The authorities’ intention to reorganize the state university system generated heated discussions inside the education and research community, inside the political class and society in general. A lot of positive and negative assessments appeared in the public sphere. The experts invited to IPN’s public debate “Merger of universities: arguments for and against” discussed the necessity and objectives of the reform and its eventual risks.
Igor Boțan, the standing expert of IPN’s project, said that the functioning of the education and research system in Moldova is regulated by the Education Code adopted in 2014 and by the Science and Innovation Code adopted in 2004. The Government, the Ministry of Education and Research, the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Economy are in charge of this area.
According to the expert, the reform and optimization in the education sector are done based on legal provisions passed in 2017. “If we refer to the announced reform, it is based on a document that was drafted and approved by the Government. This is titled “Piloting of the process of optimizing costs in vocational, technical and higher education systems of the Republic of Moldova”. This document was worked out in 2018-2019 with the assistance of the IMF and was endorsed by the Government. It is also based on the study “Comprehensive assessment of the education sector of the Republic of Moldova” that is based on reports by the Court of Auditors,” stated Igor Boțan.
“Respectively, using these documents, the Government back in May 2020 announced that as the number of students decreases annually, the Ministry of Education started to rationalize the network of public universities in the country so as to optimize public costs and improve the quality of studies. Two years and two months ago, it was announced that the Institute of International Relations of Moldova and the State University “Dmitri Cantemir” will be absorbed by the State University of Moldova,” said the expert.
Virgiliu Pâslariuc, MPs of the Party of Action and Solidarity, said that as a member of the academic community and a university professor, he knows that the necessity of a reform has been discussed a lot in the academic community. Representatives of the economic community also consider that this reform should not be delayed. The number of students has declined and the public education system that is maintained on public funds should be restructured. It goes to a reform aimed at optimizing the use of public funds.
“The problem is the university infrastructure no longer matches the demand at universities. Not only the number of students, but also those of professors decreased. The professors are highly qualified experts, but they look for jobs elsewhere owing to the conditions and to the decline in financing. It is a process that the previous governments treated with great care. Yes, this is a sensitive issue. I saw the reactions in the political sphere. The governments left the universities to disappear themselves. This was the strategy and we could not intervene,” explained Virgiliu Pâslariuc.
He noted that keeping competition at the foreign level and rationalizing the programs at universities are the main elements of optimization within this reform. “There is no time for delays. It is like surgery when there is no time to lose as the trend is negative. Calculations show that these underperforming universities can no longer be saved if the resources of other universities are not used. There are three strategies for creating top universities – modernization of a university apart, merger of several universities and creation of universities from zero. It was chosen the merger as a method recommended also by studies conducted by the World Bank. These things were known by the academic community,” stated Virgiliu Pâslariuc.
Vladimir Odnostalco, MP of the Bloc of Communists and Socialists, said the difficult state in the university system is obvious. It is the result of the actions taken by the former governments, including by current functionaries who formed part of those governments. “The current government acts based on strictly economic reasons, taking the current demographic situation into account. This so-called reform started not today, but in 2012, when the Ministry of Education was managed by incumbent President Maia Sandu. The school system reform was launched and about 200 schools were closed at once. Many of the lyceums were turned into secondary schools, while secondary schools were turned into primary schools and were then liquidated,” stated the Socialist MP.
According to him, the current situation is the result of that reform among schools that were destroyed. Until 2009, there were 110,000 students. Now we have about 50,000 students. “If we follow the same logic, in four-five years, regardless of the type of government, we will not need to optimize and to liquidate as educational institutions will no longer be necessary. From my viewpoint, transparency should be ensured in what is done as in 2012, Missis Sandu started to close schools in this “surgical” way without public consultations,” stated Vladimir Odnostalco.
The MP noted that the main question is what the goal of these actions is and how the education system, the economy will be developed as the young people are now not educated, but are grown as simple consumers. “If we want education system, the country to be developed and the small citizens to be turned into creators, the planned actions should not be permitted,” said the MP, noting that transparency needs to be ensured and the liquidation of educational institutions should be stopped.
The public debate entitled “Merger of universities: arguments for and against” was the 255th installment of IPN’s project “Developing Political Culture through Public Debates” that is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation.