3.1 The Research in Higher Education in Romania
Over the past few years, the Romanian Higher Education System has developed an interest in scientific research, covering all fields of study, except educational practices and policies. Both researchers and policy-makers welcome the recent governmental focus on financing research activity, as well as on upgrading it to a high standard so as to gain a high position in the academic rankings of world universities. The impetus for this derives from the most recent assessment of Romanian universities, an important criterion being the quality of the scientific outcomes.
In an attempt to define the context of research in Romania, participants showed an interest in the issue and identified the factors preventing the efficient production and transfer of research. Insufficient financing and low quality research evaluation criteria are offered as possible causes.
A key observation is the growing interest in research shown by those willing to take part in this kind of activity: There is a favourable context for research in Romania and, like any crisis situation, it fosters innovation. On the contrary, as far as financing is concerned, research activity must be reconsidered to be the backbone of any developing university. For the past year and a half, I have noticed a real interest in research on the part of academics and teaching staff preparing for their teaching grade I.” (I6)
In spite of this favourable period, research activity faces structural and organizational difficulties. For instance, one of the researchers, a vice-rector, declared: At the moment, in Romania, research is struggling. There are numerous legal and administrative barriers within the institution. People are extraordinary, but they are not given enough freedom to exercise their initiative. (I8)
The questions to be posed are what are the causes leading to such a situation, and what can be done to improve the links between scientific research and decision-making processes in education? To answer these questions, we identify aspects of academic research and the transfer strategies used.
3.2 Research Production
One aspect of the research transfer process is research production and its producers. It should be stressed that the results of research must be transferred to policies based on high quality research.
3.2.1 Scientific Research—Between Relevance and Stringency
Most of the participants in the survey define the current context of the research production within the universities as being segmented and ambiguous, incoherent and fragmented. This is mainly due to the wide range of objectives and to the gap between research and politics. With regard to the first point, the target group believes that: I would stress the idea that in Romania, researchers adopt European, rather than national policy determinants. (I1)
Likewise, research production is not based on the real needs of the system or local context, but rather on international priorities, or they are imposed by the national or European financing organizations. In this sense: Research should be based on the researcher’s thirst for knowledge. It seems to me that, nowadays, researchers proceed according to financial and research opportunities. (I10)
Furthermore, researchers believe that research activity is less institutionalized and lacks sustainability and quality as a result of a lack of financial resources. Thus, the interviewees consider that: There is little to complain about it. There should be loud voices, more focused, less divergent. The existence of a scientific community becomes a “must”, a community bound together by adults’ training and education and prepared to speak up for educational policies. (I11)
Apart from this, there are also structural and organizational drawbacks hampering the management of research and highlighting the financial difficulties: First, it is the research budget and reductions, and this is always tough for the university budget. In the case of LLL projects, based on a fixed budget, Romanian legislation prevented some activities from being carried out. Even if money is not a problem, the parameters of Romanian legislation and some exaggerated interpretations make it difficult for research activities to be performed. Moreover, there has been a reduction in finance at the European level for some time now. (I8)
Besides, university managers believe that, even if it has become a priority, scientific research is still an unequal structured and disorganized domain. Research is part of any academic field of activity. In the field of research, however, there is little research, besides the scarcity of financial resources. (I12)
Another limit on research development is incoherent management (characterized by the lack of coherent politics and strategies promoted from top management), and a poorly developed culture of research (“poor interest in research”, “the value given to the research activity in the academic life” among others factors, as participants stated). From a structural point of view, I believe that organizational culture plays a vital role. Any organization is represented by the culture it promotes. (I3)
3.2.2 Research Activity Between Duty and Vocation
Various answers helped to sketch the profile of the researcher, as the centre of any research activity. On the one hand, universities and public organizations expect researchers to produce high quality knowledge likely to have social application and, on the other hand, their activity is deterred by cumbersome institutional mechanisms and the lack of resources, and the balance between research and teaching in the case of academics in universities. Actually, researchers tend to focus more on the importance of research than on teaching. Illustrative of this is the comment: Research is moving towards an international standard. Most universities exert a lot of pressure on the teaching staff to carry out research. Eight years ago, the focus was on teaching. Academic management considers research to be a prospective source of finance. This trend can now be found in the Romanian education system. The pressure is even greater due to academic ranking. (I11)
In order to survive, as a researcher, you need to be “strategic”, “goal-oriented so as to meet the social and academic demands regarding current interdisciplinary approaches promoted by the national and international research strategies” as argues one of the researchers.
The pressure to publish and the amount of research-teaching activity detract researchers’ attention from the business of applying research results to educational policies. In this sense: First, research only meant public dissemination at a conference and publication of one article, no more. Now, things have changed. We must publish only ISI articles. (I4)
The teaching-research relationship is frequently raised by the interviewees, who mainly emphasized the value of research for institutional accreditation and personal assessment. Another key observation is the teaching workload that will influence the scientific profile of the research in education: Most people in education are overloaded with tasks other than research. The regular teaching workload does not include time for research activities. Obviously, the amount you can produce is insignificant. There is not enough time for research. Cross-disciplinary teams are required. I hope there will be sufficient time and resources to motivate people. (I10)
The evaluation system of the teaching personnel prioritizes research activity. Nevertheless, it brings about a conflict of roles at a personal level and causes frustration since your job is purely didactic, whereas your evaluation is based on research. The teaching workload is too high, and the effort expended on daily tasks leaves little time for research (I3).
