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Who would have thought that the world’s largest university, in terms of student numbers, is in Romania? Probably no one, but such is the case. The Spiru Haret University (USH) – a Bucharest-based private higher education institution – schools 302 000 students, i.e. the world’s record number. Impressive indeed, but one might wonder how such performance was achieved. Illegally, comes to prove the Romanian Minister of Education, Research and Innovation, Ecaterina Andronescu, through an official investigation started at the beginning of the summer.
It was USH’s request for 56 000 diplomas to be approved (for 2009) by the Education Ministry – a suspiciously high number of graduates – that drew the ministry’s attention. Andronescu’s investigation revealed that the university managed to enrol such high student numbers by mirroring its accredited programmes (for on campus education) into distance and part-time programmes, without having the required accreditation. In total, the distance and part-time programmes counted for 87 percent of students enrolled at USH. To top it all, the Romanian agency for quality assurance revealed that out of the 56 000 diplomas requested, only 14 000 had a legal base.
At the end of a long process, burdened by political interference and vested interests, the Romanian government issued an act cancelling all the distance programmes of the university and forbidding it to organise admissions this year. USH, in turn, sued the government and scored a partial victory in court – allowing it to hold admissions for the already accredited programmes. However, as this is not an irrevocable decision, the story goes on.