Poland - Country Commercial Guide

This is a best prospect industry sector for this country.  Includes a market overview and trade data.

Last published date: 2021-01-15

Capital:  Warsaw

Population:  38 million

GDP:  $592 billion (2019 est.)

Currency:  Polish zloty (PLN)

Language:  Polish      

UNESCO Student Mobility Number:

Poland has 26,351 students studying abroad according to UNESCO.  

CIA World Factbook:

24.6% of the Polish population is under 24 years old.


Before the COVID-19 outbreak, Poland had been undergoing consistent and uninterrupted economic growth for the past 20+ years.  GDP per capita, which is a major indicator of the Polish society’s purchasing power, has been increasing steadily and reached $33,844 in 2019, 72% of the EU average.  Public expenditures for education currently amount to 4.6% of GDP, including 1% spent on higher education.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the situation in Poland has changed dramatically during the past nine months, even though economically Poland is the least affected country in Europe.  The latest forecast of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) predicts a decline in Poland’s GDP in 2020 by 3.5 percent, and an increase in GDP of 2.9% and 3.8% in 2021 and 2022, respectively.  

The societal effects of COVID-19 are severe, with the first lockdown in spring 2020 exposing the shortcomings of Polish schools’ organization, technology, and teaching methodologies.  The situation in autumn 2020 became more drastic as the second wave of the pandemic spread rapidly, causing Poland to become one of the most negatively affected European countries and leading to another complete lockdown of schools in October.        

Public education is free at all levels in Poland and the public system is supplemented by private and community schools and universities.  Polish schools offer a solid educational foundation, which can be confirmed by good results on the PISA tests (the Program for International Student Assessment).

Poland’s ruling government was elected into power in 2015, bringing with it educational reforms to the primary and higher education systems.  In autumn 2020, government restructuring consolidated education responsibilities under the umbrella of a newly established Ministry of Education and Science.  

The school system currently consists of eight years of primary school and four years of general high school.  For those in technical high school, it is a five-year program.  Middle schools were phased out in 2019, and high schools will continue to teach a combination of old and new programs until the end of the 2021/2022 school year.

In the 2019/2020 school year, there were 14,500 primary schools, more than 90% of them public.  There are 7,600 secondary schools, 77% public and 23% private.  87.7% of pupils attend schools that culminate with final exams, allowing them to apply for universities.  An International Baccalaureate (IB) certificate is offered by 44 general secondary schools, making an IB certificate available to 1.2% of all pupils.  From 2014-2018, Poland’s private education base grew by 17%.  In 2020, the interest in private education has boomed due to the repeated lockdowns of schools, which revealed the shortcomings of Poland’s public education system, technology, and quality of teaching. Monthly tuition fees for non-public schools vary from less than $300 for community schools, to $600-$700 for private schools, and $2,700 or more for high-end international schools.  Approximately 40% of Polish families with children attending private schools have a yearly income exceeding the equivalent of US $40,000, confirming the population’s growing interest and ability to invest in private education.  The turbulence caused by recent education reforms further increased the interest in private schools, as well as in education opportunities abroad.

Poles between the ages of 30-34 surpassed EU targets, with more than 45.7% attending higher education institutes, becoming one of the best-educated societies in the region.

A reform of the higher education system launched in 2018, with the aim of improving the potential of the Polish science curriculum and the quality of education.  The reform, which was aimed at strengthening the ties between the science and business communities, has changed funding rules for universities and academic career paths, increasing their autonomy.  Though it was recently introduced, Poland’s higher education reform is currently under review.  The Minister of Education’s statement that Polish universities should focus on formative, intellectual, and educational work and the system should steer toward “Polonization” raised concerns in academia.    

There are 353 higher education institutions, located in 97 Polish cities.  At the end of 2019, there were approximately 1.2 million students, 75% of whom study at public universities, 152,200 postgraduate students, and 93,100 academic teachers.  The most popular fields of study are business and administration (18.1%), health (10.9%), social and behavioral sciences (9.7%), and engineering and technology (8.9%).

The number of students has decreased slowly but steadily over the last decade.  The unfavorable demographic trend is expected to continue and become fully visible once the former higher education cycle is completed in 2022.  Polish universities benefit from the interest of foreign students, who’s numbers increased from 57,000 in 2015 to 82,200 in the 2019/20 academic year.  The majority of Poland’s foreign students come from the Ukraine (50.1% of all foreign students), Belarus, India, Spain, and Turkey.  In 2019, there were 899 students from the United States, a decline of 77 compared to the previous year.

English prevails as the foreign language taught at primary and secondary schools and universities and is commonly spoken by youth and young adults that have attended high school or higher education institutions.  Private language schools offering English courses and summer programs are also popular and it is estimated that some 240,000 students study English at these schools.


Higher Education:  The outbound mobility ratio of Polish students stands at 1.8%.  Most Polish students take advantage of European programs, making Western Europe the primary destination for studying abroad.  The United States is the sixth most popular destination country for Poles studying abroad, following the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Italy.  Poland was the 9th largest country in the European Union for sourcing students to study in the U.S. 

