Puterea – An Interview with Mark Donfried at the University of Bucharest

Puterea (Romanian Newspaper) - September 5th, 2013; Mark Donfried gives an interview to Romanian Newspaper Puterea during his visit to the University of Bucharest for the implementation of the MA Program in Globalization & Cultural Diplomacy. In this Interview, Mark Donfried speaks of the importance of Cultural Diplomacy in contemporary times and gives his opinion on the higher education system in Romania. The MA in Globalization & Cultural Diplomacy is offered by the University of Bucharest in partnership with the Academy for Cultural Diplomacy. More information about the Academy for Cultural Diplomacy can be found at www.ccds-berlin.de

  September 05th, 2013

Mark Donfried: “Bureaucracy, the Great Problem of Higher Education in Romania”


Mark Donfried, Director & Founder of the ICD, gave an interview to PUTEREA during his visit for implementing an international Master program at the UB’s Faculty of Philosophy. Mark Donfried talks about the Romanian education system and how bureaucracy makes it difficult to attract foreign students.

Q: Could you tell us more about Cultural Diplomacy? What is the importance of Cultural Diplomacy nowadays and how does the ICD contribute to developing it?

A: Cultural Diplomacy can be a very effective way of bringing up and maintaining relations not only between states, but between people as well. But the most important thing, in order for globalization to work, is cooperation. And if we were to collaborate on issues of climate change, business or other such directions, we have to trust each other. And the best way of building this trust is through cultural diplomacy. Part of what we do at the institute is that of researching and trying to find out what cultural diplomacy was and is. From what we have seen so far, cultural diplomacy is a method of telling stories of the past. During the Cold War, this worked, today I think this is much less efficient. If Romania tells everyone it’s wonderful and the USA also tells everyone it’s wonderful, this won’t build confidence. Thereby, we would argue now that cultural diplomacy is through music and listening, as opposed to talking. Basically, how can we create platforms that could help, for example, the Americans to learn more about the Afghan or Egyptian culture? Cultural diplomacy is more efficient in building confidence (trust). It’s different if you have a conflict situation or a peace situation. One needs different strategies.

Q: When do you think we would be able to have cultural ambassadors, which may complement or replace the political ones?

A: I don’t think the point is replace any current ambassadors. I think their role is still an important one, even though their attributes (tasks) are changing. I think that today an ambassador has a very different role than he had 20 years ago. The idea with the cultural ambassadors is that they can support our main goal. The best way of getting to know Romania is that of knowing as many Romanians as possible. It’s important to have cultural ambassadors, economic, young entrepreneurs, who can contribute to a better outside representation of Romania. The problem is that you don’t have a good representation of Romania by way of your branding, and those things that are good we don’t get to hear of them. Think about Paris for example. Think about how many extraordinary Romanian people are there, but one does not hear much of them. Then, how do we get to introduce them in the media without Dracula and corruption stealing the headlines. This is part of the strategy. I personally believe that this can start right now. As a matter of fact, I have discussed a partnership with the Minister of Tourism, I made a proposal – same with the Ministries of Education and Culture. These things do not mean higher costs for Romania. It is just a matter of putting things together.

Q: You introduced a new MA program in Cultural Diplomacy, together with the UB. It is the first program of its kind in Romania. What are the first impressions? Do you also have Romanian students enrolled in this program, as we know the program addresses all young people, regardless of their country of origin?

A: The program will start in February, during this academic year (2013-2014), when the first students will actually get to be there (in Berlin). It is very important for us to have as many Romanian students as possible. We even discussed this with the Ministry of Education, on how can we make this program more accessible for Romanians, in financial terms, scholarships etc. We try to ensure that the program is accessible to Romanian students. I think it is exciting, there is a lot of potential both in Bucharest and in Berlin, two extraordinary cities. I think there is great opportunity for Romanian students to have access to Germany and the German economy can help as well. There is a great advantage in studying CD in another country. It is very gainful for the students to study both in Romania and in Germany, instead of attending a program that unfolds in a single place.

Q: Still, isn’t a 6000 EUR annual fee too much for Romanian students?

A: Yes, it is. That is a problem. But at the same time it’s relatively small. Comparing it with the American fees, it’s cheap. I studied at Columbia University where the fee is 60.000 USD. For the Romanians it is expensive. For the Germans, however, it is free, as the government pays for this program. That’s why we want to see what we can do, in order for the government to be able to attract European funds so as to grant scholarships… We discussed about trying to lower the fee and granting scholarships. I am aware of the fact that this is a problem for the Romanian students, compared to those for which the program is free.

Q: And what’s the feedback?

A: We will see. From the discussions we’ve had so far with the ministers, I gather they want to support this program. As you know, there is a lot of bureaucracy and they have to see if the scholarship will be granted directly to the student, to the UB, to the professors… we will see. I am not interested in who is getting the scholarships as long as we manage to lower the fee. And, finally, I want to make the program very accessible. For me, the target is to reach the point in which a Romanian student will get to pay 3000 EUR for the same program. It would be great. To lower the fee, to cover for their travel expenses, things like this. At the time being, the main advantage is the fact that we offer high standard education. We have professors from Stanford University, for which, normally, you’d have to pay 60.000 EUR.

Q: To conclude, what’s your opinion on the Romanian higher education system?

A: In many cases, I have a very positive image of it. The Romanian people I have met here and abroad are, actually, among the best. I was very impressed, especially by the young people, by the students. You can see they are smart, highly motivated and very fast in bringing results. In reality the problem is that the best minds leave Romania and go to the UK or the USA. The good news is that you have a very low unemployment rate compared to other countries, but the problem is that the best minds are drawn out elsewhere. This is part of our strategy: how do we bring them back to Romania. This would truly help Romania.

Q: And what would be the main problems, for you, of the higher education system in Romania?

A: I think that what we need here is more flexibility. I saw some things that make this kind of exchange really difficult. For example, traditionally, in Romania you are only allowed to accept students once a year, while in the USA or in other countries, this thing can be done twice a year. And there are other bureaucratic barriers, like this one, that make things really difficult. I discussed this aspect with the ministers and told them they are losing students for this reason. I believe that some facilities should be provided, such as visas. It is not easy for African or Japanese students to come to Romania.