Which is the rationale for internationalization when it comes to Romanian HEIs?
By Cristina Fit, National University of Political Studies and Public Administration – SNSPA Bucharest, Romania
We keep hearing that the internationalization of higher education is essential nowadays and that internationalization is not an aim in itself, but a way to enhance quality of education, as de Wit (2011) and others said. For Romanian universities, internationalization is a rather new concept. In fact, the Romanian Government sees internationalization as a new phenomenon, developed in the last couple of years. In Romania, the topic was raised on the public agenda mostly by a young team of HE policy experts from a governmental institution, UEFISCDI (www.uefiscdi.gov.ro) through coordination of EU funded projects (www.iemu.forhe.ro) and specific recommendations put forward to the decision makers.
Romania has few national public policies or strategies targeting internationalization and most of them are linked to mobility, this being the general understanding. Romania does not have a national strategy on internationalization of higher education yet, but has completed a few important steps in order to develop and adopt one in the near future. However, the lack of continuity at Ministry level did not help turning internationalization into a real priority for any of the recent Ministers of Education (approx. 13 in the last 10 years). It feels strange to consider internationalization of higher education as a new phenomenon since back in the ‘80s Romania was among the top 15 countries in the world providing academic services for foreign students (Deca & Fit, 2015). Yet now it seems to simply have forgotten about what it used to be.
Nowadays, Romania has around 3.25% international degree seeking students (without Romanian ethnics out of which a considerable majority are foreign Romanians, most of them coming from the Republic of Moldova – country with the same history and same language as Romania). In the last couple of years Romanian universities seemed to be more and more interested in the subject. “Why?” – you may ask. Well, is it due to the global dimension of the phenomenon that is interesting and attractive or is it simply the natural course of the system development? According to a survey conducted by Ministry of National Education and Scientific Research (MENCS) in 2016 (MENCS, 2016), the main reasons behind the stakeholders’ involvement in the development of internationalization are:
- to increase the quality of the education and research processes,
- to increase visibility and prestige of the institution,
- to integrate and adapt to a larger community,
- to achieve international recognition of the university,
- to teach graduates how to be competitive in a global labor market,
- last, but not least, to attract additional financial resources.
While all these seem reasonable, Romanian universities are keen to increase the level of internationalization of higher education mainly because they need to attract additional financial resources by recruiting international students. Similar to what is happening in other European countries (as demographic trends show), Romania has also encountered a tremendous decrease in the last years and the number of students decreased by 50% compared to 2010, when there were almost one million students registered (UEFISCDI, 2013). In addition, introducing stricter conditions of the process of development of the Baccalaureate exam (stricter no-tolerance policy for cheating) led to less graduates and due to a snow ball effect, this led to fewer candidates for university (as a successful promotion of the exam is required to continue the studies with a HE study program).
Therefore, having in mind the drop in Romanian prospective students’ pool and the need for additional funding (as public funding proves insufficient), Romanian universities should learn to think in a more strategic way. Some have already started by developing institutional internationalization strategies. Much is to be done: allocate an adequate budget to sustain the strategy and have a clear communication and promotion strategy in order to attract international students. And last, but not least, keep in mind that the objectives of all these efforts is not to only attract international students, but develop certain actions to retain and make international students feel comfortable and fully integrated in the academic and local community. Be aware that word of mouth is the most powerful tool of promotion, but sometimes it can backfire!
Cristina Ramona Fit is a PhD candidate in Political Science and International Relations at The National School of Political Studies and Public Administration, in Bucharest. She works as a Public Policy Expert at UEFISCDI (Governmental institution), with focusing on the Internationalization of Higher Education and the implementation of the Bologna Process in Romania. She coordinated the internationalization of HE work package in a national project and various national conferences on higher education and research. She was part of the www.studyinromania.gov.ro development team, the official Romanian website dedicated to promote the Romanian HE abroad. In addition, she activated as a PR Expert in various movements for student rights, or organizations supporting and empowering women and Rroma people. She was a visiting researcher at The European Association for International Education with an Erasmus placement scholarship.
Deca, L., Fit, C. (2015). Internationalization of higher education study, country case study Romania. Retrieved from the European Parliament website: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/STUD/2015/540370/IPOL_STU(2015)540370_EN.pdf.
Fit, C. (2016). An analysis of the Higher Education Institutions questionnaire on internationalization of higher education strategy. Paper presented at the Internationalization of the Romanian Higher Education: Challenges and Perspectives Conference, Bucharest.
De Wit, H. (2011). Trends, issues and challenges in internationalization of higher education. Amsterdam: CAREM.
Executive Agency for Higher Education, Research, Development and Innovation Funding (UEFISCDI). (2013). Internationalization of higher education in Romania. Bucharest: UEFISCDI.