All in all, the research system needs to be improved from the very beginning, starting with its production stages. All the participants in the research agreed on this. Other possible solutions are the balancing of teaching and research activities, and generating high motivation for the latter, as well as taking into account the impact that scientific research must have on the local educational practices.
3.3 Research Activity Between Duty and Vocation
Frameworks and policies developed by education systems have a great influence on schools. Despite the general move towards greater school-level responsibility over the past 15 years, it is still the case in government school systems that central policy makers have a significant influence on school staffing and resourcing, curriculum development, assessment, and shaping the environment within which schools operate. Central government educational policies also influence the conduct of schools and the work of teachers in other ways. The most obvious is through resource allocation in terms of staffing, and the provision of discretionary funding.
Research therefore can have an impact on schools not only through the direct take-up of new ideas and findings by principals and teachers, but also through developments initiated by government educational policy makers that are derived from research, and through information that is disseminated to schools by the central government.
Both researchers and decision-makers agree on the relationship between research and education, claiming there is no systematic transfer of research results to education. Researchers do not consider the transfer of research a priority, as within the field of education there is a general conservativism and a reluctance to change (I8). Lack of interest in research transfer is also due to lack of financing for the dissemination of project outcomes.
Bureaucracy is one of the main obstacles faced by researchers with regard to research transfer, as well as the lack of specialized academic structures likely to ensure the effectiveness of the process (I3).
Another reason is the researchers’ “laziness”. According to a researcher’s opinion: “One cause is laziness. People tend to feel more comfortable with what they already know. Obviously, there is some reluctance to undertake a research program, so much so financing is uncertain. You can launch a research project only to end up empty handed, with the project being suspended” (10)
There are also barriers at the level of organizations and structures in charge of implementing the outcomes of research programmes, such as the Ministry of Education. Researchers consider it may not be interested enough in the research results and the participants emphasize the reasons why:
Another problem is the frequent and rapid changes taking place within the Ministry. One politician may adopt a particular measure and then he/she leaves and somebody else steps in and no longer wants to implement it. Thus, there is change for the sake of change. There is no consistency and continuity in decision-making. For example, the Baccalaureate exam and admission to the pre first grade program. (I9)
Nevertheless, most of the limits of research transfer deal with the language barriers between the two sectors or limits of discourse reception, which, sometimes, can be too technical or scientific. The causes of such difficulties in the discourse between the two educational sectors, as well as the possible impact on educational practices are discussed below: There is also a language and motivation problem. Some research results do not need to be interpreted by the decision-maker before reaching the practitioner. For instance, methodologically speaking, some results may not need validation by a decision-maker so as to be implemented by a practitioner. However, when these results are presented in difficult or incomprehensible language, the practitioner will always be reluctant to adopt them. (I3)
The researcher plays a crucial role in this process; it is up to him/her to adapt the whole process and communication strategies to the needs of the beneficiary:
I may be suspected of using too much theory. Nevertheless, I have learned to identify and shape my own audience as a researcher, so that, the moment I design and plan the research activity, I keep in constant contact with my prospective beneficiaries. [..]I have done this and I know it is possible. When I claimed there were no results regarding the subject the decision maker was interested in, within very short time and with no institutional support, I managed to convince him/her not to make a decision. I think this shows how it should be. (I5)
Success in communication is due to the decision-makers’ responsiveness and willingness to trust the experts: To be responsive to a certain category of people. Not all results are research results. (I3)
Research is disseminated through various channels and the language is extremely important: All persons are affected by this educational activity. Hence, you must pay attention to the language you use, to the communication channels, the instruments meant to bring about change, that’s why research in education is so difficult. It is very easy to gather data. However, it becomes difficult to carry out research in order to make a change. (I4)
With regard to the means of research transfer in education, the respondents were of the opinion that the best strategy to merge research with the decision-making process is the creation of collaboration networks between researchers and decision-makers, the dissemination of research to educational institutions, as well as the publication of articles.
While these conditions are essential to ensure the wide influence of research, they must be supported by ease of access to research findings. This ease of access depends on the active dissemination of research findings, but also depends on the form this takes. A range of suggestions to improve research dissemination arises from this project. Most of these are based on the view that the dissemination of research findings should be an integral part of the research process for all researchers, including postgraduate students. Such dissemination, while including publication in academic journals, should take a wider range of forms. Generally, single studies do not have a significant impact. Literature reviews, and papers that synthesize research in a form that is accessible to decision-makers are needed. Programmes and applications based on research are a means of actively involving both researcher and decision-makers together.