Three-D Issue 19: Change for change’s sake in Romanian HE

Marcela Ganea &
Constantin Coderie
Artifex University of Bucharest

This article is meant to emphasize that lack of funds, lack of correlation and too much centralized decision have weakened the Romanian education during the last 22 years. Despite continuous claiming that reforms are taking place, the overall quality of education decreased in Romania. On the one hand, Romania is the country whose mathematics Olympic team have won the 1st place in the global contest in 2012. On the other hand, it had the lowest percentage in the Baccalaureate exam in July 2012.

The Romanian graduates are affected by the consequences of inappropriate interventions in the educational systems.

1. Overview

During the last two decades, the information society has become diversified and overspread across the world which imposes that education should improve, as a system and in its contents. Education should be understood as different from learning; these are two processes implying different social views.

Free movement of the labour force requires global high quality standards of education. In time, countries have developed a more popular or a more elitist education system, according to their economic capacity and national interests. At the same time, education evolved from education for pleasure to an educational system meant to train spirits and scholars and further on, to education meant to meet the need of everyday day and society. Study programs must currently be recognized across the world. The basics in the education of economists, doctors, engineers etc. must be convergent so that their competences and skills could be recognized and similar across the globe. Educational systems around the globe must be reconsidered and harmonized from kindergarten to higher education.

Performing changes in the Romanian education has lately become an obsession that involves all stakeholders: parents, children, students, young and old, teaching staff, governmental institutions, non-governmental organizations, politicians, national and international bodies etc. Education is the topic of thousands of opinions, articles and scientific papers, roundtables, regional and international conferences, exchanges etc. and the conclusion is the same: the quality of education is not appropriate and changes must be performed.

2. Difficulties

More changes are required as a result of the previous unsuccessful changes.

The change of the academic system into Bologna, that is, to 3 years of Bachelor studies plus 2 years of Master, and further on, 3 years of PhD studies, was done too quickly and it was too easily accepted in Romania because it was the opinion embraced in Europe and agreed upon by Romanian authorities. This educational system caused a lot of structural, methodological and functional difficulties in universities. Without clearly understanding the essence of the new structure meant for the higher education, many universities placed the old curricula intro the new educational structure. The aim was, although not stated as such, but indirectly defended by the management boards, to justify the new concept by preserving, and maybe developing, to some extent, the old curricula. The outcome was an adjustment in form, not in contents.

It was difficult for countries to adjust themselves to European standards and harmonize their higher education because the entire educational system, from kindergarten to university, was deprived of new contents and vision which led to accepting the top of the pyramid that toppled the old, preserved, pyramid trunk, acknowledged as superficial but still accepted according to the principle: “if it works, it’s good”. The system is loose and incoherent, it has gaps and it is nicely painted on the outside but hiding the devil inside, and always well presented in official papers by the management of certain educational institutions, including the Romanian Ministry of Education.

The budget for education has been an issue lately. While claiming that education is the best investment for a country, and a major pre-requisite to form a new generation, the budget for education is continuously decreasing as well as the salaries of the teaching staff. For instance, the 2012 budget for education in Romania is 1.08 % of the GDP, the lowest during the last 23 years after the fall of the Communism, despite the Romanian Law of Education stipulating that is should be not lower than 6% of the GDP. The Romanian government has chosen education, culture and health to perform the cuts needed to ensure the country deficit agreed upon with the IMF. At the same time, private universities, which are generating their own revenue by themselves with no contribution from public funds, are forced to maintain the lowest fees, thus becoming unable to invest more in education and barely surviving, because of the economic crisis that has seriously affected the income of the population after salary cuts, higher and more numerous taxes imposed between 2009-2011, increased VAT, higher prices in fuel, food and services. The salaries of the teaching staff are also discouraging: a high-school teacher who starts his/her career is hired with the equivalent of 200 euro per month and he/she hardly reaches 420 euro after 40 years of work. Under these circumstances, it is impossible for teachers to ensure their long-term training, to buy books and to pay for refreshment courses, to attend professional conferences and meetings and most of them live under the pressure of everyday burden of invoices and bill to pay, travel costs to commute and even lack of clothing. Many of them get a second job or give private lessons to survive.

