Last month, the National Agency for Quality Assurance in Higher Education in Romania conducted a study that showed a disturbing fact: Romania’s universities are diplomas factories and do not ensure workforce on the market. And we’re not only talking about private universities but also state ones.
The companies of Romania’s labour market accused the universities of not updating their courses to current market requirements, this fact resulting in significant investment in training young employees, even those with a recognized Bachelor’s degree. Some employers even say that the universities have largely the same course structure that they had 10-20 years ago, and as a result, their graduates don’t have a knowledge baggage suited to new realities.
The study also showed that one in two companies doesn’t trust the quality of graduates from Romanian universities. The companies complained that in some fields, such as IT, engineering or accountancy recruitment can last for months and university training does not fit with the graduates’ demands.
Most of us, after finishing a high school, immediately think about going to university. We learn at home, we learn at school, we learn from friends that a Bachelor’s degree is one of the most important assets a person has to have. So we go online, we ask here and there and we choose the university that suits our requirements the best. But how about the labour market requirements? How many of us take the time to search the market and find out what’s our possibility of getting a job after graduating a certain university? I don’t know about you but I, for one, did not for once consider that to be an important factor when I had to choose which university to go to.
If you go right now and start google-ing “why is a Bachelor degree” and stop right there, you will see that Google gives you 2 automatically most searched and most important options to continue your search: first one is “important”, the second one is “worthless”. So you see, facts or not, opinions fall into two categories: people who graduated a university, have a Bachelor’s degree and a job that makes it all worthy, and people who graduated with a Bachelor’s degree and have no job and no hopes whatsoever to get a job in their field of knowledge.
Of course, maybe you belong to the first category and besides having a great job and a great income, you also feel like you’ve worked zero days in your life because there’s a saying going “Do what you love and you won’t feel like you’ve worked a day in your life”. But maybe, just maybe, in right the same minute as you, someone else is also reading this. Someone who struggled to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree and has ever since been in a continuous search for a job in his domain with no results. And numerically, I tend to believe this someone weighs more.
In the QS World University Rankings, Romania does have a few top universities. Out of a number of 916 universities, from 81 countries Romania has 4 universities somewhere on the 701+ spots: “Alexandru Ioan Cuza” University (Iași), “Babeș-Bolyai” University (Cluj-Napoca), the University of Bucharest and the “University of West” (Timișoara).
In Romania, the Babeș-Bolyai University of Cluj-Napoca is regarded by employers as the best university in the country. Even so, of the 100,000 graduates who obtain a Bachelor’s degree annually, 80% end up working in another field than the one in which they studied.
Truth is, in the real world, the one that works, your diploma doesn’t really matter, only insofar if it is doubled one-to-one by your competence and it’s elevated by your performance. If all you want is a diploma and you’re an average human being (to avoid saying idiot), then you will never be more than that average human being, who’s also got a diploma.
I have been speaking with a lot of my friends that find themselves in both depicted landscapes. Some of them are successful Bachelor’s degree owners, who also got lucky and are working in their field. But most of them had to settle with something else, in part because the market had no requirements for their pack of knowledge but also because they found out later that they are not who they wanted to become after graduating.
Lazăr is 27 years old and has been living in Cluj-Napoca since 2006. He came in Cluj-Napoca after high school, in search of a better university to attend to. He went to Babeș-Bolyai University, the Faculty of Mathematics and Informatics and graduated in 2010. In 2011, he started working for Betfair Romania, a large development center with over 250 people skilled in a wide range of programming languages.
He was employed there by chance. One of his friends knew another friend that worked there and they needed a new employee, specialized in programming language. He applied, was called to the interview, everything went well and he got the job. He thought it was just too easy until he actually got there. Everything seemed like everything he skipped while being a student and he felt like he had so many gaps between what he learned in classes and what he was asked to do as an employee.
“I had like 10% chances to learn all this the day before at home and then go there and do what I had to do that exact day. It was so stupid that I even asked myself after a week why are these people still keeping me here?”
His employer answered his untold question after two weeks of torment: he had potential. He could learn, he could make a difference and, more important, he wanted the job more than anything. So he received the training he needed from his employer and, one month later, things started to feel easier and nicer than at the beginning. He always liked computers but he actually hated programming. That’s how he started liking it.
Last year, in December, he started his own company. It’s a small, out-sourcing company but Lazăr says it’s enough for now. He’s the owner of the company but he takes care of the orders with one of his best friends, Ionuț, who is also skilled in programming language.
“People already know that the jobs in the IT domain leave you with the most amount of money at the end of each month. What they don’t know is how hard it is to do it. Even if you’re used to writing codes after codes, programming is quite difficult. It’s exactly like you see in those stupid meme pictures that are on Facebook. When a code works, you have to find out what you did and why it works. Same thing if it doesn’t work. And trust me, finding out why something is working is a lot more difficult than finding out why it’s not.”
