chapter  14
28 Pages

Accessibility to education and its impact on regional development in Poland konraD Ł . CzaPiEwski anD krzysztof JanC

Introduction The development of human resources potentially has a key role to play as a driver of regional development and constitutes a specific element of the territorial capital of a region. Following on from this, it can be argued that accessibility to educational opportunities is an important determining factor in developing the potential of such human resources. Whereas the Lisbon Strategy (CEC 2005) stresses the important role played by R&D (research and development) investments in the overall framework of a competitive Europe, especially those focusing on raising education levels, the strong focus on successful economic areas translates in many cases to a lack of emphasis on the improvement of education opportunities within less favoured regions. Uneven accessibility to education implies that certain areas will be disadvantaged in terms of development potential and this in turn may contribute to further fuelling regional disparities and exacerbating the current mega-trends currently being experienced in the EU (cf. Finka, Stead and Nadin, Maier in this book). Poland provides an interesting context within which to analyze these issues because, like many EU Member States, Poland is experiencing significant disparities between the biggest urban centres and their immediate vicinities, and the peripheral areas. There is also a distinct difference between the western and the eastern parts of the country, the former being characterized by a greater number of urban centres (notably Wrocław, Poznań, Szczecin), whilst the latter contains significant internal differentiation, with no urban area of national importance except for the capital. Notwithstanding the disparities mentioned above, Poland possesses one of the most balanced and polycentric settlement systems in the EU (ESPON 2005a, 2005b) (see Figure 14.1). ESPON studies have also demonstrated how the ‘university system in Poland is the most polycentric in Europe’ (ESPON 2005b: 100) due to the strong association with the national settlement structure and having benefited from a highly dynamic development through last decades. Nevertheless, despite the exponential increase in the number of academic centres and enrolled students, the Polish tertiary education system1 is still affected by several factors limiting its spatial accessibility and the consolidation of qualified human capital in specific areas. The scarce development and quality of transport and ICT

infrastructure networks, insufficient aids to support the access of disadvantaged social groups and the lack of jobs for highly educated people in peripheral areas all provide specific challenges in this context. Building on the above considerations, the present chapter develops two main themes. First, the authors introduce the role of human capital in promoting regional development and explore the different dimensions of accessibility to tertiary education in relation to the development of human capital in a specific area. This involves analysis of the evolution of the spatial distribution of tertiary education institutions in Poland and the degree to which the educational level of the population is correlated with the level of regional development.2 On the basis of this investigation, the chapter examines policy responses in the field of education and their potential impact on future regional development. These issues are examined over a period of four recent decades with special attention to the processes of systemic transformation, that is ‘transition from the centrally planned economy to the market economy and formation of the market-based conditions for the

Figure 14.1 Towns and numbers of their inhabitants in Poland (source: Authors’ elaboration on basis of data from Central Statistical Office (GUS)).