Adriana
Publicat în 26 aprilie 2017, 14:52 / 205 elite & idei

Sebastian Burduja: Reach Higher in Higher Education: What Romania Can Learn from the US Example?

Sebastian Burduja: Reach Higher in Higher Education: What Romania Can Learn from the US Example?
+ Observator

Abstract

This article presents a personal account of good higher-education practices in America, as experienced at Harvard and Stanford. Key-scholars and decision-makers in Romania may consider replicating and/or adapting these elements to the local context. The analysis focuses on seven prominent features of the US model: student-centered community; ethics and value-based curriculum; skills for success; alumni networks; career support; monitoring and evaluation systems; and making a difference. The final section concludes, putting forth several recommendations on what Romania could learn from the US model.

Introduction

Romania recently celebrated 27 years since the fall of communism, but the break with the past remains incomplete and unsuccessful. The country’s education system is a perfect example of this bitter reality: crumbling infrastructure, chronic underfunding, outdated curriculum and deep politicization, lack of quality control, widespread accusations of plagiarism and corruption, inadequate autonomy and accountability at the level of universities, inability to manage human resources, etc. The list could go on and the causes are complex, but it all boils down to the simple fact that Romania has not had a fundamental transformation of its education system since the 1989 Revolution.

The scope of the current article is far less ambitious than the magnitude required by current challenges: what follows is merely a personal account of several good practices present in the American higher-education system, primarily based on my experiences at Stanford and Harvard. The hope is that key decision-makers in Romania will be able to replicate all or at least some of these elements, adapting them to the local context. Importantly, the assumption is not that these features are completely lacking the Romanian system, but that – even if they exist in some form today – there is always room for improvement based on the example of what many hail as the best higher-education system in the world. The analysis covers the following: (i) student-centered community; (ii) ethics and value-based curriculum; (iii) skills for success; (iv) alumni networks; (v) career support; (vi) monitoring and evaluation systems; and (vii) making a difference. The final section concludes, putting forth several recommendations on what Romania could learn from the US model.

Student-Centered Community

The most striking feature of the US higher-education model present in elite institutions is its relentless focus on the students. In simple terms, the entire system is built around student needs and experiences. I still remember my first day at Stanford and how special the university made me feel to be part of its amazing community from my very first steps on campus. I had arrived after a very long flight from Bucharest to San Francisco, thousands of miles away from Romania, and was buried in thoughts similar to every freshman embarking on a new academic journey: “is this where I am supposed to be?” The Stanford Farm, as the nickname goes, quickly dispelled all doubts and made me feel at home: a big red welcome banner on the main road entering the campus and, to my huge surprise, a sign that included my name, right in front of my assigned dorm.

This was the start of my “orientation”, a series of events designed for new incoming students, including a component dedicated specifically to those coming from overseas. This is meant to acquaint students with their new social circle and help them navigate through the university’s systems for selecting courses, choosing meal plans, signing up for volunteer activities, exploring resources offered on campus (e.g., financial aid offices, career counseling centers, libraries, labs, gyms, etc.). Again, everything is targeted to students’ needs and everything is constantly evaluated in search of opportunities for improvement.

Multiple elements go into this sense of community. It starts with the physical space on campus: What would Stanford be without its Main Quad? What would Harvard be without its Harvard Square? It continues with everyday experiences that go far beyond the classroom. Some of them are still academic in nature, as is the case of study groups facilitated by the university. At the Harvard Business School (HBS), for instance, we were divided into “learning teams” in the beginning of the first year and we met every morning before class to discuss the assigned case studies. Other activities involve volunteering, both on and off-campus. There are over 600 student clubs and organizations at Stanford, spanning everything from “careers” to “community service” and “religious/philosophical.”

Other activities are purely social, including various traditions specific to each school and highly effective in fostering a sense of pride for a unique community, with its own norms. For instance, the famous Stanford “primal scream” happens at midnight the Sunday night of Dead Week, i.e., the week before the final exams commence. Certain long-held traditions are deeply associated with a particular public space on campus, as is Stanford’s Full Moon on the Quad celebration, which started with senior men welcoming freshman women to the university by gifting them a rose and a kiss.

The US model further strengthens student-centered communities through university-level sports and related activities. Historic rivalries carefully planned “big games”, social events before and after sporting events promote a sense of unity among the student body. Some traditions may appear bizarre of funny: for example, in the week before the big game between Stanford and longtime rival University of California Berkeley the Stanford students often drag behind their bikes teddy bears, Berkeley’s beloved mascot. There are also huge “BEAT CAL” banners all around the campus.

Ethics and value-based curriculum

As explained throughout this article, my academic journey in the US included many moments of cultural shock, perhaps none greater than when we were left unsupervised during my first final exam at Stanford. Initially, I thought the professor was playing a joke on us: how could we be left alone in the classroom? My entire world, built back in Romania on the premise that all potential cheaters would indeed cheat if allowed to, was coming apart. I learned about the Stanford Honor Code, dating back to 1921, “an undertaking of the students, individually and collectively…that they will not receive aid in examinations…[and] that they will do their share and take an active part in seeing to it that others as well as themselves uphold the spirit and letter of the Honor Code.” This may be one of the most effective and brilliantly written phrases in the past century.

Indeed, throughout my time at Stanford and Harvard, the integrity of the academic process was upheld at all times. I realized that it is a lot more effective to have 400 students monitoring each other during a final exam than to have a single professor trying to monitor them all. I also believe that when the rules of the game are fair and the culture is strongly based on such written and unwritten norms, the risks of cheating are basically zero. Violation of these rules is punished drastically, ranging from failing a course to suspension from school and even hours of community service. Plagiarism is taken very seriously and students are taught precisely what counts as plagiarism, how sources must be cited, and what an original research and analytical effort requires.

In addition to all this, the required curriculum at top US universities often includes courses promoting values and principles: freedom, accountability, public service, etc. For example, HBS includes a course on Leadership and Corporate Accountability (LCA). I vividly remember discussing cases like the fall of Enron, in which Jeffrey Skilling, an HBS graduate, played the key role. The school recognizes the importance of instilling the values of authentic leadership and underlining the fact that indeed graduates of these academic institutions have an important responsibility to lead by example and to promote ethical conduct throughout their careers. This would be particularly important in developing economies struggling with systemic corruption and nepotism, as is also the case in Romania.
http://researchandeducation.ro/2017/03/15/reach-higher-in-higher-education-what-romania-can-learn-from-the-us-example.html

Ultima ora:

ObservatorMarian Staș: În România vor funcționa 60 de școli-pilot unde elevii își vor putea alege o parte din materiile de studiu

PoliticCristian Diaconescu, în vizită de lucru în județul Alba

EconomieTraian Halalai: Focus pe identificarea de soluții pentru sprijinirea militarilor veterani din teatrele de operații

ExternTeodor Baconschi: Regimurile din China și Rusia joacă pe ideea că indivizii preferă prosperitatea înaintea drepturilor

SocialMarian Staș: În România vor funcționa 60 de școli-pilot unde elevii își vor putea alege o parte din materiile de studiu

EvenimenteAdrian Hatos, la evenimentul DEVISE – The 3rd Digital Session of EYP Romania – intitulat „Democracy as our sole future”

CulturaCristina Popescu: Pictorul Dimitrie Știubei, un pictor de …marcă

EditorialBarbu Mateescu: O dispută din care câștigă o singură persoană și un singur partid



Club Romania | Elite si idei / www.oranoua.ro - Open Source Internet Database part of a non-governmental project / Contact: office[at]oranoua[.]ro | Operated by CRSC Europe