The power of large-scale international comparative research in higher education is increasing. Methodologically sophisticated surveys increasingly cover those territories of higher education about which, from international comparative perspectives, we used to have mostly guesses. Now we have hard data that can be used for research and policy purposes.
EUROSTUDENT IV 2008-2011 report (Social and Economic Conditions of Student Life in Europe) in twenty-five European countries is fourth in a series. The beginnings were modest – the first study in 2000 included only eight countries. The latest 250 pp. synopsis of indicators was just released (June 15, 2011) and is available from http://www.eurostudent.eu .
EUROSTUDENT IV belongs to a growing family of large-scale comparative research projects. They include a global CAP (Changing Academic Profession) project on academics in 18 countries,followed by its European offspring, EUROAC (The Academic Profession in Europe). Careers paths of European graduates and post-graduation employment were studied in CHEERS (Careers After Higher Education – A European Research Study), a project that included 12 countries and in REFLEX (Research into Employment and Professional Flexibility), a project that included 16 countries. The numbers are impressive: the survey in EUROSTUDENT IV included a quarter of a million students; surveys in CAP and EUROAC included merely dozens of thousands of academics, and in CHEERS and REFLEX over thirty and seventy thousands of university graduates, respectively. The body of knowledge amassed from the CHEERS and CAP projects has already produced 300 publications!
Poland participated in the EUROSTUDENT survey for the first time. The most striking results are in two areas—part-time studies and paid work. It is one thing to know the Polish higher education system is different; it is another to be able to show the details. EUROSTUDENT database makes the latter possible. Polish students show the highest number of hours dedicated to study in Europe and work in paid jobs the longest hours too.
A striking 52% of Polish students study part-time. In 2009, there were 960 thousand part-timers and 940 thousand full-timers enrolled in Poland. In the private sector, part-timers are the vast majority—eight of every ten of students (83% of the 630 thousands students in this sector). Other countries in which the share of part-time students is also substantial are Lithuania (about one third or 36%) and of England/Wales and Norway (about one fourth or 27% and 25%, respectively). By contrast, 86% of students in Europe study full-time. In five countries (Finland, France, Germany, Austria, and Spain) part-time status does not exist at all.
How is the full-time/part-time status linked to study? Polish part-time students are the most hard-working students in Europe! Only 22% report spending fewer than 20 hours a week on study-related activities (the smallest share in Europe) while 78% report spending more than 20 hours a week and 36% more than 30 hours a week. Only part-timers from Croatia report greater number of hours dedicated to study. The average number of hours spent studying for all of Europe is about 20 hours per week.
Surprisingly, hard-working Polish students do not view studies as the central activity in their week— only 24% consider studying as their most important activity. On average, most European students (56%) consider university study to be their primary activity. The percentages may be strongly linked to a higher share of fee-paying students in Poland (more than 1.1 million in 2009)—you pay, therefore you spend many hours on your studies—but this doesn’t necessarily mean that you view it as your most important weekly activity. Especially since Polish students are generally employed in paid jobs.
According to EUROSTUDENT, Polish undergraduate students, spend the greatest number of hours at paid jobs – on average 19 hours per week. The situation is similar in Estonia, the Czech Republic, and the Slovak Republic, but on average in Europe, though, it is only 8 hours a week. With increased hours spent on regular paid jobs, the time budgeted for study-related activities generally diminishes. Not in Poland where the total time budgeted to both study and work is very high.
The survey results raise a number of important policy issues. What are the differences between labor market trajectories of Polish graduates from part-time and full-time study programs? In fact are there differences between the trajectories of the majority of graduates in the private sector (where a part-time status is the norm) and those in the public sector (where a share of part-timers has been lower and is decreasing)? Should full-time studies in the private sector be subsidized by the state to decrease part-time numbers? Will the sharp turn towards needs-based assistance and away from merit-based assistance make a difference? How can more equitable access to higher education be assured?
EUROSTUDENT IV is extremely helpful in addressing critical policy issues from a comparative European perspective. Poland was not involved in CAP, CHEERS, and REFLEX projects, but it was represented in EUROSTUDENT IV and EUROAC (where I have been the national coordinator). The policy impact of comparative research for Poland remains to be seen – but heated discussions are expected in this time of sweeping reforms.