However, investing in education should work like investing in companies. Efficiency and profit should be the outcome. If there are no obvious results, why investing? It would only result into financial loss and human trauma.

Hence, in terms of efficiency, two major shortages of education are: 1) the lack of correlation between public and private education and between compulsory education and complementary education and 2) the lack of actual autonomy of educational institutions which are still forced to comply with requirements of the central educational authorities which sometimes are not very realistic and are not aware of the actual situation of the field. The government should create the framework that ensures competitiveness and the specific conditions for each specific form of education. Education should operate according to the principles of the market economy that excludes administrative and subjective interfering.

The changes have not been performed according to scientific criteria but according to political interests that served people, not education and educational structures have been created simply to justify the activities of some people.

Thus, a certain profile of the Romanian teaching staff emerged: not motivated, dissatisfied with his/her salary, and working conditions, unable to specify his/her condition and future professional career; propensity to mime involvement while relations with working mates become circumstantial. Consequently, weak persons no longer comply with professional deontology, professional norms like honesty, high standards, etc.

3. Education in jeopardy

Why? Because of: a. Excessive regulations that impose forms without contents. While stating that education is most important for Romanian society, no clear and appropriate measures that should respond to the deep causes are taken by authorities. Despite the entire array of laws, decisions, and decrees, adopted during the last 22 years, Romanian education is drowning. Romanian authorities that should regulate this sector have lost contact with reality because the gap between the aspirations of the youth and the anachronism of the educational system is increasing. Excessive regulations stifle any good initiative and encourage indifference and bureaucracy.

b. Unrealistic contents of education. Education enjoyed attention lately in the sense that a lot of normative acts have been issued for this sector and it has been claimed that steps have been taken to change the education based on forming the spirit and on knowledge to a responsible education meant to respond to the needs of society. There have been meetings to talk about the restructuring of the education system, and about modernizing education from kindergarten to higher education.

However, no regulation has answered the question “What the outcome of the Romanian education should be?” After 23 years, it is still unclear what kind mathematics should a primary school student study, what kind mathematics should a high school student study, what kind mathematics should an economics student study etc.

A quick look at the curricula reveals that curricula are too rich in schools and high schools and too loose in higher education. During the last 30-40 years, knowledge migrated from higher education downwards. The number of subjects of study in the primary school and secondary school increased and the topics to study diversified for each subject which is difficult to explain in a rational way. Thus, school children can no longer learn everything during their school year and cannot meet the requirements. Consequently, parents find them private teachers since early school years while other parents count of the teachers’ obligation to have good results with their students which makes teachers give good marks in order to be appreciated and to have appropriate salaries as a reward. Moreover, subjects have become so encoded and intricate that teachers themselves have difficulties to teach them. Therefore: irrational contents, too many subjects, very short time, diversified requirements. From inability to rejection, only one step. Children have no longer the pleasure to go to school. Children and parents no longer understand why so much intricate knowledge.

c. Faulty management and waste of funds. There is both public and private education in Romania.

Logically speaking, public education should include the compulsory education, and forms of education related to specific interests of the country, like for instance the sector of national defense. However, Romania has public education at all levels. Primary school, secondary school and high schools are almost entirely covered by public education. Very few private educational institutions could thrive in the shadow of the strong public education. Moreover, public higher education ensures education for free for engineers, economists, doctors, sociologists, humanists, chemists etc.

