6.1 General context
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Selection in secondary education through high-stake examinations reflects an ingrained culture of academic competition in Romania. High-stakes examinations put pressure on teachers to “teach to the test”, which limits students’ learning opportunitiesand narrows the curriculum (OECD, 2013b). It also encourages teachers to focus on the top-performing students, with little incentive to address the needs of those who might be struggling to progress. The success of teachers and schools in Romania is also determined, to a large extent, by the achievements of high performers. Another consequence of the pressure for academic success is the prevalence of private tutoring in Romania. It is difficult to obtain accurate data on the extent of private tutoring but recent surveys have found that between 17% to 50% of Romanian school students receive some form of tutoring, with annual costs representing around EUR 300 million nationally (European Commission, 2011). This accentuates inequalities by benefitting those students whose families have the means to access it according to OECD assessment.
Romania has among the highest dropout rates in the EU in both primary and lower secondary education. The dropout rate at both levels has increased in the past decade. In 2015, the share of early school leavers in Romania, defined as the percentage of the population aged 18-24 with at most lower secondary education and who were not in further education or training during the last four weeks preceding the survey (Eurostat, 2016). This makes it unlikely that Romania will reach its EU 2020 goal of reducing the share of early school leavers to 11.3% by 2020. Transition from lower to upper secondary education represents the main weak point in the education system. While education is compulsory until the age of 16, the enrolment rate drops by 5 percentage points between the ages of 14 and 15. About one-fifth of the student population has dropped out by the age of 16. Selection based on ability at the end of lower secondary and the perceived poor quality and relevance of upper secondary VET education, together with limited access to tertiary education, are among the main factors behind the sudden fall in the student population at the age of 15 (Fartuşnic et al., 2014).
OECD also finds that Romania’s use of national examinations to select students passing from lower to upper secondary and upper secondary to tertiary creates successive barriers to student progression, fuelling early leaving and limiting access to tertiary education for most Romanian students. Only one-fourth of adults aged 25-34 have completed tertiary education, the second lowest rate among European countries. Tertiary attainment is unlikely to increase substantially in the coming years since the gross enrolment rate in tertiary education has plunged, from 71% in 2009 to 50% in 2014 (Eurostat, 2016; UNESCO-UIS, 2016). Access to tertiary education is particularly limited for students from socio-economically disadvantaged areas, since they tend to perform less well on the baccalaureate which is required to enter university.
According to the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), nearly half (40%) of Romanian students lack the foundational cognitive skills required for lifelong learning and productive employment. Only 11.3% of all Romanian students were resilient in PISA 2018, meaning that they overcame their low socio-economic background to perform in the top quarter of students.
On the other hand, according to OECD assessment, Romania has made important progress in giving children a more equal start in education. According to school principals, the integration of the Preparatory Grade into compulsory education in 2012 has helped to reduce disparities among students in terms of their preparation for school and learning before entering Grade 1 (IES, 2013). Participation in pre-primary education has also increased. The majority of children are now in early childhood education and care from the age of 3, and 80% of 3-year-olds were enrolled in pre-primary education in 2014, on par with both EU (85.3% in 2013) and OECD averages (71% in 2014) (Eurostat, 2016; OECD, 2016).
In the context of COVID 19 pandemic, the studies that were mainly published by private entities were showing that pupils and students from groups with fewer opportunities were facing a multiple set of challenges in accessing the educational system. Save the Children Study (2020) shows that around 42% of the participants to the specified research had very limited access to online education and most of the access was to some educational support that was provided online, while others did not benefit of online educational support at all.
Education in Romania is based on a free-tuition and egalitarian system. Access to free education is guaranteed by Article 32 in the Constitution. Each phase of the educational path has its own form of organisation and is subject to different laws, directives, programmes and strategies.
The National Law on Education in Romania sets the framework, the structures, the values and the main principles in education. The document aims to guarantee the fundamental right to education targeting lifelong learning. The compulsory educational path one must follow is 10 years including the primary and the upper-secondary educational stages.
By 2020, the National Law on Education sets as target introducing the highschool studies as compulsory. The law is set on a vision that aims to promote an educational system based on values, creativity, cognitive capacities, volitional capabilities and action capabilities, knowledge fundamentals skills and essential abilities both in the professional and personal spheres.
Prior to higher education, Romanian pupils attend primary and secondary school for a combined total of 12 years (K-12). These years are referred to as the first through twelfth grades. The educational K-12 system includes of all the state education units, private and confessional / accredited. Schooling is compulsory until the tenth grade (corresponding with the age of sixteen or seventeen). The school educational cycle ends in the twelfth grade, when students graduate the baccalaureate. The system is structured on levels and, where appropriate, branches to ensure the necessary conditions for acquiring key competences and for professional development. National K-12 education system is organised as following, corresponding to the ISCED levels as described on EURYDICE’s website:
- Primary education (ISCED 1) including the preparatory grade and grades from 1 to 4.
