by Szymon Maszkiewicz

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that educated people are a huge asset to every country. Politicians, entrepreneurs, innovators…  A few examples of very import groups in every society. The majority in each of those groups consist of higher education graduates. I don’t have an academical paper to support the claim, but it seems logical that the more graduates there are, the more people can become leaders, businesspeople, in short, people who can significantly contribute to the development or wealth of a country. If people holding a university diploma are so valuable why don’t we force everyone to complete a degree? This question can be proven wrong in many different ways, but it has a point. Everyone should have a right to study, improve skills one finds useful, develop as a person. So, what and why are there restrains that hold people back from studying? I think that those restrictions can be divided into two groups. To the first group belong things that are independent of us, like a permanently ill mother that requires our support on a daily basis. The restrictions from the second group are more prosaic, and I believe, can be solved structurally. I think about possible problems of high tuition fees, distances to the closest university, sources of income while studying. After this lengthy and slow introduction, I’d like to discuss the ways in which authorities in countries I’ve studied guarantee the right to study, support students and in the end, share my opinion on the results of those decisions and actions.
I’m Polish, and my Alma Mater is in Warsaw, Poland. It is a public institution, said to be one of the best Polish B-Schools: Warsaw School of Economics. In Poland there are no tuition fees for students who study in Polish and are under 26 y/o. A fair deal for everyone who wants to kick-start a professional career. Unprivileged students can also get a social scholarship, so they don’t have to work a side job and could fully concentrate on courses. And although it sounds perfect, unfortunately it has its drawbacks. Due to lack of funds, the lectures are organised for too many students at the same time, same thing applies to the workshops and all others forms of classes at unis. This isn’t encouraging for the students. The other thing is that professors also notice the problem and are not afraid of failing students. In Poland, every exam can be taken only 2 times. As a consequence, studying here is stressful, but those who graduate are most likely to be quite educated people.
A similar system is introduced in Germany. Studying there is basically costless, so a lot of German young people decide to start an adventure with studying. I have studied there during my Erasmus exchange program, so you need to know that as an international student I was treated
slightly differently. At the end, I’ve noticed only one significant difference between Polish and German approach. German students can postpone their exams practically forever what means that the graduation rate there is higher, but quite often those students don’t really remember what they’ve studied. One can ask an always valid question: quality over quantity or the other way round? At last but not least, I want to discuss advantages and disadvantages of Dutch higher educational system. It’s completely opposite to Polish/German ones. I’ve finished my Master program there, so I feel competent to say a few words. Every student in Netherlands need to pay for the education. It’s not much, roughly 2500 Euro for a year, but I know some people who couldn’t afford to pay the fees. Scholarships aren’t for everyone as well. If a student wants to get a state support, s/he needs to work at least 52 hours a month. The support isn’t free, it’s a loan that needs
to be paid back after studies. Fortunately, the interest rate is pretty low. So as you see, the entry barrier exists there. Nevertheless, the Dutch system has many advantages: the professors are young, well-paid, and motivated. Working groups are small and one can really feel the progress from one class to another. If one asks, one can get nearly individual attention from the lecturer. Let’s finish this string of compliments with something that has really blown my mind. Students can and do evaluate programs and teachers and have a real influence on them. Amazing! All of those positive things regarding studying in Netherlands cause one, impossible to overcome problem. A housing shortage. There are simply too many students willing to complete their degree in the Netherlands and Dutch government cannot provide enough places for them. Even domestic students have hard time finding anything nearby universities and even though public transport works effectively in Holland, it
appears that long transfer time between home and school prevents some students from pursuing their dreams of becoming a graduate.
In summary, all three countries I’ve been studying in try to guarantee all young people their right to study, however common access to higher education causes some structural challenges. I am in no position to objectively decide which system is the best from a most general point of view, but if I were to pick a country to study again, I would opt for the Netherlands.