Lately, most advertising information media have been highlighting the prestige of major European and extra-European universities, including by disclosing annual tuition fees. Fees – they emphatically note – can be as high as several tens of thousands of dollars for a single year, per student. While I can accept the authenticity of the information, I refuse to believe in their ‘prestigious’ existence. Why? For the simple, yet crucial reason that indiscriminate access to knowledge at the highest cultural and scientific level is the second most important fundamental right of the human being, after the right to life. It is also true that such prestigious international universities also award bursaries, however in limited numbers. On the other hand, they do offer financial loans the future graduates must repay within the shortest delay. The actual study scholarships are said to be only given to the most valuable students, which means that no future major cultural and scientific talent faces the risk of going unfulfilled.
At least this last ‘argument’ is completely false. Knowing that the majority of the genial values of mankind did not manifest as such since childhood, adolescence or early youth. Their innovative brilliance at the height of maturity at times decisively coincided with a totally unspectacular adolescence and young age, from the point of view of values in their behavioural structure. That is an absolutely natural phenomenon looked at from the point of view that the major value of the innovative capacity, of creative establishment, develops in time. Even inborn talents of any nature needs shorter or longer stages of self-definition in view of a plenary manifestation. Universal history is full of such examples. Therefore, the claim of some of the current international managers that the limitation of free access to education at the highest level is a form of stimulation and selection of young students based on value is aberrant. Aberrant in itself but also from the point of view of the fact that the first to claim violations of fundamental human rights are exactly such managers or their political exponents. Who – they claim – fight against discrimination of all kinds. But how exactly? Through such acutely discriminating practices.
In Romania, the discrimination in the area of education reaches increasingly dramatic proportions. The very difficult material and spiritual circumstances with which most of the population of this country is struggling is an insurmountable obstacle towards their access to knowledge at an average and higher level. This is how only 2-3% of young persons from rural areas have access to higher education, although over 40% of the Romanian population is rural.
The continuously growing university fees as well as the insufficient capacity of student hostels force many students, not only those coming from rural areas, to accept disadvantageous jobs from a financial point of view and otherwise for the duration of their studies. Disadvantageous from the point of view of the time consumed to the detriment of studying. University studies require a systematic attendance of all official forms of education and training – laboratories, libraries, practical workshops etc., which mean a daily intellectual activity of at least 10-12 hours. In the absence of this strictly necessary time, due to the fact that a student without a scholarship and without family support has to work through university for some company, the young person has no choice but to give up university altogether.
The risk is growing that Romania may fall back about 70 years, when there was a painful education divide. In 1938, when the first volume of the ‘Encyclopaedia of Romania’ was published, under the editorial presidency of the scholar Dimitrie Gusti, over 40 per cent of all children of school age in the country had no access to education. Here is a devastating note: ‘Regarding the participation of children in the compulsory minimum primary education the State should provide to every citizen’, the situation of Romania compared to its neighbours was the following: school attendance of only 59.8%, a lot behind countries like Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia but also – mark this! – Soviet Russia. Unfortunately, discrimination continued then as they do now at the very heart of the Romanian education system.
The ‘Encyclopaedia of Romania’ noted that, based on ten years f statistical data, only 5.4% of all students enrolled to primary education would make it into secondary education and 94.6% would just complete rural primary education (page 479). It makes even more painful remarks on university education: ‘Considering the population enrolled for primary education, during 11 years, there are 1.5% enrolled students and 1.2 8 ‰ graduates’ (page 479). Such discrepancies and discriminations in the inter-war period are all the more condemnable as, in principle and in reality, the whole Romanian education system was very accessible to all other ethnic groups. Then as now, the national Romanian state would actually favor a large-scale anti-Romanian discrimination regarding education.
And since in Romania one evil always comes in pairs, here is another topical discrimination: worthless degrees. The concept as such is largely used today also by people in the leadership of the education system, the first responsible for this cruel reality. The first but not the only responsible ones, knowing that the succession of dramas whole classes of high school or university graduates are living today come comes from the entire economic and social structure of the Romanian state. In spite of the positive results obtained by graduates in the baccalaureate or by the new specialists with higher education, they walk out of libraries and amphitheatres straight into unemployment. From its initially amusing meaning, the ‘unemployed with a degree’ has fallen to the condition of an ‘authentic professional unemployed person’, therefore long-term unemployment. In many specializations, unemployment among young graduates reaches percentages unmatched by other countries, where the size of unemployment is calculated not based on numerical incidence, but on the professional quality of prospective employees.
In Romania, there is no such qualitative selection for employment and the responsibility for this dramatic reality is not just of the education system, but also of the current economic and social structure. A structure where priority is given not to qualitative professional creation, but to petty executive activity, the same every day. From the point of view of this quasi-primitive professional reality, specific to many ‘baseline’ Romanian companies, it is no surprise that a young applicant is questioned by the employer not regarding the degree, but regarding experience. The lack of practical experience frequently seen as an unimportant executive activity equals to throwing the young graduates into unemployment.
The absolutistic interrogation on the practical experience of a candidate comes not just from a possible lack of professional and scientific horizon of the employer, but also from a serious gap in the current Romanian system of education. A system forced by political and economic circumstances to be contained to a purely theoretical education of students, without the required organic and modern correlation with practical training. The practical training of students of all professional orientations is often completely absent first of all as a result of the collapse of Romanian industry where the students of polytechnic universities were engaged in hands-on activities for months in the past.
This divorce of theoretical and practical training characterizing the whole higher education forces more and more young people to take up even temporary jobs, even on minimum pay, only to gain a certain level of practical experience which could make the difference for his/her future professional career. But students mainly coming from rural areas never reach such future profession.