered in Polish, you may be required to undertake relevant training and preparation in advance of your degree or as a subsequent condition of enrolment.
Whatever the requirements of your course, developing some Polish language skills will enhance your time in the country and improve your CV - particularly if you go on to pursue an academic or professional career in Poland itself. Information on Polish language courses and requirements is available from Polonicum, the Centre of Polish Language and Culture for Foreigners.
If you are a citizen of a country within the EU, EEA or Schengen Area you will not need a visa in order to enter Poland, but may need to apply for a residence permit in order to remain in the country longer than 90 days. Citizens of other countries will usually need to contact a Polish Embassy or Consulate in their home country and apply for a student visa in advance. This will entitle you to remain in Poland for up to three months, but can be extended by applying to a local administrative centre (a 'Voivodeship Office') within the country; you should do this with at least 45 days remaining on your original visa.
More detailed information on entering and residing in Poland as a foreign national and the regulations governing citizens of different countries is available from the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The international office at your prospective higher education institution should also be able to assist if you have any additional queries.
All foreign students in Poland require some form of health insurance. Citizens of the EU and EEA may be covered by a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). Others may purchase insurance from the Polish National Health Fund (Narodowy Fundusz Zdrowia) for 40zł ($14) per month. Specific arrangements exist for citizens of some countries, including the UK, Sweden, Slovenia and the Czech Republic. More information is available from the Polish National Health Fund.
Though university-level education is free for Polish citizens, fees will normally apply to foreign students. Exceptions may be made for individuals possessing a Karta Polaka (a 'Polish Charter'or 'Pole's Card') that demonstrates non-citizen Polish heritage.
Minimum fee levels at state-run institutions are set by the government. At present, enrolment on a PhD programme costs at least 12,500zł ($4,150) per year. Exact costs will vary between institutions and across subject areas. Private institutions are free to set their own minimum fee levels, but do not typically award PhD degrees.
Funding for foreign students may be offered at some higher education institutions in Poland and, in special cases, fees may be waived partially or entirely. PhD students undertaking teaching duties may receive remuneration or partial fee waivers in recognition of this work.
Some funding is also available through the Polish Government Scholarship scheme, which covers tuition fees and provides additional money for maintenance. You should contact the Polish embassy or consulate in your home country to inquire as to the relevant eligibility conditions in your case.
As an international student you may also be able to seek support through the new Erasmus+ programme or, in the case of non-European students, through ongoing partnerships and opportunities set up under the Erasmus Mundus banner. You can find out about Erasmus+ funding in Poland here and read more about the Erasmus Mundus programme in our PhD funding guide.
Our own postgraduate funding website provides a comprehensive database of small grants and bursaries available to support postgraduate study around the world, including travel bursaries, living cost support, fee waivers and exchange programmes. Click here to start searching for funding to study a PhD in Poland, or elsewhere.
The varied content and careful monitoring of a Polish PhD makes it particularly valuable as a route into an academic career. By the time you receive your doctorate, you will have gained formal experience and training in important academic skills such as undergraduate teaching and will probably have completed a range of other course components alongside your thesis. This will prepare you well to apply for a university post in Poland or elsewhere.
A Polish PhD may also be particularly valuable in non-academic fields. Employability and career progression have been identified as key aims within the Polish higher education system and, since 2011, higher education providers have been required to monitor student prospects after graduation. This allows institutions to confirm the value of qualifications and enhance future course design and provision accordingly.
Whatever you choose to do after graduation, your time spent living and studying abroad will have given you plenty of valuable experiences alongside your academic qualification; you will have enriched your CV, demonstrated adaptability and broadened your horizons as a person and prospective employee in all sorts of fields.