Moldova’s Harvard Government
24 September, 2019
Moldova's Prime Minister Maia Sandu (L) and Economy Minister Vadim Brînzan

Editor's Note: The following is an opinion article by Daniela Bechet, a Moldovan writer who works for Hromadske’s partner, Ziarul de Gardă. The views and opinions expressed in it are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publication.

Founded in 1636, Harvard is the oldest University in the U.S.A. and part of the prestigious Ivy League.  Each year Harvard University admits one Moldovan high schooler, and this Autumn two young women will begin their studies at Harvard College. During the same period, the University’s campus usually accommodates several other Moldovan students, who are pursuing their master’s or Ph.D. degrees in different fields like law, medicine, science, business and more. 

Notable Harvard alumni include John F. Kennedy, Barack Obama and Mark Zuckerberg. I would continue by an enumeration of notable Moldovan grads of top universities, going on to inspiring careers and achievements. Fellow Moldovan citizens can even be proud of their compatriots as long as they take their abilities and diplomas to a place where there is a demand for them. However, when they abandon an attractive career or other opportunities abroad to work in Moldova, they can become inconvenient guests that raise suspicion. 

Moldova’s Prime Minister Maia Sandu, Minister of Finance Natalia Gavriliță and Minister of Economy Vadim Brînzan all hold master’s degrees from Harvard. In August, Alexandru Sonic – who holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Oxford University  – and Alexandru Voloc – who holds a master’s degree from Harvard University – became state secretaries. 

Many other public servants and consultants hold degrees from good universities all around the world. Meanwhile, others from the generation that studied during the Soviet period and did not have the possibility of applying to those universities, have since been able to enroll in short term studies or executive programs. These brought no less value to experienced professionals than full degree studies to young graduates. 

Is the competition for admission to top universities rigorous? Unquestionably. Is it expensive? Sometimes. Do students benefit from quality studies? Yes. Do degrees from top universities guarantee success in life? Of course not! Especially if success is defined as realizing personal and material interests. These questions appeared when the government composed of many Harvard graduates took office in Moldova and every time a new state dignitary turns out to hold academic degrees from top universities.  

If you want to find a job you do out of passion, then the liberal universities are a place for this. They offer the possibility of exploring a vocation in its entirety. The bachelor’s degree studies are particularly special. They offer a student the opportunity to explore all professional possibilities, and delay the moment of choosing a specialization until their third year. Even in their third year, many students at Harvard are like high school students in that they still take courses like biology or literature. But once their bachelor studies are completed they advance to studying in master’s programs, which are meant to contribute to the professional development of specialists in fields that require graduate education.

Although many students at Harvard go on to graduate with a bachelor's degree in one of the two main fields – economy and politics – all of them are thoroughly exposed to diverse subjects and fields like philosophy, mathematics, and music. A liberal education allows for the exploration of these fields and a long term view on careers, not for immediate gains such as acquiring goods for personal and group comfort.

Harvard is an ivory tower, isolated from the realities of our times. A place that provides the possibility of researching and exploring ideas, and facilitates the exchange of ideas among different people from all around the world. And Harvard’s merit-based scholarships offer recipients the opportunity to focus on developing knowledge and skills without feeling pressured by a lack of financial resources. 

The cost of a bachelor's degree at Harvard amounts to $70,000 for the 2019 academic year. To finish a bachelor's degree, the total bill can reach up to $280,000. Few students, however, pay the full bill and this is due to scholarship policy and financial assistance. The costs of a master’s are even higher, starting at $100,000 a year in tuition alone, plus the cost of living, medical insurance, etc. The scholarships awarded at the master’s level are much smaller and fewer. Scholarships are generously granted for doctoral studies, but there are fewer budget places. Bachelor’s degree studies last for four years, the master’s programs take one and a half to two years, and the doctorate can last from five to seven years. By comparison, as a result of the Bologna system (implemented in Moldova in 2009),  it is possible to complete a bachelor’s degree after just three years of studies. These financial considerations make some in Moldova suspicious of the Harvard Government, in particular of how they were able to pay for their studies. 

Studies in the U.S. are expensive compared to other countries, and the American federal system provides loans to fund studies, as most students cannot cover the exorbitant costs. An education system based on federal and state loans is a hidden advantage for international students, who, being non-U.S. citizens, can only benefit from institutional scholarships, not from federal loans. On the other hand, this phenomenon reduces access to many other state universities run by public money, where fees are lower. 

It seems paradoxical, but it is financially advantageous for international students to compete for merit scholarships at Harvard. Admission rates are competitive and the chances for students from poor countries to win a full scholarship are even lower. More important than the admission to Harvard is obtaining a scholarship, which most Moldovan citizens earn year by year. As in the education system of the Republic of Moldova, there is a difference between being admitted on the budget versus being admitted on a contract. In recent years, the Harvard Foundation has made it possible for more and more students to receive scholarships and financial assistance, due to its foundation, which is the largest private academic foundation managing $39 billion.

Of course, school can not teach you the values ​​of public interest. This abstraction from daily necessities and personal interest is a much deeper value, one of the oldest lessons in Christianity. Even in times and places where scarcity and shortages led to mercenary and conditional relationships, there were always people who resisted and upheld their morals. But there were also many who corrupted their professions, pursuing only personal interests. 

The field of justice and law in Moldova is perhaps the most prejudiced in this regard. In a period of political change, numerous resignations and appointments to government, Moldovan society needs the hope that a broken system can be restored on the right criteria,  on merit. The Harvard Government offers this promise. But a diploma, no matter how beautiful it may be, does not offer any guarantee for success. Only the actions of each leader can justify or disappoint these promises.

/Materials from Ziarul de Gardă. Courtesy of the Russian Language News Exchange.