Romanian education system rocked by scandals

26/05/2012

Plagiarism involving two education ministers is a serious blow to the system in Romania and the country's international reputation.

By Paul Ciocoiu for Southeast European Times in Bucharest -- 26/05/12

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The education system in Romania is said to be "riddled by plagiarism and nepotism." [Reuters]

The new coalition government had barely assumed power in Bucharest earlier this month, when it was shaken by two plagiarism-related scandals -- opening a debate on whether Romania's education system has suffered a complete loss of credibility, at home and abroad.

Education Minister nominee Corina Dumitrescu withdrew her candidacy after the media reported she plagiarised a law book that she co-authored with her husband.

Days later, the new appointee, Professor Ion Mang from the Oradea University in northwestern Romania, was also accused of plagiarising at least eight of his academic books.

Mang insisted the accusations are politically motivated, but he resigned.

"The entire academic system in Romania is riddled by plagiarism and nepotism. These are its endemic diseases," Stefan Vlaston, the head of the Association for Education and Research that deals with education reform, told SETimes.

Vlaston said education minister-designates are often selected from a pool of candidates without qualifications, but they seek the positions to reap the substantial benefits -- and are often willing to go to great lengths to obtain them.

The two scandals appeared amid an ongoing debate on the poor state of the country's educational system. Last year, the Democrat-Liberal government installed video cameras during the baccalaureate exams to curb cheating, after which the passing rate dropped to less than 45% -- the lowest in since 2000.

Vlaston said a reform is under way to stem plagiarism and nepotism, but it needs both sustained government effort and public support to succeed.

"The education law passed by the previous government has very tough stipulations against plagiarism and nepotism in the educational system. Now we have state institutions, such as the Research Ethic Council, that can check academic papers for plagiarism. After a year and a half, we can sense significant progress in fighting nepotism at universities, where 50% of employees were previously assessed as having no academic values," he said.

Most bloggers said the scandals' gravity is greater than it seems.

"We are talking about a word-for-word plagiarism by a university professor, a pro-rector, a lawmaker, a minister, a man seen by the government as representative of the Romanian academic community," Dr. Virgil Iordache, a researcher at the Biology Faculty of the Bucharest University, said.

Partizanu argued the effects of plagiarism -- often coupled with nepotism -- leave Romanians wondering just who manages the educational system's reform.

"Are teachers motivated to be correct under such circumstances? If we want fair competition in schools and universities, then the situation also depends on teachers and professors. When they have Mr. Mang or his predecessor as their model, what kind of progress can we expect?" Partizanu said.

The Ad Astra association of Romanian scientists said "it is essential in Romania that any high-ranking official, proven to have plagiarised, is removed immediately and the academic title is withdrawn. Romania's credibility in the world depends on the very fact the state dignitaries are irreproachable."

The request is even more imperative to implement since the ministry of education and research is at stake, the communiqué said.

"No other professional reason can justify the occupation of a public office by a person ... found guilty of plagiarism and professional fraud. Not observing this principle is extremely harmful for the other academics, pupils and students and the whole society," the association said.

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In an article posted on VoxPublica, a blog platform, Constantin Cretan said that plagiarism has never been combated in a serious manner in Romania.

"The two educations ministers ... are not unfortunate exceptions, but they represent the general rule," he wrote, referring to a similar case years ago. In October 2003, Health Minister Mircea Beuran had to resign after a commission with the Medicine University in Bucharest concluded he had plagiarised.

Similar scandals have erupted in the region and across Europe. On April 2nd, Hungarian President Pal Schmidt quit after being stripped of his doctorate following accusations of plagiarism.

In March 2011, German Defence Minister Karl-Theodor Guttenberg resigned after the media revealed he plagiarised his 2006 doctorate thesis.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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