The public good and the common good in the context of functioning of the Polish science and higher education system. Comparative perspective

Description of the project

Research visit at Centre for Global Higher Education, Department of Education, University of Oxford : 1st February 2020 – 15th March 2020

Much attention has been given in higher education research to disruptive influence of ongoing marketisation that undermines the publicness of public university (Newfield 2010), as well as to the blurring of the boundaries between public and private that happened in consequences of these processes (Guzmán-Valenzuela 2016; Macfarlane 2015). Relatively fewer studies dealt with a culturally differentiated mode of understanding of what emerged in response to the material undermining of the idea of the public university. Recently, we can observe the growth of the discussions and the presentations of the idea of higher education as the common good (UNESCO 2015, Marginson 2016, Locatelli 2018, Szadkowski 2018). Many efforts have been made to operationalise the concept for the analysis of its development (Boyadjieva & Ilieva-Trichkova 2018), as well as for the investigation of the perceptions of main actors within a national system (Tian & Liu 2018). However, the concepts of the public good and the common good have no clear boundaries and are often used interchangeably. The work that formed the background for the research visit continued and expanded this line of inquiry by sharpening the conceptual distinction and grounding it in a specific empirical context of Polish higher education system.

This research is an affiliated project with a broader Centre for Global Higher Education Research “Project 1.1. Local, national and global public good contributions of higher education: A comparative study in six national systems” that aims at establishing a generic and cross-cultural framework for defining and potentially measuring the public goods in higher education. 

The object of the research carried out in cooperation with the CGHE team was a culturally rooted ways of understanding of the public benefits and public contributions generated by the Polish system of higher education and science. To this end, a series of semi-structured interviews was conducted (according to scenarios prepared by the project manager) with representatives of national power-structures of the system (vice-ministers, representatives of collegial intermediary bodies at national level), authorities of the two public universities (regional and metropolitan), and staff and management at the three faculties at each of the university (history, economics, engineering).

Polish higher education offers a case of a post-socialist system, where high general distrust towards the state and its institutions forms a distance between the public good reality and the main actors within higher education. Constitutionally grounded idea of institutional autonomy and academic community as its guardian dominates over the narrations of either ministerial representatives or academic faculty. In such context the idea of the common good connected with the reality of the university comes to the fore in at least two main forms: regular and corrupted. The first, embraces the general, relational and community-forming aspects of higher education institutions activities. The second, points at the moments of closure and patterns of exclusion, where the common good in its corrupted form is a good of a limited group (disciplinary community, academics from one institution, elites). In each instance, the difference between the public and the common good on which the Polish case casts more light deals with the idea of abstract or concrete community that is responsible for the managing of a given good. Thus, Polish system offers a contrasting case that could stimulate the comparative work planned in the CGHE project.

The planned research stay at the CGHE, at the Department of Education at University of Oxford, is to be used to carry out comparative work placing the material collected in the context of the Polish higher education system and science against the background of other cases prepared by CGHE researchers.

During the stay, the prepared in vivo code grid, developed during the initial analysis of the collected material, will be presented, discussed and criticized during a meeting with the project manager and team members. In the next step, the material from the interviews will be re-encoded in accordance with the guidelines in order to achieve a deeper integration and emphasize intersecting themes and areas selected during the preparation of the remaining case studies of national systems. A cultural-specific dictionary of concepts used by Polish actors to recognize public and social benefits will also be prepared.

The objectives of my stay are (minimum):

  • Preparation of the Polish part of the cultural-specific dictionary of concepts concerning public and social benefits from higher education.
  • The analytical report on the collected material
  • A seminar presentation of the results of comparative work taking into account the Polish case.
  • Draft of the comparative co-authored article.


  • Guzman-Valenzuela, Carolina. 2016. Unfolding the meaning of public(s) in universities: toward transformative university. Higher Education 71: 667-679.
  • Locatelli, Ritta. 2018. Education as a public and common good: Reframing the governance of education in a changing context. UNESCO Education Research and Foresight Working Papers. No 22.
  • Macfarlane, Bruce. 2015. Dualism in Higher Education: a Critique of Their Influence and Effect. Higher Education Quarterly 69(1): 101-118.
  • Marginson, Simon. 2016. Higher education and the common good. Melbourne: Melbourne University Publishing.
  • Szadkowski, Krystian. 2019. The common in higher education: a conceptual approach. Higher Education 78:241-255.
  • Tian, Lin & Liu, Nian Cai. 2018. Local and global public good contributions of higher education in China. CGHE Working paper no. 37. London: CGHE.
  • UNESCO. 2015. Rethinking Education. Towards a global common good? Paris: UNESCO.

The research visit is financed by the NCN in Poland. Krystian Szadkowski is the Principal Investigator.

Photo by Pang Yuhao on Unsplash