Three-D Issue 18: Multiculturalism and internationalisation in Romanian HE

Marcela Ganea
Artifex University of Bucharest

In a world increasingly inter-dependent, multiculturalism can be an asset for the progress of a society, if a country has good educational  policies in place that allow integration and to take advantage of the valuable cultural differences in attitudes towards work and human development.

In 2009 , three students from Aberysthwyth University, Marco Arafat, Keaton Forrester, and Neda Pencheva carried out a study on the topic „The Positive Impacts of Multicultural Environments upon Student Learning and Academic Teaching”, with the stated purpose ”to examine the role intercultural education can have in higher education and, as a consequence, in a broader societal role for modern Britain”. The study was done while „recent debates regarding ‘Britishness’ and ‘citizen-values’ had reignited discussions about the multicultural project and diversity within British society”, say the authors of this study.

In a nutshel, the conclusions of their study were that: „students valued multiculturalism and diversity in the classroom. An overwhelming majority responded that diversity had a profoundly positive impact upon their learning process and their perceptions of other cultures. Students also estimated that intercultural interactions enrich their university experience beyond the immediate academic environment”.

Despite apparent misperceptions of potential clashes of civilisations, as the three authors suggest, commenting on Huntington’s famous 1997 thesis, modern Western and Eastern societies, Britain in particular, since long time ago, are examples of succesfull multiculturalism. Nationals  from all around the world find their second home in  a certain country, and cultural differences often fade or appear as less significant in the course of joint projects, labour process and efforts to create values typical of advanced societies.

In the East, countries like Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are excellent examples of a cosmopolitan multicultural society where common sense rules and compliance with societal norms and standards corroborated with wisely-appropriated funds have provided universities with a flourishing environment for human development. The number of expats in the UAE is striking: 90% of the population, while only 10% are Emiratis.

Mid-way between the West and the East, there are countries like Romania with a long tradition of multiculturalism. Although little spoken of and not highlighted because there has never raised delicate issues and it has gone smothly, multiculturalism has been present for centuries. Located at the crossroads between the Oriental and Western countries, and subject, at various stages in history, of several empires and foreign influences during its history, Romania has always received foreigners for trade, education or tourism and has been so well accustomed to foreigners that has never made a difference between locals and foreigners.

Romanian higher education has been always opened to foreign students and several stages can be differentiated:

  • during the Communist times – a lot of students from Asian and African countries were doing their studies in Romania as a result of the exchanges between Romania and partners countries that shared the same ideological values; the number of foreign students enrolled in Romania was already 10 % of the total number of students. In the ’80s, Romania was among the first 15 providers of academic services for foreign students with 16,962 foreign students enrolled in 1981.
  • 1990- 2007 – a decrease in the number of foreign students in Romania  as a result of the Western countries’ openess and better marketing. However, the number of countries increased, became more diverse, new educational programmes in other languages were created, and special scholarships were granted for Moldovan citizens. In 2007, according to the statistics of the Institute of Statistics, there were 10,400 foreign students in Romania, which meant 1,3% of the total number of students.
  • Since 2008 – a new wave of foreign students coming to Romania for studies because of lower tuition fees, good climate, good food  and competitive educational programmes, many taught in English, so very accesible. Statistics are a bit contradictory. In 2009, according to the statistics of the Ministry of Education, there were 7,800 foreign students in Romania, bringing over 15 million euro, without taking into account the Moldovan students. This means 1,5% of the total number of students. Altogether, the number of foreign students in Romania according to UNESCO statistics was over 10,000 in 2009 our of which over 70% were in faculties of medicine, pharmacy and dentistry. According to the Romanian Institute of Statistics, there were 14,000 foreign students in Romania in 2009.

 

The latest policies of the Romanian universities include admission of as many foreign students as possible: 1. for economic reasons, since foreign students either pay for their studies, or are subsidized by Erasmus – type scholarships, and 2. for cultural reasons. The added value of the presence of foreign students cannot be neglected in terms of:

  • cultural significance and enrichment;
  • extra reference to compare and assess bad and good practices of the teaching and learning processes;
  • re-shaping mentalities and individual attitudes towards basic human values.

Case study: “Lucian Blaga” University in Sibiu, Romania

One of the good examples of internationalization is the small international students community of the “Lucian Blaga” University in Sibiu, Romania. In October 2011 there were almost 100 students from China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Nepal, the Philipinnes, Belgium, and France  make a happy family. Ramzan, Numera, Sumayya, Reema, Saba, Mohsin, and Sajid  from Pakistan, Nazrul and Nusrat from Bangladesh, Sounieng from Laos, Sebastien from Belgium and many others are not only names enrolled in various study programmes but also extremelly pleasant and remarkable personalities, and deeply involved in academic and local community activities.

The international students come through EMA – Erasmus Mundus scholarships. Some of them explain they had 18 options among which Romania and they chose Romania as a result of the advice given by their friends who already knew the advantages of the study abroad system in Romania: good temperate climate, friendly and helpful people, good  infrastructure in the university and competitive courses taught in English at all levels: Bachelor Degree, Master Degree and PhD degree.

