Through the “Romania Higher Education Programme Loan”, the European Investment Bank has pledged an EUR 100 million higher education investment initiative to support and enhance research, academic and student facilities in Romanian universities. Business Review decided to sit down with the very people involved on the receiving end of this investment and find out how they managed to capitalise on the EIB support to turn it into a real success story.
Vasile Topa, the Rector of the Technical University of Cluj-Napoca, tells Business Review about the significance of the financial support that the institution has received from the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the positive impact it will have on both the university’s students and the wider society.
By Anda Sebesi
Romania must make efforts to retain its highly qualified workforce, as it can contribute to the development of the local economy. What do universities need in order to persuade the specialists they train to stay in the country?
The local higher education system is facing multiple major challenges right now, which are mainly generated by the growth of new technologies and the sudden and unplanned switch to online education. Universities are therefore expected to accelerate the integration of innovative elements into their current practices, and this will generate a wide variety of changes at all levels of the teaching-learning-evaluation process. Customised educational tools that are better adapted to students’ needs or new forms of communication and know-how transfer are just some of the areas where new technologies are likely to make their mark. The Technical University of Cluj-Napoca (UTCN) has adopted a comprehensive and ambitious strategic plan that establishes the use of new technologies and the development of digital skills in connection with labour market trends as the major hallmarks of the future. At the same time, our university will develop and implement educational programmes which are relevant to the new era of industry 4.0, where smart specialisations and artificial intelligence are among the many skills that students will acquire. And since UTCN is part of the European University of Technology (EUt+) consortium, along with eight other partner universities in Europe, we aim to expand internship opportunities for our students and support the educational process with competitive infrastructure and advanced technologies and, above all, to work with large partner companies to build solid tools that will support our graduates’ training and integration into the local, regional and national business ecosystems.
The European Investment Bank is one of your financial partners, and it supports the development of projects that play a crucial role in achieving the goals you mentioned above. How will the loan that your university has received from the EIB impact the university and society as a whole?
The loan received by our university was granted by the European Fund for Strategic Investments and it was the first financial assistance provided by the EIB to a Romanian university, as part of the programme called “Romanian Higher Education Programme Loan” launched in early 2020. The EUR 21 million loan will be offered over a 25-year period and it will provide the co-financing of a EUR 44 million capital investment that our university will be making in the coming period. This ambitious plan of modernisation and development will help us achieve our strategic goals more quickly and it represents our contribution to improving the life, learning, research, and innovation conditions we offer our students and academic staff. It will have a huge impact and allow the creation of new jobs in fields like education and research at high standards of quality and performance. All of these will contribute to a larger number of highly qualified graduates, a crucial factor in enhancing development and innovation activities in smart specialisation fields, ensuring the much-needed support needed in the Romanian social and economic environment.
What will be the main results of the implementation of the EIB loan?
Our investment plan includes the upgrade of the educational infrastructure for smart specialisations in three of our existing buildings, the creation of the UT Cluj Hub which will comprise a conference centre with multifunctional rooms, an exhibition and product showcase space, workshop rooms, co-working and spin-off areas, and food courts. The investment will also include the construction of a new building for the Artificial Intelligence Research Institute, which will host 20 laboratories featuring state-of-the art equipment and accommodate over 250 researchers, PhD students and postdoctoral fellows.
Improving quality of life for students in our campus is another one of our priorities. We aim to increase comfort in our accommodation halls, through refurbishment, redesign, and upgrade works. Our library and cafeteria will be redesigned and equipped to the highest standards. Throughout this investment programme, we aim to significantly improve the energy efficiency of our buildings, which will lead to a drop in our energy-related costs and carbon footprint. About 46 percent of the investments will go towards improving our energy efficiency as a result of the fact that all the projects will be built using the near Zero Energy Building (nZEB) standard.
In your view, what role will the EIB financial support play in the academic world in general and, by extension, in the lives of specialists generated by the higher education system?
The EIB programme through which our university obtained this financial support will be carried out between 2021 and 2025 and it will continue to support the development of Romania’s higher education system. This long-term endeavour follows the EUR 25 million financial agreement signed by the EIB and the Politehnica University of Bucharest in 2019, a project that has been a real success and that was replicated throughout the new programme. This financial support meets the local education system’s real and persistent need for infrastructure and high-performance equipment, which enables modern and high-quality educational and research processes. Furthermore, it will allow educational and research processes to accelerate their adoption of new technologies, leading to the consolidation of academic and scientific excellence, increase the quality of education, research, and innovation, and prove that visionary investments in the higher education system are crucial for a strong and sustainable economy. Romanian universities will thus be able to reduce the number of students who choose to specialise abroad and become more attractive for foreign students.
The European Investment Bank (EIB) is the long-term lending institution of the European Union. Its shareholders are the EU Member States, and its mission is to foster European integration, promote the development of the EU and support EU policies, by financing financially sound and environmentally sustainable projects. The EIB raises funds on the international capital markets and passes on favourable borrowing conditions to its clients. To date, it is the world’s largest multilateral lender and the leading provider of climate finance, with over €1.5 trillion invested and more than 14,000 projects financed in over 160 countries, in some 60 years of activity. It is headquartered in Luxembourg and has 51 representation offices around the world, counting on a total of around 3,500 staff. Since the beginning of its operations in Romania (1991), the Bank has signed EUR 15.2bn of financing in favour of projects contributing to the Country’s economic and financial development. In 2020, EIB lending in Romania amounted to EUR 460m, with 15 transactions signed with public sector counterparts, banks and corporates. The EIB Group includes, beside the EIB, also the European Investment Fund (EIF), which counts on more than 400 professionals and is specialized in providing risk finance to small and medium-sized enterprises.
The European Investment Advisory Hub (EIAH) is a partnership between the EIB Group and the European Commission as a part of the Investment Plan for Europe. It is designed to act as a single point of entry to a comprehensive offer of advisory services and technical assistance, aiming at providing targeted support to identify, prepare and develop investment projects across the European Union. It supports both public and private project promoters.