Romanian president tries to save flagship education strategy after plagiarism scandal

Romanian president tries to save flagship education strategy after plagiarism scandal
President Klaus Iohannis appointed his adviser Ligia Deca as the new minister of education. /
By Iulian Ernst in Bucharest October 4, 2022

In an attempt to rescue his flagship Educated Romania project, President Klaus Iohannis made an impassioned plea for academic integrity and zero-tolerance to plagiarism, appointing his adviser Ligia Deca as the new minister of education.

Deca thus replaces Sorin Cimpeanu, who resigned last week, after prolonged protests by civic society that actually began before his appointment in 2020.

Cimpeanu finally decided to resign on October 29 after coming under fire in the past weeks for alleged plagiarism. The allegations against Cimpeanu and the multitude of plagiarism scandals involving ministers have put Iohannis, who seeks to push though a package of controversial laws aimed at implementing the Educated Romania strategy, in a difficult position. Notably, Prime Minister Nicolae Ciuca is also under fire for plagiarism.

"Today, at the meeting of the National Political Bureau, I came up with the proposal that Ligia Deca be the Liberals’ proposal for the position of Minister of Education. She is a person who worked and participated in the process of elaborating the education laws and is able to continue and observe the debate and approval calendar so that by the end of October it will be sent to the parliament for debate [and endorsement],” said Ciuca.

The nomination was found to be appropriate by Iohannis.

He instructed Ciuca’s government to have the education laws passed as soon as possible — despite the drafts being strongly criticised by civic organisations, experts and leaders of higher education institutions.

Lack of experience 

Iohannis’ choice for Cimpeanu’s replacement has been strongly criticised too because of 40-year-old Deca’s lack of experience in the education system. 

In 2020, the media would perhaps have applauded 40-year-old Deca’s appointment — but not now. 

After seven years of undergraduate and graduate studies in the fields of navigation and port management (2001-2008), in 2008 she engaged in a career within the European bureaucracy as a representative of the students in the Bologna Process. Navigating and climbing up through the European bodies, she worked at the same time from 2012 to 2016 on her PhD thesis on the topic of the internationalisation of education in Romania and Portugal.

The Romanian Academic Society (SAR) NGO, which actually gave Deca an impetus at the beginning of her career in 2008, required Deca to publish her PhD thesis on the ministry’s website — which she will probably do, in order to demonstrate academic integrity. This would have been enough two years ago, but now is not: journalists have learned how to read between the lines of a European CV and civic society’s expectations for the status of a minister of education just leapt up the moment Cimpeanu resigned.

“Can someone who has not taught at least one hour in a classroom be a minister of education? How does a ship engineer can handle the education ministry?” a columnist in Ziarul Financiar wrote. 

Moreover, the paper concluded a couple of days earlier that the Educated Romania strategy is criticised “by everyone who knows what education is all about, from university professors to elementary school teachers”.