Seemingly sad at not being introduced into recent fashionable and high-profile studies on intergenerational justice (Vanhuysse – 2014
), the Romanian Government, whose huge potential towards duplicitous action at the expense of future generations I have already briefly presented (by looking at double standards on environmentalism
), decided to show everyone that it too was capable of completely sacrificing the perspective of certain age-cohorts. Perhaps aware that primary and secondary education were typical examples of public policy failures (although these were touched too), Romanian officials turned their piercing gaze to the already struggling universities. Whether intended to cover their backs (as the Government, and most notably the Prime Minister, have numerous plagiarism inquiries open against them), or just simple short-sightedness (to be gentle), the amendments, passed without Parliamentary debate and approval, simply tear down any lingering strand of educational autonomy and push forward a very rigid patronage system (political appointed recotrs was cornerstone of the changes, tenure positions without retirement was an equally important modification).
What are the actual changes?
Whatever frail autonomy Romanian schools had, it has now been obliterated – town mayors are members of School Administrative Boards, the Principal is automatically the head of the Administrative Board (before the amendments the Board chose its own leader; political interference in Principal appointments is too known of a topic to be even worth detaling – what is new is that the school is no longer at all responsible in the procedure), student representatives with an already weak vote power are simply barred from even sitting in during Administrative Board meetings, Deputy Principals are no longe members of the Administrative Board. At the same time, rather than pouncing on the selective role the high-school bacalaureat exam seems to have been having for a few years, the Cabinet comes to the aid of those who failed the exam – not with job opportunities of course, but by demolishing university entry conditions – special state funds are awarded so that students can train for one year, re-take the exam, and then jump straight into their second university year! In the words of the Prime Minister “one should not become a social problem just for failing an exam! We need to be more inclusive”. The failure to raise the quota necessary for ousting the president in 2012 showed there needs to be an even greater mass ripe for manipulation for the ruling Social-Democratic Party.
Out of business ideas? Just start your own private university. The new changes make it possible for any legal person to establish a university, and in “special cases” one can get a 10% expansion on their available places. The huge profits of what Romanians call “diploma factories” are thus now open to everyone, in a very “democratic” fashion.
After limiting the right of some universities to organize PhD studies some years back, the Romanian politicians seem now to be discontent with the “output” of “scholars” of the country, hence PhD courses are from now on available at a part-time structure. If in an established Western university my ironic tone towards part-time education is fully misplaced, when it comes to Romanian education, part-time is merely a euphemism covering yet another system of mass-producing diplomas.
But should universities really be left on to their own? Certainly not, as rectors can now be politically appointed for quasi-tenure positions. But then again, why stop there? Although some “anticipated-retirement” provisions were implement, in reality tenure positions are expanded to such a degree that it is virtually impossible for a new graduate student to find a position. At the same, the ludicrious “pedagigocal MA” condition to be a University Professor, has also been “democratized”: it is per se not mandatory if it can be replaced with pedagogical training offered within your university by specialized departments.
Where is this coming from and what are the effects?
Rather than the trodden “bad politicians” argument, I would like to draw attention to the all-out vendetta of the ruling Social-Democratic Party on the President and parts of his supporters. As a party credited to have inherited most of Romania’s communist personnel, via the early 90s Front of Democratic Salvation, the Social-Democrats are trying to replace the populism of President Basescu, with its own populism – this explains why the PM makes references to “social problems” and “inclusion”. Having failed on its promises of “a million new jobs”, the Social-Democratic Party “opens” education to give the impression of social mobility. In reality, all the previously mentioned modifications promote over-crowding and destroy academic-methodological standards, creating an influx of poorly trained students, which state-funded universities simply cannot refuse, lest they risk bankruptcy.
There is of course a deep element of “covering one’s back” as the Government has numerous plagiarism acusations on its role. On a more general level though, there seems to be a strong trend of creating populism via mystifying the role of Western universities as saviors of the country, shared not just by the Social-Democrats, but also by the Popular Movement Party (whose leader recently boasted a high number of “Sorbonne PhDs” in the party), which backs and is blantaly backed by the President. This self-perpetuates a myth of technocracy
with two powerful effects – it errodes an already low perception of Romanian education and it creates a “diploma rush” that feeds right into the “diploma factories.
It is obvious that in such a short space, one can barely scratch the surface of the recent fundamental alterations to the Romanian Law on Education. As part and parcel of a populist doctrine, these changes hit multiple birds with one stone on a canvas of intergenerational injustice – they strengthen the position of rectors and elderly faculty members (most of which have some connection with politics) thus hamper the perspectives of young researchers, they create disloyal competition for state-mandated universities, they create deep layers of patronage that start from primary and secondary schools and they simply shatter academic standards.