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International Baccalaureate Programme hinders admission to Polish universities, HFHR intervenes

Holders of the International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma face difficulties while applying to Polish universities, claims the Helsinki Foundation. This is because of a legal problem that appears when applicants do not have a grade in a subject required in the recruitment process and wish to obtain such a grade. The HFHR has become involved in this case and sent statements to the Minister of National Education and the Conference of Rectors of Academic Schools in Poland.


The Foundation was approached by A.B., a student of a Polish general secondary school who obtained an IB diploma. Several years later, she decided to enrol for another university programme. The recruitment requirements included the presentation of a secondary leaving examination grade in a subject that was not a part of the woman’s IB programme. To rectify this, A.B. wanted to take a standard exam in this subject at the advanced level.

Pursuant to the Educational System Act, secondary school leavers who passed the secondary school leaving examination (matura) may take exams in additional, selected subjects in accordance with the provisions that apply in the year during which such an additional examination is taken. However, in the case of A.B. both the Regional and National Examination Boards decided the Act did not apply to IB diploma holders.

“The situation gets even more complicated because the holders of IB diplomas cannot enrol for the university programmes of their choice by way of taking entrance exams in the subjects not covered by the IB curriculum”, says Katarzyna Wiśniewska, an attorney working with the HFHR. A university may organise additional entrance exams only if there is a need for assessing a candidate’s specific suitability. This is true of, say, artistic skills or physical fitness, in other words those skills that are not verified during a secondary school leaving examination. The other exception is a situation where a person applying to a university has a baccalaureate diploma obtained abroad.

According to IB rules of procedure, exams in additional subjects may only be taken after the completion of a course at an IB-certified school. This means that holders of IB certificates need to overcome many difficulties and complete many formalities in order to add a new subject to the diploma. Furthermore, taking an IB exam is subject to an extra fee, the value of which is set in the price list of the International Baccalaureate Organization valid for a given year.

In its statements sent to the Ministry of Education and the Conference of Rectors of Academic Schools in Poland, the HFHR argued that the constitutional right to study and the guarantee of equal access to education prohibit public authorities from enacting laws that discriminate against certain categories of people. “On the one hand, an IB diploma is considered an equal to the Polish matura certificate for the purposes of university admission in Poland, but on the other, IB graduates experience greater difficulties in accessing Polish higher education institutions”, adds Ms Wiśniewska. “The prestige of international baccalaureate diploma, an opportunity to undertake intensive study of a foreign language and involve in a new kind of classes mean that IB programme has attracted thousands of students across Poland. Because of this there are a lot of persons who may face similar problems, the HFHR lawyer Michał Kopczyński adds.

The case is handled by the HFHR’s Strategic Litigation Programme.


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