A cultural bridge

Liliana Hiris has been named Romania's first honorary consul in Scotland for her work to improve her homeland's image

December 18, 2008

Romanian-born Liliana Hiris, lecturer in economics at The Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, is tireless in her efforts to combat the image of her compatriots as troublemakers and scroungers.

"The negative stories make you feel bad about saying you're Romanian," she said.

"But I've lived here for a long time and got rid of all my complexes about coming from there. I try to be proactive and say 'Let me show you something different'."

Dr Hiris has just become Romania's first honorary consul in Scotland. Her appointment was proposed after she asked the Romanian Embassy for support in her work to promote her home country's image.

Since she joined The Robert Gordon University five years ago, she has encouraged economic and educational links between the two countries. In particular, she has helped to forge links between Aberdeen and Ploiesti, the capital of Romania's oil-producing area. She has also set up the Scottish Romanian Society, giving presentations on Romania after its accession to the European Union in 2007.

After graduating in international economic relations from the University of Timisoara, Dr Hiris won a scholarship to the University of Oxford. She followed this with an MSc in the political economy of transition in Europe at the London School of Economics, and a PhD on East-West labour migration at the University of the West of England.

There are currently about 35 Romanian students at The Robert Gordon University, with others at the University of Aberdeen and local colleges. There is a particular incentive to come to the UK because of the trust in the quality of its higher education system, she said. The absence of tuition fees for EU students in Scotland is an added attraction.

But greater outreach is needed, since few prospective students are aware of institutions beyond Oxbridge.

Staff from The Robert Gordon University recently visited Romania and found education centres where 80 per cent of schoolchildren were preparing for English exams.

"We asked them why (they were learning English) and often it was sheer ambition, to prove how good they were, but it was also about opening opportunities for studying abroad," Dr Hiris said.

She believes this new wave of Romanian incomers will help to eradicate the prejudices and misconceptions.

"My colleagues tell me they raise the standard in classes because they are inquisitive and want to learn," she said. "Romania is still a less well-off country but it has made huge progress, and people have to acknowledge that. It has its rightful place within Europe and not just on the edge."

olga.wojtas@tsleducation.com.

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