In recent years, leading science and technology companies such as General Electric, Samsung, Intel and IBM have opened research and development centres in Poland. To ensure that such companies stay in the country, as well as attract their global rivals, science and higher education minister Barbara Kudrycka has recently steered into law a radical reorganisation of both university education and scientific research that will make Poland even more attractive for such high-value investments.

The key to making this new law a success, as Ms Kudrycka sees it, is an absolute commitment to excellence and a clear focus on understanding market requirements through co-operation and partnership with business. There will also be encouragement and incentives for more young people to study science-related subjects that offer better career opportunities, as well as adding value to the labour market.


Higher education reforms

After years working in higher education institutions and then gaining political experience as a member of the European Parliament, Ms Kudrycka is using her political and educational experience within her governmental role, and she is not afraid to ruffle some feathers. Ms Kudrycka says, “I was appointed with the aim of reforming and improving our higher education and scientific system. I consider our greatest success the fact that, thanks to extensive public debate, we have introduced the reforms without any major protests from either scholars or students, which shows that those groups understand the need for change.”

One example of a change that Ms Kudrycka has brought in is that instead of receiving money directly from the science and higher education ministry, research centres will have to compete for funds from two newly established and independent bodies, representing pure and applied science, and will have to demonstrate their innovative excellence and their potential contribution to the economy or to pressing societal issues.

Stemming the brain drain

One problem Poland has encountered in recent years is losing its brightest workers to other countries. The expected increase in the quality and number of already emerging research and development clusters will help to stem this brain drain and increase the value and reputation of research in Poland for international investors. Poland's highly intensive programme of building up its scientific infrastructure has used EU structural funds allocated to resolve structural economic problems.

And as these hubs of innovation gain prominence, they will benefit from further collaboration with scientists working in the European Research Area, the implementation of which is high on the agenda for the Polish EU presidency starting in July.

Rising star

With economic growth and a stronger currency, Poland is rapidly climbing the economic ladder, away from investment based on cheap labour towards a knowledge-based economy. On top of its large and prospering domestic market, the country's centuries-old tradition of scientific achievement is being continued through the pioneering work on the commercialisation of the ‘super’ material graphene and a host of other bio-nanotechnology applications.

Ms Kudrycka’s position is clear – innovation and closer links with business are essential. “I believe the train called innovation has begun to leave the station and by implementing such necessary reforms we have managed to secure ourselves seats on that train and the opportunity to become an innovation leader,” she says.

Time will tell if Poland can follow countries such as Finland that have rapidly achieved the status of leading European research hubs. One thing is certain: Poland has the potential, the intellectual capital, the political will and now the necessary legal regulations to make it possible.