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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » April 26, 2012
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Health and Education from Poland
April 26, 2012   
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Poland has proved an increasingly popular destination with foreigners seeking medical services and education in recent years.

Poland ranks high in league tables of the most attractive tourist destinations in Europe. Tourists are drawn to Poland by its wealth of natural attractions, its unspoiled landscapes and a massive array of sites associated with the country’s long and often turbulent history.

This year, many tourists will be also drawn to Poland by the Euro 2012 soccer championships, one of the biggest sporting events on the continent. According to estimates, Poland will be visited by between 750,000 and 1 million soccer fans in conjunction with Euro 2012. At the same time, there is a large group of foreigners who come to Poland for medical services, beauty and wellness services and education.

The Institute of Tourism company estimates that last year, Poland was visited by 13 million tourists from abroad, which was 5 percent more than in 2010. The increase was the sharpest among tourists from Poland’s eastern neighbors. The number of visitors from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus plunged several years ago when Poland entered the Schengen Area, but in the first three quarters of last year the total rose over 20 percent to almost 2.4 million, including 1.1 million visits by Ukrainians, 880,000 by Belarusians and 380,000 by Russians.

As for the “old EU,” Germans topped the statistics as usual, at 3.5 million visits in the first three quarters of last year. British visitors came in second at 360,000, followed by guests from the Netherlands at 300,000. Visitors from “new Europe” mostly came from Lithuania (500,000), Latvia (250,000), Hungary (160,000) and the Czech Republic (150,000). Poland is also popular among American visitors.

Tourist sector insiders are happy about both the high number of arrivals and the money visitors from abroad spend in Poland. A survey that the Institute of Tourism conducted between January and September last year showed that the average foreign tourist spent an estimated $405, or $80 a day. Visitors on business trips are the biggest spenders. The average business traveler spent over $400 on a one-day visit last year, which was five times the amount spent by young tourists.

Meanwhile, medical tourism has emerged as a highly profitable segment of the market. The Chamber of Medical Tourism, an organization which promotes Polish medicine abroad, estimates that Polish health centers are visited by around 300,000 foreigners every year. According to experts who study this rapidly developing sector, that figure will increase 10-15 percent every year.

The number of tourists who name medical services as the purpose of their visit noticeably rose after Poland joined the EU. It is no secret that price is the main motivation for seeking out medical services in Poland. Depending on the procedure, prices are up to 50-80 percent lower than in “old” EU member states. The differences are the most evident in dental services (tooth bleaching, porcelain veneers and root canal work) and plastic surgery, including procedures such as rhinoplasty, abdominal liposuction and facelifts.

Treatment costs aside, the Polish health sector also appeals to foreigners with easy access to reputable specialists and medical services of high quality. While Polish health centers are still most popular among citizens of other EU countries, Russia and Ukraine, the number of patients from more distant countries, the United States included, has been on the rise.

Poland is also an attractive country for students, as shown by the growing numbers of foreigners at Polish universities and other institutions of higher education. In the 2009/2010 academic year, there were 17,000 such students, up from 15,900 in the previous year, 6,600 in 2000/2001 and 4,300 in 1990/1991. Most foreigners studied at universities (4,900) and academies of medicine (4,800). Business colleges had 2,500 foreign students and other institutions of higher education 2,400, while technical colleges were attended by 1,300 students from abroad. As for the most popular majors, they were medicine (5,500 students), economics and administration (3,300), social sciences (2,500) and the humanities (1,600.) Bearing in mind that Polish institutions of higher education were attended by a total of 1.99 million people in the 2008/2009 academic year, foreigners accounted for 0.9 percent all college students in Poland. At a total of 11,600 people, Europeans prevailed among the foreigners, the largest national groups being students from Ukraine (3,499), Belarus (2,329), Norway (1,311) and Sweden (940). Poland is particularly popular with students of Polish descent who at 3,709 accounted for 21.5 percent of all foreigners studying in Poland in the 2009/2010 academic year. The majority of them came from Eastern Europe, including Belarus, Ukraine and Lithuania.

Many foreign students who choose to pursue an education in Poland are encouraged by tuition fees which are lower than in many other countries, which is also true of the costs of living. At the same time, Polish institutions of higher education are known for providing education on a high level. Some schools have more than ten majors run in English at present, mainly designed for students from Asia, Africa and South America.

Since attracting students from abroad is not always easy, Polish university-level schools come forward with a number of initiatives to ensure better promotion and information. They have been forming consortia with other schools, promoting themselves online and at education fairs in Europe and beyond. They have the support of the Ministry of Science and Higher Education which, for example, sends its officials to attend education fairs.
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