300 private schools gone?

Last week a Polish magazine published a prediction about the upcoming collapse of countless HE institutions. Private of course, as public universities are unsinkable, regardless of their underperformance, inefficiencies and non-competitiveness. The author proposed that in a few years Poland will be down to approx. 50 private institutions, from the current 360. We all agree that this is a huge number of bankruptcies, closures or (much rarer) unification takeovers.
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Such a school collapse will lead potential students away from the private sector, as the unpredictability of such closures will poison the institutional trust required for a prolonged contract (programmes are 2 or 3 years long and private institutions collect fees). As such, we can expect that the first two dozen closures will cause an avalanche effect, as students (and candidates) pre-emptively switch their loyalties to unsinkable public Titanic(s).

The closures will also change the geographical patterns of HE: many of the 360 private institutions are located in smaller cities or small towns, and rely on their locality for 80-or-more percent of recruitment. Conversely, those students often choose the local HE provider exactly for that reason – the location allows them to save time, funds, study with friends, maintain contacts or build new networks helpful in later job seeking. Lacking such local institutions, the students will be forced to disperse across the country.

Local institutions keep money within the locality. Those that are able to recruit form outside the city actually add real cash to the local economy, as “external” students spend cash on housing, food, amusements, services. Some (rare) analyses indicate multimillion injections into town economies.

The proposal that so many schools will fail also means that 300 large employers/businesses will collapse, taking with them jobs (conventional, service and intellectual), taxes and business-related consumption. Every budget will feel that pinch.

The firing of staff will increase unemployment rates (often difficult to reduce in smaller communities due to lack of new business start-ups nor growth of existing companies). It will especially affect the HE employment sector, “freeing-up” hundreds of lecturers, many of whom have relocated to these cities/towns. Employment opportunities for them will be few, while the over-supply of academics will drive wages down (academic wages are already often below national averages for “standard” workers).

Admittedly, there will be a one-time boom from the sale of real estate and its reconfiguration (admittedly, most HE buildings are very specific structure-wise, so the range of possible and cheap conversions is limited).

Overall, this prediction fits into one more process – the gradual withdrawal of modernity and civilisation (and government) from smaller localities and the resurgence of centralised operations sparsely positioned within the biggest agglomerations only. So, for the “2nd class Poles” this will mean one thing – a fall to “3rd class” (and the gradual removal of the “2nd class”, leaving only the privileged large-city dwellers versus everyone else).

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