From the beginning of the nineties of the past century, Partium Christian University (Oradea, Romania) had a continuous relationship of cooperation with the Department of Sociology of Debrecen University (Hungary). Our joint research projects focused mainly on the characteristics of economic and social life in the two sides of the shared border region between Hungary ad Romania, on the emerging new social trends and institutions, as well as on opportunities for regional development and cross-border cooperation.


During the past fifteen years, the advancing process of European integration produced major changes in the situation of the two countries, which reached a critical point at the beginning of the new millennium, when most of the previously agreed concepts and approaches seemed to fell apart.  The fact that Hungary joined the EU in 2004, while Romania as a short term accession country will likely join in 2007 or even later, proved to be particularly important in this regard. It became clear that the diverging contexts of the two countries would require distinct research approaches and political strategies.  In the same time, however, the necessity to think about cross-border regional development in mutually agreed terms remained, of course, as imperative as before.


Recognizing this need, the two already mentioned Sociology departments located at the two sides of the border, but nevertheless geographically and spiritually so close to each other, decided to hold discussions in order to see what kind of educational response would be most adequate for the challenges posed by the different pace of EU enlargement in the two countries. As the outcome of these discussions, we identified three basic problems which needed to be addressed:



1. Lack of interdisciplinary and integrated approach in teaching social sciences


In spite of the increasing importance of regional thinking and understanding in shaping the future economic, social and cultural development of the new Europe, we found that these processes are not adequately reflected in the structure and content of higher education at our institutions. The curricula of both universities include several subjects (particularly those focusing on the various classical fields of economic and social sciences), which were dealing with problems related to regional development and cooperation (e.g.: cross-border cooperation, spatial and environmental problems, migration, labor markets, regional economics, ethnic and cultural studies).  There was no, however, any single academic discipline to adopt a region centered interdisciplinary approach, in which the multiplicity of economic, social, political and cultural factors are to considered in their mutual influence.


2. Accent on memorizing, on accumulating theoretical and factual knowledge, rather than on developing long term professional skills


At both universities, university curricula of most social science disciplines were designed in such a way as to promote a mono-directional flow of information, from lecturers towards students, rather than the another way around. This situation denotes the survival of a traditional view on education, which primarily valued passive assimilation and verbal reproduction of knowledge, rather than the development of essential professional skills. Such curricula structure is sharply contrasting the contemporary job-market requirements, the increasing demand for highly qualified, flexible and practice-oriented social experts able to respond to the need of building up new structures compatible with EU standards.


3.  Increasing distance between the perceptions of current social reality by the students from Romania and Hungary


The outcome of joined or mutually supervised research projects conducted in the past few years in partnership by specialists from the Partium University and Debrecen University indicated an increasing distance and differentiation in the way of thinking of the population and the emerging of distinct approaches to the integration process in the case of various population segments living in the Romania and those living in Hungary, including members of the emerging youth professional elite. We found that this differentiation originates mainly in the differences of perceptions caused by differences of economic development, political culture and the mentality of people, which are only amplified by the different EU integration calendar of the two states.


We presupposed, and indeed, our day to day teaching experience confirmed, that such differences of outlook are also reflected in the often divergent and even contradictory views shared by the students educated in the two countries. We estimated that the emerging of incompatible views of future specialists in the fields connected with regional institution-building and cooperation might have a negative effect on the development of an adequate understanding of global/local dynamics in view of European integration objectives, so this phenomenon needs to be overcome, or at least, to become attenuated. 


Thus the major question posed for us as university educators was how to integrate this diversity of thinking and perceptions into a new, superior unity of shared theoretical and methodological vision.  We needed to find the optimal framework in order to be able to discuss with our students concerning their views, both in term of similarity and difference.