The University of Warsaw System of Language Provision – languages for all

Author(s): Jolanta Urbanikowa
Institution/Organisation: University of Warsaw (PL)


1.1 Scope of the initiative

The initiative, reform of the University system of language provision, was undertaken in 2001 at the University level. Its aim was to ensure that all first cycle students have equal access to as wide offering of language courses as possible, language-wise and level-wise and provider-wise. At the same time the aim was to rationalise the University spending on language provision and ensure the conditions of transparency, openness and comparability of criteria and learning outcomes by reference to the standards of the Council of Europe “Common European Framework of Reference; learning, teaching, assessment”.

The initiative coincided with the European Year of Languages. In this context the importance of language education and the significance of linguistic and intercultural competences of the students and graduates for academic and professional mobility and employability in Europe started to be emphasized. Also the implementation of the Bologna Process added another dimension to the process of language teaching and learning at the University of Warsaw.

In order to offer students the broadest possible choice of language courses an informal consortium of language courses providers was formed consisting of the following University units: Faculty of Applied Linguistics and East-Slavonic Studies, Faculty of Modern Languages, Faculty of Polish Studies, Faculty of Oriental Studies, Language Centre, Centre for Open and Multimedia Education, Centre for Foreign Language Teacher Training  and European Education. In order to ensure smooth implementation of the reform and coordination  of the whole system a Rector’s Deputy for  Language provision was nominated at the central level, and faculty co-ordinators at the respective units’ level.

The initiative  is still a work in progress undertaking, as the system requires permanent quality assurance and enhancement measures.

The ultimate aim of the University authorities is to make sure that each first-cycle student demonstrates B2 level of language proficiency in at least one language on completion of studies  and if he/she is able to demonstrate it on entrance to the University  to  encourage him/her to learn another, taking advantage of the offering of free of charge, credited courses, and take a certification examination.

The requirement of B2 in L2 upon completion of first-cycle studies was reinforced in 2007 in the Regulation of the Minister of Research and Higher Education on standards of teaching.

The system of language provision at the University of Warsaw comprises the following elements:

1.2 Range of languages learned


The University System of Language provision offers ca 50 languages to all first-cycle students within the so called token registration, i.e. 240 h of free of charge tuition.  Additional courses can be bought (also by the students of the second-cycle and third cycle at competitive rates). The following languages are taught:

Albanian, Arabic, Armenian, Azeri, Basque, Belorussian, Bulgarian, Catalan, Chechen, Chinese, Coptic, Croatian, Czech, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, Galician, Georgian, German, Greek, Hausa, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Kazakh, Korean, Kyrgyz, Latvian, Lithuanian, Malayalam, Mongolian, Norwegian, Persian, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Sanskrit, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish, Suahili, Swedish, Tibetan, Turkish, Ukrainian, Vietnamese.

Also Polish as a foreign language is offered as well as Polish Sign language.

Students  are required by their programmes of study to take language courses (from 120 – 240h during the first cycle) but a free to choose a language/languages. They are also free to choose the language of their certification examination.

The standards of teaching (Regulation of the Minister of Research Higher Education) include provisions recommending learning of English in case of some study programmes (i.e. Chemistry, Biology or Business Administration).

1.3 Learning outcomes


Students are taught in up-to-twenty participants groups, which are either dedicated (formed for students of one study programme) or mixed (comprising students of different study programmes). Courses on offer are either general language courses, language for academic purposes or  language for special purposes (Law, Business, Journalism). They are either conventional or on-line.

The students sit a formal test at the end of each 60h module designed according to CEFR focussing on communication competence and academic and employability skills (with regard to  the profile of the course)

Above all they are also required to take a certification  exam (written and oral in reading, listening, writing and speaking  at B2 in one language (a pre-requisite for the award of a diploma)  and may take exams in other languages of their choice at different levels (A2 – C2).

1.4 Practical realisation

Within the University System of Language Provision courses are offered in 60h modules during the two semesters and in summer (Summer Intensive Courses). All language courses and language examinations   are allocated  ECTS credits and they constitute  an obligatory component of the students’ study programmes. If students take additional language courses they are also credited though these cannot replace other elective courses. Additional credits are indicated at students’ transcripts and Diploma Supplements.

Students are offered general language courses, language for academic purposes, language for special purposes, and some courses focussing on international language tests and certificates, as well as courses for mobility purposes.

Beside traditional in-class courses, on-line courses  and blended courses are offered.
Before students register for classes they are obliged to take an on-line placement test which is coupled with the registration system. The on-line placement test is available for six most popular languages. Students are also strongly recommended to use DIALANG for placement and self-assessment (formative) purposes.

Students have 240 hours of tuition (registration tokens) at their disposal and they can use them for a course/courses of their choice. Courses are offered in modules. Students take a test on completion of each 60-h module.

