Center for Public Policy Studies

Kwiek for Sheila Slaughter and Barrett Taylor: from privatization (of the expansion era) to de-privatization (of the contraction era) (Springer)

December, 2016

Marek Kwiek published a chapter “From Privatization (of the Expansion Era) to De-privatization (of the Contraction Era). A National Counter-Trend in a Global Context” in Sheila Slaughter and Barrett Jay Taylor (eds.), Higher Education, Stratification, and Workforce Development. Competitive advantage in Europe, the US and Canada. Dordrecht: Springer, 2016. 311-329

The book is available here and the chapter (in PDF) is avialable here.

As a concept, “de-privatization” relates to the theory of academic capitalism in important ways. Research in the tradition of academic capitalism (Slaughter and Leslie 1997; Slaughter and Rhoades 2004) explores the ways in which competition for resources – including but not limited to student enrollments – reshapes university operations. A typical consequence of academic capitalist processes is heightened stratification between universities (Slaughter and Cantwell 2012). In the US, where much research on academic capitalism has been conducted, growing gaps between universities have tended to advantage private universities over their public peers. Relative to their enrollments, private universities tend to enjoy higher status (Cantwell and Taylor 2013) and greater resources (Taylor, chapter three in this volume) than do their public counterparts. Poland therefore provides an important counter-example that adds texture to the academic capitalist account, as suggested by the concept of “de-privatization.” Because public subsidies in Poland are attached directly to “seats” rather than to research monies (Rosinger, Taylor, and Slaughter, chapter four) or tax advantages (Cantwell, chapter eight), public universities have improved their position as total enrollment has declined and competition for students has increased. This chapter therefore highlights the ways in which state policies can incent competitions in a manner evocative of the quasi-markets that characterize academic capitalism (Taylor, Cantwell and Slaughter 2013) without necessarily favoring private providers relative to their public counterparts.

The expansion from elite to mass to universal higher education in Poland was abrupt and uncoordinated.  At at the end of the communist period the gross enrollment rate was about 10% (1989).  Drawing on Martin Trow’s terminology, three years later, the system entered the age of “massification” (15.5% in 1992). Within the next fifteen years, it moved to the age of “universalization” (51.1% in 2007 and beyond) (Trow 2010a: 86-142).  The enrollment rate grew by a factor of  5 in a decade and a half, occurring in a much shorter period of time than anywhere in Western Europe.  Expansion had broad public support from the state, academia, and the public at large. The most important drivers of this change were powerful social pressures to make higher education accessible to ever larger segments of society (Bialecki and Dabrowa-Szefler 2009), that included expansion of the population seeking higher education, a new labor market with growing private sector employment that required a more educated labor force (Baranowska 2011, Kogan et al. 2011), a laissez-faire public policy towards the emergent private sector in higher education (which we have termed “the policy of non-policy,” in Kwiek 2008), and the willingness of the academic profession to be very involved in the institutional growth of both public and private sectors (Antonowicz 2012 and Kwiek 2012a). The emergence of the private sector in postcommunist countries “took the state and society by surprise. This often meant private proliferation amid little regulation” (Slantcheva and Levy 2007: 5). Change processes in Poland were typical of Central and Eastern Europe, where countries faced similar challenges stemming from the communist legacy. Post secondary education had to move beyond communist conceptions of universities as organizations that should heavily restrict access, be under strong political supervision and tightly coordinated by the state, as well as engaged in redesigning basic social structures towards a Soviet ideal of social justice.

The combination of demand and supply factors led to unprecedented growth of the Polish system. Public institutions used their newly gained institutional autonomy to offer ever more study programs to ever larger numbers of students, in both previously existing tax-based tracks and in newly emergent fee-based tracks (all full-time studies in the public sector are tax-based, e.g., fully subsidized by the state, in accordance with the Polish Constitution, all part-time studies are fee-based). The absolute size of the system increased greatly, as did the size and numbers of public and private institutions. The post-1989 period has been a Golden age of Polish higher education with regard to mass, affordable access. However, expansion came with a notable cost. The national focus on increasing student numbers came at the expense of the research mission of top Polish universities and the relative decline of national academic research output in 1995-2010, especially in “soft” as opposed to “hard” research fields, when compared with the major Central European systems of Hungary, the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic (Kwiek 2012a).