Romania calls on EUA help to split sector

Broad reforms will see different missions attract varying levels of funding. Matthew Reisz reports

April 7, 2011

The government of Romania has secured the support of the European University Association (EUA) to institute a wide-ranging reform of its higher education system.

At the heart of the proposals is a plan to group the country's 54 public universities and approximately 40 accredited private universities into three separate groups: teaching-focused institutions; those oriented towards both teaching and research; and research-intensive institutions.

The state would guarantee funding for bachelor's degrees in the first group, up to master's level in the second, and up to doctoral level in the third.

Although "education-centred" universities in the first group could continue to offer master's programmes, the government would not be obliged to fund them, but could take "quality factors" into account when deciding whether to do so.

Daniel Funeriu, the Romanian minister of education, research and innovation, told Times Higher Education that the central aim was to achieve "a concentration of resources on the specific strengths of each university".

He added that he wanted the assessment of universities to determine their category to be conducted by a foreign team "so as to make it immune to interference".

The EUA agreed to take on this role, and put together an international expert group under the leadership of Lesley Wilson, its secretary general. The official evaluation process was launched on 25 March.

In the first instance, institutions will be asked to state which group they believe they belong to, and to provide or confirm supporting data.

"Universities need to be really clear what they are for, what their focus is - and then be supported," said Ms Wilson.

"After a rather rapid grouping exercise, which will be completed within six months, we will work with the universities to help them think through their missions and build on them, something where we have experience and expertise."

This three-year process of improving quality and performance will draw on evaluation programmes that the EUA has already carried out in Portugal, Slovakia and the Republic of Ireland. The Czech ministry of education is presently carrying out a similar exercise.

The Romanian government, in the meantime, will carry out assessments of individual programmes to determine the number of funded places it can support.

"The current system gives too much discretionary power to the ministry," Mr Funeriu said.

"There is not enough validated data on which financial decisions can be made. We want to achieve more efficient resource allocation based on the quality of courses and the specific missions of different universities."

But achieving clarity and value for money are not the only goals.

Mr Funeriu said: "The education system is the brain of the country, and we want to make ours internationally competitive. We had far more international students before 1989 (the year that marked the end of Nicolae Ceausescu's Communist regime) and we are keen to reverse the decline we have seen since then.

"We also want to make our higher education system more attractive to Romanian academics currently working outside Romania - it's one of the keys to government policy to get that right."

matthew.reisz@tsleducation.com.

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