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E. Negrea1, S. Szakacs2

1College of Communication and Public Relations, National School for Political and Administrative Studies (ROMANIA)
2Department of Sociology, University of Essex (UNITED KINGDOM)
Today it is widely accepted that globalisation has left its mark on almost every aspect of human activity. There is no doubt that irrespective of their missions or scope, in order to be successful, organisations need to continuously adapt to blatant transformations on the global market. Universities make no exception: they also have to face the complexity, the constant changes and the instability of the global education market(s). The need to adapt to current economic changes has become an increasing survival imperative for most of the universities in the world, and especially for those aiming to score highest in worldwide academic ranking exercises that are still largely used as consumer-choice guides. Competitiveness on the global market is essential because it entails the capacity of the university to allocate a large amount of resources of various kinds (e.g. money, people, information, technology etc.) and to efficiently use these resources to identify others and thus boost development and growth. It appears that many universities have considered attracting more funding as a prerequisite to increase their competitiveness on the educational market.
Moreover, universities become increasingly managed and advertised as companies, promoting the acquisition of employability skills over academic excellence and shifting their underlying mission from that of ‘knowledge for knowledge’s sake’ to what is now seen as our indisputable societal aim: the creation of a knowledge-based economy. This, in our view, is a misunderstanding of the way the university should cope with the contemporary challenges imposed by the global world because it favours what could be termed as ‘the increasing commodification of higher education’. This process of commodification – quite hazardously – conceives of educational markets as of any other market, i.e. a market primarily governed by the idea that everything is a commodity and thus everything is for sale, including education and/or knowledge.
Given that the process whereby education is progressively construed as a commodity is gaining momentum on today’s research agendas in the field, we propose a brief comparative description of how this phenomenon had emerged in American and British universities that are renowned for their tradition in higher education, on the one side, and in Romanian universities (as rather new actors on the European educational market), on the other. Commodification of the US universities is mostly explained in terms of the commercialization of research; academic research has been partially or entirely commissioned to private companies, whereas the same phenomenon applied to UK higher education refers mainly to the branding of the university as a (not necessarily educational) services provider.
To these extensively investigated cases in the educational literature, we add an examination of commodification as it appears in Romanian higher education. We will focus on how commodification affects three of the essential dimensions of the university: its identity, the quality of the teaching and the research it aims to promote. In their effort to maintain their financial viability Romanian universities have lowered their academic standards to the extent that their own identity is now called into question. We attempt to show that even if the commodification of Romanian universities has not yet reached the extent it witnessed in the US or the UK, it is not lagging far behind.