Before completion of the first-cycle study programme students are required to prove they have achieved B2 in at least one language by taking an examination administered by the University Certification Board or by presenting a recognised language certificate of international language certification organisations (regulated by the Regulation of the Rector).

In the process of recruitment for Erasmus study periods abroad students must produce a language certificate of a language of instruction in a receiving HEI. If they have not received one in the time  of recruitment they are entitled to produce an ELP and request an interview in a foreign language to qualify.

All providers within University System of Language Provision co-operate with respective language and culture institutes/centres  and network on national and international scale.

Students are encouraged to participate to take part in courses of academic subjects run in foreign languages (majority of them in English) which are offered to in-coming students.

The Language Centre (a part of the University System of language Provision) offers free-of-charge consultations for students. Each language teacher is obliged to have two hours a week of consultations.

Students with disabilities, in compliance with the University policy, are integrated into language classes upon registration but are also offered, upon their declaration, one-to-one consultations/individual tuition  of 2 hours per week.


2.1 Context

The University of Warsaw, the largest and best university in Poland, is determined to be an active part of the European Higher Education Area, and as such is committed to the promotion of multilingualism and intercultural competences, to enhancement of mobility and employability of its staff, students and graduates, as well as to promotion of European identity and democratic values. Without adequate language provision  all these  cannot be reached. Internationalisation strategy of the University includes language policy and allocation of sizeable funding for its implementation.

In the system of primary and secondary education only a limited range of languages is offered (English being the prevailing one). Vast majority of secondary school students take English as their graduation examination at either B1 or B2, thus at the university level it is absolutely necessary to offer them a wider choice of languages if universities are to  realize their mission of educating multilingual and interculturally aware citizens.


2.2 Strategic goals of the initiative


The following targets have been identified:


The University System of Language Provision has become a durable element of the University landscape (despite initial scepticism of different players). The innovative system of language provision funding  (before 2001: the  University budget provided funding  for a fixed number of teaching  positions, practically irrespective of the teaching load; after 2001: funding depends on the number of students taught and the money goes to the providers  in the proportion to the number of students attracted to the courses on offer) has stabilised.

At the beginning over 50% of students learned English; the number is steadily decreasing with the overall number of learners still growing (presently ca 12 000 per  year.)

The System  was awarded European Language Label in 2005. It was mentioned in the country report on language provision by the Council of Europe.

The model of language teaching and certification developed at the University of Warsaw  has been followed  by a number of HEIs in Poland.

Most of the students use all the 240 language tokens, although their study programmes oblige them to take part in 120 or 180 hours of tuition, and learn more than one language (inclusive of less widely taught languages); more  and more students take  certification exams in less widely used languages.

Erasmus  and other exchange students as a rule learn languages (not only Polish as a foreign language, but more and more often Russian) seeing it as a rare opportunity not necessarily offered by their home institution.


  1. CEFR as a standard ensuring comparability and transparency;
  2. Allocation of credits also in case of language certificates acquired in external certification institutions which drives students to learn another language at the University;
  3. The Programme Board of the Language Centre, composed of stakeholders, elected students and faculty, ensures connection with the University mainstream and an integrating factor; collaboration between the Centre and students and staff; the same role in case of other providers is played by the Faculty Boards;
  4. Certification provided by University Certification Board, acting in a way like an external examiner in relation to the course providers, which enhances the quality of provision;
  5. Co-ordination of the system ensuring consistency of the offering, responding to the needs; links with the highest authorities of the University;
  6. University quality assurance system: students’ surveys (each year each course is surveyed); staff development and motivation system; Erasmus staff development visits;
  7. Mobility programmes (academic and placements);
  8. use of ICT (on-line and blended learning courses)
  9. USOS – University Support System of Studies – on-line registration for courses and examinations, ECTS records, tracking students’ achievements;
  10. responsiveness to the needs.


5.1 Lessons to be learned at institutional level

  1. The need to convince all the faculty that language teaching/learning is vital and cannot be taken for granted;
  2. CLIL is not an obvious thing: teaching in a foreign language is not an inborn skill, but must be learned and enhanced;
  3. University has a mission in promoting multilingualism and intercultural awareness;
  4. English cannot replace other languages;
  5. It is better to teach Polish as a foreign language for academic purposes more intensively (pre-sessional courses) than to launch more and more courses in English;
  6. Networking and international cooperation are vital;
  7. Commitment to European projects and dissemination of good practices are necessary for the quality of provision;

5.2 Broader implications


Constant cooperation and consultation with stakeholders is absolutely vital.

Language learning/teaching must remain in the remit of the University.

More national networking initiatives should be launched.

External funding  (incl. of the EU monies) should be applied for more vigorously.