The Romanian public higher education ensures free of charge places in universities and scholarships without making sure that the money invested triggers a partial or total profitability. This financial effort is not paid by the graduates in any way: no time worked by the graduate as a benefit for the society that contributed to his/her education. Moreover, a lot of Romanian graduates have left the country lately. Thus, astronomical funds are paid from public money and there is no profitability for the country. A question arises: since graduates are free to make their own options, why should society still pay for their studies and why shouldn’t they cover their expenses on their own? Public universities receive huge money every year to cover expenses with free-of-charge places. On the other hand, no budget is allocated for private universities. This leads to unfair competition because the state subsidies public education partially with money received as taxes from private universities whereas this chance is not given to private universities.

d. Doubtful moral standards.  Freedom and autonomy in universities has led to illogical organizational charts in many universities; in many cases, the number of professors and associate readers exceeds the number of lecturers, assistant lecturers and teaching assistants. In addition, corruption is obvious: the way some teachers are hired is at least strange because we find many relations among the staff and sometimes, lack of appropriate skills and competences required by the position held. From time to time, media headlines inform: “university X is a diploma mill”, “inflation of un-deserved titles”, “teachers receive bribe’, “magistrates corrupted with positions in higher education”, “covers for non-existing books”, “fake exams”, “PhD mafia”, “chairs in faculties have become selling counters”, “if you buy the Professor’s book, you will pass the exam” etc.

Other major problems for academia are: plagiarism, intellectual theft and clientele, in both public and private universities, and they have lowered the quality of higher education. Although impossible to quantify, the frequent cases discovered, thanks to journalists, shows that many academics have built their career on plagiarism. Papers copied, books translated, Bachelor Degree papers or Master Degree papers taken by professors, these are forms of plagiarism in the Romanian higher education. Unfortunately, only academia can proceed to prevent this phenomenon.

Another problem is intellectual theft. Articles written by young teachers are accepted to be published only if they accept professors as co-authors. The volumes of scientific conferences often include 3 page articles written by 5 co-authors.

Mediocrity has thrived because of the culture of the clientele. There are cases where marks are given after consultations between professors that have special interests in a particular student. Promotions are dedicated to particular individuals. Committees are selected according to criteria of obedience or sympathy.

e. Eroded responsibility. All normative acts issued lately have diversified the rights and liberties of students and limited the initiative of teaching staff. As a result, students have become less disciplined, less focused, more arrogant, less polite, more aggressive, while the teaching staff has become more vulnerable. Being a teacher has become a huge burden.  Families have changed their attitude from being an ally of the teacher into an ally of the disobedient children especially when the marks of their children are not satisfactory. With a distorted perception of reality, they interpret freedom as anarchy and they are more interested in marks than in the actual knowledge their children possess. School has become a battle field, each party accuses the other. There is no longer talk about the mutual interests. Attitudes are extreme. For instance, in the 2012 baccalaureate exam, only 54 % of the students have passed. On the other hand, 100% of the students who take their Bachelor degree exam and Master degree exams pass.

Obviously, the quality in the Romanian HE is lower than its actual potential. A profitable and vicious lab where many experiments fail and yield diplomas whose holders will not be competitive enough for the labour market.

At the beginning of 2012, Condoleeza Rice was speaking about the low quality of American education as being a “matter of national security” because the quality of education is so low that graduates do not possess the necessary skills and competencies upon graduation to cope with the labour market. We expect our political leaders to think the same about the current condition of the Romanian higher education and to give the younger generation a chance to become real professionals and us all, a chance to live in a well-organized society.

1. Alina, Mungiu-Pipidi, Cum curm universitile, article, Dilema Veche, no. 197, 2007.

2. Ioana, Erdei, Universitile europene gratuite ateapt studeni români, articol, Sptmâna Financiarmagazine, article, 17 October, 2011

3. Mara, Moise, Specializrile care aduc bani, article, Adevrul newspaper, 28 June, 2011.

4. Oana, Sandu, Diploma, busol în carier, article, Adevrul newspaper, 28 June, 2011.

5. Petre, Munteanu, noi puteri universitare, article, Forbes, 3 October, 2011

Posted by Einar Thorsen