Regarding his choice of university, he says he doesn’t regret it. He wanted to attend Mathematics and Informatics and no one made him choose that. He strongly agrees with the fact that the university he went to is one of the top ones in Romania but he says his Bachelor’s degree was just another piece of paper when it came to getting his job.
“Of course my CV said I had a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics and Informatics but you don’t attach that to your résume. No one has ever asked me about it and it was never a thing I definitely had to have to perform in what I’m doing. I can even say it helped me close to zero regarding the requirements for my job. Everything I did in school was closed to nothing actually. Of course I had the basics, but nothing else. I still had to learn everything I know today from the training provided by my employer.”
Liana, who is Lazăr’s girlfriend, didn’t have his luck when it came to getting a job in her field of knowledge but their story kind of resemble. She’s 30 years old and she graduated from the Faculty of Arts and Design Timișoara, in 2006. From 2014 until November last year, she worked at 2 companies as a marketing specialist. At her third and present job, the post she occupies is the same. Everything she does for and at her job was learned in the training provided by her first employers.
“When I first got a job as a marketing specialist, I was quite shocked. I had a Bachelor’s degree in arts. In arts! I knew nothing about marketing but I applied because I used to volunteer to different advertising companies after I graduated and I think that weighted a lot in my CV.”
For each task she had to accomplish at work, she would have to work double the amount of time her co-workers did. She kind of knew how the basics work but in practice, it wasn’t as easy as she thought.
“Of course I went to all my trainings and I was paying attention to everything the trainers taught us. But I would get stuck each time I would try to apply all those things. It’s like when you’re a toddler: you get the process of walking and how your legs should move but when you try it for your first time, you end up on your ass.”
She doesn’t regret graduating from the Faculty of Arts but she would have loved to find a job in this field because she loves the freedom of thinking and creating it gives her.
“I love to create and I would’ve loved to do that for the rest of my life. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. There are close to zero jobs in this field on the market and I really didn’t want to become a teacher. I wanted to create, not to teach someone else to do it.”
In another context, there is Stanca. Stanca is also 30 years old. She graduated from Babeș-Bolyai University, the Faculty of Economics and Business Administration in 2008. Her first job was actually in her field of knowledge, at a well-known bank in Cluj-Napoca as a Business Client Advisor.
At first, she loved her job. She had an easy schedule, with lunch breaks and a nice team of co-workers. She was responsible for not so complicated operations within a bank and she loved that she had her own desk. Unfortunately, the better she got at her job, the more she started to hate it.
“I started developing eye problems. In 4 years that I worked there, I developed myopia due to the fact that I was always with my eyes in my computer. I had to start wearing glasses as the last solution because I couldn’t afford quitting my job. I tried to find another one, applying to other job requirements but I ended up letting it all go because all my applications were in bank related jobs.”
Because she had to pay her monthly rent, she couldn’t leave her job for almost 4 years. In 2014, she met her actual boyfriend and moved in with him. Two months after moving in, she decided to fix her myopia so she quit her job and went on with the procedure.
“I stayed at home for 2 years. It was hard. My boyfriend was the only one providing money in our household and I felt like I was useless. I had nothing to do every day but clean and watch TV. He always reassured me, telling me it’s ok and that we’re not struggling but I knew I had to do something. And I wasn’t going to go back to working in a bank.”
Her boyfriend works in IT and she kind of liked what he did. She couldn’t learn by herself to do all that and neither could he teach her so she decided to take some IT classes that would teach her the basics of programming language. She absolutely loved it.
Since January 2016, she is a Junior Software Developer at Fortech, a software services company in Cluj-Napoca. She is still working with computers but she has an app provided by her company that lets her know every 15 minutes to look away from her computer for 10 seconds and every 50 minutes to take a 5 minutes break.
“Now I can say I really love what I do. I love the schedule, I love my co-workers, I love everything about it. It’s not the same as my first job. I thought if I did what I already knew it would’ve been easier. But it wasn’t. It is best to do what you love than what you know.”
A lot of young people in Romania are like Stanca and Liana. Most of the universities in Romania have stopped from teaching something valuable and are now teaching “the basics”. Most of the time, even “the basics” are absolutely ridiculous.
So what can we do? In order to build a performing system of higher education and research, we need strong universities. There’s no need of inventing a new, original system, but rather to adopt and adapt the current one to contemporary needs of our society.
Please note that it is not recommended to avoid a high school or university degree, because the failure rate for the alternative route is as big as small anyone’s chance of winning a hundred million euros at the lottery would be.
Choose something you like, be very good at what you do, be recognized by the community and not by academies and institutes, find a way to make as much money as you want and live your life the way you want.