According to the 2020 Open Doors Report, in the 2019/2020 academic year, there were 1,513 Polish students studying in the U.S., which indicated approximately a 1% decrease over the previous year.  This change is reflected by a decrease in the number of category J visas issued in Poland. The top five destination states were New York, California, Massachusetts, Florida, and Texas.

Polish Students studying in the U.S. 2010-2020
Polish Students studying in the U.S. 2010-2020

Students in the U.S. by
U.S. Institution Type


Associate’s (2-year) Colleges


Baccalaureate (4-year) Colleges


Doctorate-granting Universities


Master’s Colleges and Universities


Special Focus Institutions


Public Institutions


Private Institutions


Students in U.S. by Academic Level



% Year-to-year Change

















Source: 2020 Open Door Report

Undergraduate:  According to the Open Doors Report, almost half of all Polish students in the U.S. pursue undergraduate studies.        

Graduate Education:  Polish students usually obtain institutional support for graduate studies in the U.S., and seldom bear the costs themselves.  Graduate education and post-graduate studies have strong support from the Fulbright Commission.  Since 2016, the Polish-U.S. Fulbright Commission has facilitated links between Polish and U.S. higher education institutions through study abroad initiatives funded by a State Department study abroad grant.  More details are available at https://en.fulbright.edu.pl/news/.  Partnerships between Polish and U.S. universities and their faculties provide for curriculum cooperation, exchange of lecturers, and student exchanges or scholarship programs.

Community College:  Despite EducationUSA and Fulbright’s promotion efforts, knowledge of community college opportunities are still limited in Poland. 

Secondary Education:  The reform of Poland’s education system has resulted in an increased interest in a non-public education.  It has also contributed to growing interest in investing, on a commercial basis, in studying abroad.  The number of children attending elementary or middle schools grew from 37,000 in 2010 to over 100,000 in 2019.  Data on the high school numbers is not yet available.

The United States is the second most popular destination for high school pupils studying abroad, following the United Kingdom.  Polish youth usually attend school abroad to allow them to master their English language skills.   

Online Programs:  Before COVID-19, online programs were not very popular in Poland, though universities allowed up to 60% of programs to be delivered through the e-learning system.  Some universities offer comprehensive online studies for selected programs, thanks to a direct cooperation between U.S. and Polish universities.  Despite cost-efficient e-learning becoming more popular, it is generally seen as a training tool rather than a mode of regular study.

Research and Development:  Recent higher education reforms and new innovation laws are aimed at boosting the scope and quality of research and development programs.  Ten research universities were selected in 2019 to receive increased education subsidies in 2020-2026, allowing them to further improve the quality of their research and education programs and to compete and cooperate with foreign markets. 

The Polish government has also introduced robust tax incentives for commercial enterprises investing in research and development, encouraging them to closely cooperate with universities. 

Professional Training Services:  The education reform provides for closer cooperation between universities and businesses.  As a result, universities can grant academic degrees based on project implementation achievements, as well as offer dual education programs, which allow students to gain knowledge and practical skills at the same time. 

The development of new technologies and shortages of qualified employees has forced employers to provide training for their existing and future personnel, especially in the emerging professions. 


As of November 11, 2019, Poland became eligible for visa waiver status, making the United States more accessible for Polish citizens.  Polish students still need visas to study and to participate in the Summer Work Travel Program and other exchange programs.  However, it is expected that a boom in tourist and business travels will eventually translate into increased interest in acquiring a U.S. education. 

Poles hold U.S. education in a high esteem, although they need more information in order to navigate the U.S. education system, admission procedures, visa procedures, and scholarship opportunities.  EducationUSA programs run by the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw, the U.S. Consulate in Krakow, and the Poland Fulbright Commission, play an instrumental role in promoting U.S. education, while the U.S. Commercial Service assists individual U.S. education institutions with help in locating Polish partners, schools, universities, or commercial companies through fee-based services.         

The main barriers preventing more Polish students from studying in the U.S. are the cost of study and the physical distance.  Most Polish students seek direct scholarship opportunities or academic exchange programs.

Specialized travel agencies and language schools recruiting for short-term education programs usually also include offers for regular studies.  The education agents that are active in Poland are mainly international organizations working on multiple markets.  

Polish universities are usually reluctant to support student recruitment, unless this is done under their existing university-to-university partnerships or a wider program.  Polish universities usually list their foreign education partners on their websites.


Facebook is used by almost all young people in Poland.  For them, Facebook is the most important source of information, making it a good tool for education recruitment purposes. 

The majority of Polish universities use the USOS platform, locally developed by the Inter-Academic Information Technology Center, of which most Polish universities are a member.  Universities usually interface their individual platforms with USOS.


Poland International Education Fair, Warsaw, TBD


There are many smaller fairs with regional outreach.  Information is available upon request.  



Maria Kowalska, Commercial Specialist

U.S. Commercial Service – Warsaw, Poland

Email: Maria.Kowalska@trade.gov

Phone: +48 22 625 4374