Lack of Public Support Forces Romanian Students to Look to their Families
This short analysis is based on the national report regarding results from the EUROSTUDENT survey. It is focused on the profile of non-traditional students defined as young adults (above 20 years old) who did not transition directly from secondary to postsecondary education.
The average age of non-traditional students in Romania, according to EUROSTUDENT, is around 36 years (compared to 22-years-old for traditional students) and they account for 12 percent of the total student population. This share indicates a positive trend in Romania, explained both by widening the access to higher education and more comprehensive university offerings across regions (in particular, from private universities) and the demands from the labor market for workers with high levels of qualification.
Currently, in accordance with entry exam performance, Romanian students can enroll in a tuition-free public university program. According to the Romanian Executive Unit for Funding Higher Education, Research Development and Innovation (UEFISDI), around 60 percent of the available places in public universities are free, but students have to cover administrative fees and other costs in addition to their living expenses. The level of the fee varies according to the area of study and, generally, does not exceed €600 ($798 USD) per year.
The average monthly revenue of students surveyed is less than €200 ($265 USD), close to the minimum wage in Romania. The revenues of delayed transition students are, however, two times higher, being close to the median wage in Romania while in the case of students aged 30 and over, the amount is almost three times higher compared with the national average.
Therefore, the burden of tuition fees is not very high for working non-traditional students. The main challenge is related to covering other costs such as housing, food and learning resources. These students’ revenues are based mainly on three sources:
- Financial support provided by family, household revenues and scholarships
- A social assistance metric, based on per capita family income
- Merit, based on a student’s academic performance
As expected, non-traditional students depend mainly on theirs and their partner’s revenues and receive little state support when pursuing a university credential. Based on EUROSTUDENT data, we estimate less than 20 percent of non-traditional students receive financial assistance from public funds. This situation is explained by the fact that non-traditional students are mainly enrolled in low-attendance or distance education programs, where the financial aid provided by scholarships is minimal. Even in the cases where students receive this assistance, it covers only about 10 percent of their total expenses (academic and living).
For private or internationally-funded programs, specific categories of prospective students (in particular, gifted students with a poor family background, and Roma students) are able to receive financial support for enrolling in university programs. However, the share of these students within the total student population remains very low and only in rare cases do these students delay their transition.
Additional difficulties are faced by non-traditional students, given their family responsibilities. Two-thirds of students with a delayed transition have at least one child, while more than one-third of students have two or more children. This situation is worrying since, in most of the cases, the parent-students are enrolled in programs with no flexible schedule or other support facilities. The tendency for non-traditional students to have children and work full-time has a negative effect on their attendance rates.
As indicated in the table below, only one delayed-transition student in 10 is without working experience, while more than 80 percent already have a long-term contract before enrolling in university. In comparison with traditional students, the triple task of non-traditional students (study, work and family) significantly increases the risk of failing to graduate the university program.
Ultimately, students over the age of 30 are far more likely to interrupt their studies, or drop out of their programs altogether, both at the undergraduate and graduate levels.
Family support is one of the key factors for a direct transition and non-traditional students, more often than not, are coming from disadvantaged family backgrounds. As expected, the lower the level of education of the student’s parents, the higher the chance of being a delayed-transition student. For example, two-thirds of non-traditional students over the age of 30 come from a family with a low educational background (lower secondary or primary education). Less than 10 percent are from a family with higher education studies or above (undergraduate, graduate or doctoral studies).
Qualitative data also indicates one of the most significant challenges faced by non-traditional students is linked with housing problems. Even though 75 percent of these students are living alone with their partner and children, most of them are still renting or need to pay a high mortgage, since social facilities are limited.
Even though most adults do not live with their parents, their support (not just financial, but in terms of their family life — taking care of children, doing household work, etc.) is very important to non-traditional students. This is maybe one of the main reasons why two-thirds of these students decide to continue their studies after graduation, at the master or doctoral level, despite there being minimal financial, education or social support programs in place.
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Ciprian Fartuşnic, Inițiativa globală privind copiii în afara sistemului de educație. Studiul Național – România (Buzău: Ed. Alpha Media Print, 2012)
Ioan Horga, and Otilia Apostu, EUROSTUDENT IV Condiţii economice, sociale şi mobilitatea internaţională a studenţilor din România (Bucharest: Institute of Education Sciences, 2011)
National Institute of Statistics. Învățământul superior în România. Bucharest: INS (2012)
Dominic Orr. Social and Economic Conditions of Student Life in Europe, Final Report, Eurostudent IV 2008-2011 (Postfach: W. Bertelsmann Verlag Publishing House, 2011)
Author Perspective: Educator