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the flying university: a history

For many years, Poland had struggled to keep alive an independent intellectual life, free from censorship and official restrictions. The original 'Flying University' in Poland began in 1883. There were no campuses, land or buildings, and each class was held in a different private apartment, hence the name 'flying university'. It was an alternative to the official academic teachings of the day, which were inevitably distorted by all sorts of suppressions, taboos, and lies, especially in the social and human sciences.

It offered some of the first opportunities for women in Warsaw and Eastern Poland to attend higher education, and women made up about 70% of the student body. Between 1883 and 1905, about three thousand women received diplomas there. One of the Flying University's more famous students was Marie Sklodowska Curie, the first woman to receive a Nobel prize, who studied sciences there after graduating from high school in 1883.

Classes were available to anyone regardless of gender or social status, but differed from those in regular universities in that they promoted self-directed learning because of the difficult conditions for instruction. In the 1905 revolution, it was made semi legal and became known as the Towarzystwo Kusow Naukowych (Society for Scientific Courses).

The names "flying university" and "TKN" were also used from October 1977 to June 1979. Then, it gave lectures mainly on law, economy, politics and sociology, but no diplomas were given. One of the purposes of this second flying university was to prepare people for the political changes that were expected to occur.

The greatest illegal educational activity took place during the Second World War (1939-1945). A full educational system was created underground, consisting of elementary, middle and university levels. This system worked parallel to the official educational system.

Participation in illegal lessons was dangerous - one expected capital punishment or getting sent to a Konzentrations Lager. There were also many technical difficulties, since lessons were organised under utmost secrecy. The main aim of the "Tajne Nauczanie" ("Secret Teaching") was to prepare educated people for life after the war. It was important as Poland's then-enemies (Germany and The Soviet Union) senselessly killed the best scientists and educated people.



Bucznska-Garewicz, Hanna (1985).
The Flying University in Poland, 1978-1980.
Harvard Educational Review 55 (1), 20-33.

Woycicka, Joanna & Andrzej Dominiczak.
Education of women [online].

Also thanks to Dr. Waldemar Gorzkowski,
President of the International Physics Olympiad,
for his invaluable help.