Ramzan Muhammad, doing his PhD in Food Industry, tells a touching story of how he has chosen Romania: “The Dean from my town, Faisalabad, had done his PhD in Romania and he advised me to come here for the Bachelor Degree. So I took his advice. I liked what I found here. After a while, I returned home on holidays and I went to see him and to thank him for the country he had chosen for me because I was pleased and my satisfaction was high as I enjoy the climate, the cleanliness, the kind people…Unfortunately, the Dean had passed away…I regret I cannot ever thank him…”, says Ramzan with tears in his eyes.

Some of the Asian students transferred themselves from Western Europe Universities. The Dean of the Engineering Faculty, and the International Relations Officer, are very happy to have as many Asian students as possible because: 1. “Asian students are very hard-working, mature in their judgement; they exhibit a dilligent learning atmosphere and set examples for other students to follow, thus improving the student learning process”; 2. Asian students “have another mentality regarding responsibility in life, they have good sense, wisdom and a lot of sensitivity”; 3. additional funds are made available to the “Lucian Blaga” University in Sibiu, Romania, as a result of the international programmes successfully implemented; 4. the prestige of the Romanian universities becomes more visible and international students can currently opt for countries like Romania if they want to study abroad in English language.

The University has built the Asian Centre: a steel and glass gallery with a beautiful cafeteria Asian-style decorated, with replicas of wooden Asian gates and paper Chinese lamps hanging from above, exotic plants and Asian photos gallery on the walls, recalling  some major Asian cultural elements, where students and teachers can have their coffee, snacks and soft drinks during a chat on comfortable indigo minimalist sofas.

Religious and traditional celebrations prove how spiritually united are the international students with their Romanian fellow students. They share time, food and dance, along with their teachers, Romanian, Asian and European colleagues.

International students seem to appreciate the humane qualities before the material ones. They all confess being happy with the choice made because “Romanians are tenderhearted people who will put their hands on your shoulder when they talk to you and this means a lot for us, they are not cold people, they are very co-operative!”.

They also appreciate the latest technology available in their bio-engineering labs in the Faculty of Engineering, ensuring high competences in computer-aided designing: to become able to set parameters on a computer in order to manufacture a mini Burj Al Arab replica or zirconium teeth for dentists’ use is a significant  outcome of their study programme.

Last but not least, they are extremely pleased with their dormitories in the newly built building surrounded by a delightful green park, comfortable living rooms on each floor with big LCD tv screens and kitchens where they can cook their own traditional dishes, recreate a part of their homeland environment, and technology for 24/7 online connection to the families back home.

The remarks about the mature attitude towards life made by the Dean of the Engineering Faculty, and the International Relations Officer prove to be true. If this is an external element that one can perceive through one’s own system of values, it turns to  confirmed by the statements of the students. Many foreign students are critical of some bad habits of their local coleagues, like for instance „going to bars too often and wasting their time with trifles”. This does not mean that foreign students behave like monks and nuns who only spend their time reading and sacrificing their private life but the importance of their studies ranks higher than any other preocupation of everyday life in the campus. The explanations come from ethical values and from psycological impacts:

  1. While local students follow the course of their life within their usual environment and they just add higher education as an additional daily activity, foreign students left their families, their life back home to give themselves the chance of a better future professional career so they are aware they must make the most of this opportunity; also,
  2. While local students are strongly influenced by modern concepts of entertainment, self-esteem and free-of-rules acting in everyday life under the label of personal freedom, sometimes wrongly interpreted and put in practice, many foreign students come from societies where respect, honour and compliance with rules and norms are strong values.
  3. Motivation to study may be driven also by different realities of the two worlds: while local students may not be motivated at present to study because: firstly, they stand little chances to have good jobs or well paid jobs in Romania where the average income is 300 euro per month, secondly, it is more difficult for educated individuals to get hired because Romania is currently struggling to overcome the effect of global crisis upon its economy and, thirdly, the requirements for employment are often subjective and not based upon  real competences and skills, in the public sector for instance, foreigners may be more motivated to study  since the realities of their countries allow educated people to find appropriate jobs, to be valued and paid accordingly and they also have the feeling of contributing to the wealth of their countries. However, through empathic psychological effects of the long time living together, local students may catch part of the optimism of their foreign fellows because „you may never know what life has in stock for you so you must be prepared”, say the Pakistani students.

 

In „Lucian Blaga” University in Sibiu, the greatest honour you can be done is to be invited by these students to visit them and to eat together delicious traditional food. During conversation, they turn out to be not only wise and mature but also very knowledgeable about the world they live in. You may receive gifts. It will be the proof that you are a special person and you become “part of the international family of Lucian Blaga University in Sibiu”.

Acknowledgements:
Special thanks to the staff and international students of the “Lucian Blaga” University in Sibiu, Romania, for their openess and information provided.

Bibliography:
1. http://www.c-sap.bham.ac.uk/media/com_projectlog/docs/06_UG_09.pdf
2. http://www.rmci.ase.ro/no10vol5/Vol10_No5_Article14.pdf
3. https://www.fundatiadinupatriciu.ro/ro/media_room/stiri/612
4. www.ulbsibiu.ro

Posted by Einar Thorsen