Academics say university evaluation was driven by politics

Polish scientists say that the much-trumpeted evaluation of the country’s universities, the results of which dropped at the end of July, is an exercise in clientelism that is contrary to the true purposes of academia.

Poland’s Ministry of Education and Science, headed by Minister Przemyslaw Czarnek, delivered the long-overdue results of the evaluation of Polish higher education institutions amidst fierce criticism over its fleeting criteria and charges that the evaluation is driven by the government’s increasingly partisan politics.

The evaluation, as carried out, was the fruit of political needs of the moment rather than an effort to assess universities’ performance, said Adam Leszczynski, a historian and sociologist at the SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Warsaw.

“What Czarnek did was skew the evaluation process to give scientists and faculties close to the government a high enough assessment to ensure that money and jobs in academia flow the right way,” Leszczynski told University World News in a phone interview.

Fleeting evaluation criteria

The minister himself has said that for the next evaluation, covering the period between 2022 and 2026, there will be brand new evaluation rules in place and that the current system is “too complicated”.

Leszczynski said the situation adds to confusion over fleeting evaluation criteria and fears of politicisation of the assessment process.

“Evaluation only makes sense if the process is well prepared beforehand by scientists themselves after as broad a consultation as possible, which takes years to do,” Leszczynski said.

Czarnek took over at the helm of the Ministry of Education and Science, a newly created division in the conservative government of the Law and Justice party (PiS), in 2020, after the dismissal of former minister Jaroslaw Gowin.

Gowin’s heritage in the new ministry was an evaluation process much in the spirit of Anglo-Saxon academia. It, too, had earned criticism for alleged bias towards publications in international journals, predominantly in English.

“Gowin’s reform was biased to give more credit to publications in international journals, which makes little sense when assessed studies are closely linked to, say, Polish literature,” Leszczynski added.

But the form the assessment took under Czarnek is equally, if not more, flawed, Leszczynski and a host of other Polish scientists have long argued.

Stepping in for the removed minister, Czarnek hollowed out – in Leszczynski’s words – Gowin’s “UK-like evaluation proposal”.

The new minister gradually overhauled the evaluation criteria through a series of administrative decisions.

While that allowed him to circumvent the parliament – which would have had to be involved had Czarnek opted for changing relevant laws enacted under Gowin – it also stripped the evaluation process of any pretence of being carried out in communication with the academic community.

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