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Brain Drain

Nadine Wojcik (kjb)April 26, 2008

Poland's young academics are going abroad in search of well-paying jobs. Those who stay at home are labeled "desperados" and often earn so little, regardless of how many degrees they have, that they can hardly survive.

Lecture hall
Many doctoral students aim for a university career, but that doesn't pay well in PolandImage: AP

Agnieszka Koscianska just defended her dissertation last month and now works full-time as a lecturer at the University of Warsaw's Sociology Institute. She gives three seminars and one lecture every week -- for a monthly salary of around 300 euros ($475).

The 32-year-old is frustrated.

"First you study hard and do a doctorate; you can speak several languages and work a lot. But in the end you earn about the same as a cleaning lady -- with all due respect for their work," she said.

Agnieszka has made a name for herself with her research in the field of gender studies. She has a long list of publications and is regularly invited to give radio and television interviews. Research trips in Copenhagen and New York, made possible by scholarships, fill out her resume.

If everyone left…

Warsaw University
The university in Warsaw

Many of her fellow students have taken positions abroad, mainly due to the low pay in Poland, but that's not an option for Agnieszka.

"I've often thought about a career abroad, but I decided to stay here for private and especially for ideological reasons," she said. "Not everyone can go -- then there wouldn't be any more lecturers at the university."

Agnieszka has a few advantages: She shares living expenses with her boyfriend Michal, who translates Ukrainian literature for a living. And her parents bought her an apartment when she started studying, so she doesn't have to pay rent. In Warsaw, the cost of an apartment would exceed her monthly income.

Even so, she'll have to get by until she completes her postdoctoral lecture qualification, since her financial situation isn't likely to change any time soon. Compared to other EU countries, Poland doesn't spend a lot on education -- only 0.4 percent of its gross domestic product -- despite criticism from politicians and academics. That puts a low ceiling on salaries for lecturers and professors.

Financial aid for home-comers

Man studies in the library
Time abroad is essential to an academic careerImage: imagesource

The Foundation for Polish Science wants to help ease the situation. It has initiated some 20 programs aimed at supporting talented students, one of which -- called "Powroty/Homing" -- is especially aimed at young academics who return to Poland.

The foundation's vice president, Tomasz Perkowski, called the program a kind of financial "airbag" to help returning Poles deal with the shock of going from well-financed elite universities abroad to Poland's sluggish academic sector.

"Time abroad is very important for an academic career and we don't want to create any barriers," he said. "But we also want the academics to have a reason to come back."

Thirty Polish students have benefited from the scholarship so far. But for Agnieszka that's just a drop in the bucket.

"Only a few people get a scholarship like that," she said. "In relation to our population and especially considering that we want more young people to study at universities, it's just not enough."