- Secondary education - Secondary lower education or gymnasium (ISCED 2) - Secondary lower education or gymnasium includes grades 5—8. The access to the higher level is achieved by a national evaluation examination and distribution in upper secondary education units.
- The secondary superior education (ISCED 3) can be high school education, which includes the high school grades 9-12/13, with the following pathways: theoretical, aptitude-based (vocational) and technological or a minimum 3-year professional education. The graduates of the professional education promoting the certification examination of the professional qualification may attend the high school education courses.
- The tertiary non-university education (ISCED 4) - The tertiary non-university education includes the post secondary education.The professional and technical education is composed of professional education, technical education and post-secondary education.
- The higher education (ISCED 5-8) - The higher education is organized in universities, academies, institutes, higher studies schools, referred to as higher education institutions or universities, temporarily authorized or certified. The high school graduates with high school diploma can enroll in the higher education. The admission conditions are different from one institution to another. The structure of the higher education reflects the principles of the Bologna process: Bachelor studies, master studies, PhD studies.
The above described educational paths are organized and coordinated by the Ministry on Education. The compulsory educational stages are the primary and the secondary stages (up to the 10th grade). The technical education (technological pathway) includes the 12th and 13th grades of the high school education. Vocational and technical education consists of: vocational education, technical education and post-high school studies.
For pupils with different abilities, special educational measures are put in place. For pupils with special educational needs, classes of special education and integrated education are organized. As for pupils with exceptional results additional support is being offered through the Excellency Training Centres.
Where and when needed, through the school decisional acts, the daily educational activities within the primary and secondary education can be prolonged through the School after School (afterschool) programmes aiming to offer additional educational support or leisure time activities offered either by the teachers in school or on partnership basis with the non-governmental organizations.
The schooling network is defined through the National Law on Education as being composed of all the teaching units both accredited and only under temporary authorization. The network is being organized by the local public authorities under the supervision of the Counties’ School Inspectorates. The network includes as well the private schooling structures primary, secondary or post-high school ones. All schooling structures are permanently evaluated and monitored by the Romanian Agency for Quality Assurance in Pre-Higher Education.
In every country, a County Centre for Resources and Educational Assistance ensures the delivery of psychological support and counselling through its centres, speech therapy activities for pupils, individual evaluation and career counselling, school mediation and consultancy for inclusive education strategies.
The Higher Education system in Romania is aligned onto the European Higher Education Area and is organized in universities, academies of studies, institutes, schools of higher education. These institutions can be public, private or confessional bodies, all non-profit, of public interest and non-political and nonpartisan. The higher education system includes all the accredited institution.
The University Autonomy give the right to its academic community to set its own mission, strategy, structure, activities, working mechanisms and procedures for human resources and financial resources’ management, attentively following the legal procedures. All the aspects related to the University Autonomy are marked in the University Chart that is approved by the University’s Senate.
The higher education studies are defined as a group of curricula units of teaching, learning, research, practice and evaluation planned in order to get one to academic certification through a diploma and a diploma supplement. The curricula designed within the studies is in accordance with the general qualification framework defined by the National Qualification Framework (Hotărârea nr. 918/2013 privind aprobarea Cadrului naţional al calificărilor) and the University’s Senate approves the proposed curricula. The higher educational programmes are grouped in 3 study programmes: Bachelor's Degree (BA), Masters’ Degree (MA) and Doctoral Degree (PhD).
The Romanian Agency for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ARACIS) was established in 2005 and is an autonomous public institution, of national interest, whose main mission is the external evaluation of the Romanian higher education’s quality, at the level of study programmes, as well as from the institutional point of view.
The BA studies corresponds to minimum of 180 to 240 ECTS and will get one to level 6 of EQF/CEC. The length of the BA studies is of 3 or 4 years, each year corresponding to a minimum of 60 ECTS. For engineering, legal studies and pastoral theology the duration of the BA studies is of 4 years.
The MA studies have duration of 1-2 years and correspond to a minimum of 60 ETCS and the diploma will get one to level 7 of EQF.
The doctoral studies represent the 3rd level of the higher educational system and determine a level 8 of EQF.
The counselling services are delivered within the specialized centres – training and employment centres, training departments in companies, universities, schools, etc. The support one could get can be: information regarding the career options, the steps required to enter the labour market, information about the curricula that the educational institutions are offering and the skills and competencies one could acquire by the end of the studies, counseling for employment and support in finding a job.
Special and integrated education is a form of differentiated, adapted schooling as well as a form of comprehensive educational, social and medical assistance for people with special educational needs. The state guarantees the right to education of all persons with special educational needs. Special and specially integrated education is part of the national pre-university education system.
Compulsory general education is of 11 grades and encompasses primary education, gymnasium education and the first two years of upper secondary education. High school education is compulsory until 2020 at the latest. The obligation to attend the compulsory education of 11 classes in the frequency form shall cease at the age of 18 years.