This paper discusses Polish higher education with two pairs of concepts: expansion and contraction, and privatization and de-privatization. It focuses on what we term the “de-privatization” phenomenon, especially with regard to private sector growth and reliance on cost-sharing mechanisms in public higher education institutions, both currently in a fundamental retreat. De-privatization is a uniquely postcommunist European process today as only in postcommunist Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) had private higher education been on the rise for almost two decades, until a few years ago. Private higher education was stimulated by rapid expansion of access to higher education following the collapse of communism; not any more, though. De-privatization stems from aging populations and it is a demographically-driven public-private re-balancing process. Consequently, the current public-private dynamics in postcommunist Europe differ greatly from both Western European and global dynamics. However, the paper argues that Poland may ultimately resemble Western Europe where “normal” has always in the postwar period been predominantly public and tax-based higher education. The private sector – currently a “declining industry” in Poland and in CEE in Michael E. Porter’s terms – from a longer historical perspective can be viewed as merely a temporary phenomenon. The Polish state allowed it to flourish in the expansion period (1990–2005) to cover part of the rising costs of higher education from the private purse but in the contraction period (2006 and beyond), it is neither willing nor able to stop its gradual decline.

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