Mother tongue university exams stir controversy

The new education proposal initiated by the RMDSZ was voted into law by the Senate on Monday and now awaits President Iohannis’s official announcement. The new set of rules eases the process of admission exams for ethnic minorities, as it gives them the right to take the exam in their mother tongue no matter which university they apply to.

Now, if an ethnic Hungarian student wants to take the admission’s exam at a Romanian university, he or she can ask the institution for the test in Hungarian so that they can deliver their best possible result. Ethnic Hungarians looking to enter university have been studying in their mother tongue for the past twelve years, so their chances of succeeding on the exam are far higher if they take it in their own language, rather than in Romanian.

Former Education Minister Mircea Miclea couldn’t refrain from lashing out against the new law, alleging that it would undermine the autonomy of universities.

“The new law forces universities to hold admission exams in Hungarian or German, even though they may not have courses in these languages. This limits the university’s autonomy because it imposes new rules on how they can organize such exams. If, for example, a Hungarian student learned chemistry in Hungarian, then the Bucharest University must produce the admission test in Hungarian for the student,” the ex-minister said to Romanian journalists, as cited by Edupedu.

Senator Attila Cseke from the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania, otherwise known by its Hungarian acronym of RMDSZ, reacted on Facebook to Miclea’s comment. He reminded the former education minister that the principle of equal opportunity requires that everyone take the admission test in the language of their schooling.

“Such an opportunity is available today, even in Bucharest. One of the renowned universities, the prestigious Polytechnic University of Bucharest (Universitatea Politehnica din București), allows this even today. The rector of the aforementioned university is a major supporter of the new law and voted for it,” Cseke wrote.

The autonomy of the university is not an absolute notion. There are legal limits, but those should not override the principle of equal opportunity and ethnic minorities’ rights to learn in their mother tongue.

“The former minister of education should be aware of the fact that students took admission tests in their mother tongue even during the communist era. So, no one can claim that the Romanian state fits as much into its ‘model’ policy for minority rights as did the communists,” he commented.

The outrage of the former education minister has prompted RMDSZ Senator Barna Tánczos to pen a quick memo outlining what normal and equal opportunities meant earlier and how an attempt to restore such respect towards co-existing cultures and ethnicities stirs controversy. “Autonomy is dead,” he writes, responding to Miclea’s words. “After three years in kindergarten and twelve years of school – all of that in Hungarian – when I enrolled at ASE Bucharest (ed. note: in 1994), I ticked the box for those who wanted to take the exam in their mother tongue. I received the questions in Hungarian, I answered them in Hungarian and I was admitted to the university. I’m still waiting for Mr. Miclea to indicate what the difference is between a Hungarian and Romanian A-grade received in Economics because I can’t tell the difference. So, I took the courses for four years, and I received my bachelor’s degree after taking the graduation exam in Romanian,” Tánczos wrote. “The autonomy of the university wasn’t harmed in any way, nor did the apocalypse arrive,” he added.

However, in 2017 and 2018, the University of Agricultural Sciences and Veterinary Medicine in Cluj-Napoca turned down requests from Hungarian students asking to take the admission exam in their mother tongue, prompting the RMDSZ to create an education law that fixes this issue, Tánczos wrote.

“Dear friends! We can’t let the normality, tolerance and empathy that characterized society 25 years ago disappear. In 1994, no one felt ‘forced’ to test me in my native language. It was normal. It looks likely that since then, some mechanisms have gone awry, including in the head of the former minister …” Tánczos concludes.

Title image: RMDSZ Senator Attila Cseke. Image source: Facebook

Author: István Fekete