The Minister of Education recently decided to classify Romanian universities based on valor criteria used in the EU, and advanced ideas about how they should be organised so only the most prestigious universities may hold masters’ exams and doctorates. This is a good initiative, if it does not mean just enforcing new limitations in the higher education system, and if it cultivates and amplifies the value of Romanian higher education. Based on what happens everywhere in the modern society, all resources of thinking, intelligence and innovation should be rapidly exploited and brought within the circuit of national values.
The essential condition of a higher education system is to stimulate initiative and creativeness in the process of training future specialists for the society, so university graduates can create value, instead of just being a product of existing value.
When they graduate, these young specialists must be the forerunners of new development, instead of just walking along the lines of previous achievements. This is precisely why the EU has adopted an ambitious strategic programme, capable to keep pace with the fast-growing rates of development we can see in China, India, Japan or Latin America, where “education” and “scientific research” are the keywords of these competition-driven achievements.
In Romania too, the higher education system is aware of these challenges, but fails to live up to them. None of the Romanian public or private universities can be found in the top of best universities around the world. This is why the aforementioned measure of the Education minister is welcome, though still insufficient. First of all, it needs coherence in the current and future activity of Education, starting from the highest levels – government and ministry. During the last 15 years, there was frequent talk about the need for a national medium- and long-term strategy, which – however – each minister changed according to his or her own ideas. As a consequence, the obvious contradictions existing in Education and Research were permanently amplified, until they culminated in the current Law of Education, adopted by eluding an authentic debate in Parliament.
This is also demonstrated by the fact that, although the Education and Health sectors are allotted each year more money from the budget, their involution cannot be stopped. Why? Because the extra money is wasted through a fragmentary use, deprived of the dual character – education and synthesis – that is prerequisite to higher education. The goal of market economy, often evoked in Romania, has been voided of content today. Even in a market economy, some countries still export only raw materials, cheap labour and scrap iron. Romania is such an example. A national strategy should rely upon the widespread use of information technology and the capacity to assimilate high-tech, while promoting the peak achievements in industry, agriculture, tourism etc.
We said it before: In our country, ignoring these modern imperatives turned the successive attempts of Education reform into as many failures that pushed higher Education deeper each time, towards the bottom. The traditional and beneficial attributes of Romanian higher education – such as the autonomy of universities, the organic link between theory and practice, the system of getting students involved in scientific research and strategic management – is plagued today by setbacks, syncopes, hiatuses, centrifugal tendencies and regionalisms so powerful and contradictory that they undermine the fundamental unity of exigency and the capacity of universities to cooperate with each other, for the sake of the strategic national interest. The higher education sector, which was recognised in the past as the standard-bearer of intellectual activity, witnesses now a severe decline of values, in each Romanian university.
Autonomy is badly misunderstood as a concept allowing universities to reject the exigencies and rigors of a homogenous system at country scale. Even within the same regional university center, cooperation between those involved in education, scientific research, cultural and economic activities leaves much to be desired. Also because of this, only 1.5 – 2 pc of the youth living in rural regions go to university, although half the country population lives in rural communities. Plus, the students of polytechnic and agronomy universities are left without any possibility of doing the practical training required by the curricula, while university laboratories are poorly equipped and staffed, sometimes even located in unfit buildings. Add to this employers’ preference for graduates that already have some real-life work experience, and you’ll understand why so many higher graduates cannot find jobs in Romania, much more than in other countries. Also because of this, the appetite of Romanian youth for higher education has drastically declined over the last few years.
The noxious intrusion of political factors often takes the shape of a vile blackmail, under whose pressure authorities turn a blind eye, or even accept the splitting of the country, if this allows them to stay in power. This made them pass the new Law of Education, which turns Romanian – the official language of the country – into a foreign language, and allows the teaching of History and Geography based on manuals that are defamatory against Romania. All these “decentralising moves” are made in regions where ethnic Romanians are in minority, making them subject to discrimination of language and education, when they are not plainly forced to leave their homes.
The only encouraging sign comes from international school Olympiads, where young Romanians continue to prove their skills and value. This is why these laureates are admitted without exam by universities from Romania, but also by prestigious universities from Europe and America. Let’s hope these wonderful youth will fulfill our hope for a national rebirth that will also include the Education sector.