The factors influencing students' satisfaction and the impact of educational experience on this important facet of any educational system haven't been of strong interest in Romania until recent years, when efforts started to be directed towards this important aspect of research. During recent years, competition among higher education institutions in Romania also evolved from a very low one (almost absent) to a high leveled and increasing one nowadays. In this situation, identifying and properly managing key-factors of student satisfaction is extremely important both from the perspective of student loyalty and success in the student recruitment process. This research, carried out on a representative cluster of the Romanian students' community--the Faculty of Economics and Business Administration of the Babes Bolyai University of Cluj-Napoca--is meant to identify and analyze the important and influential dimensions of student satisfaction. By means of adequate marketing research instruments and statistical data analysis, the authors suggest management directions for the Romanian higher education system, in order to increase the satisfaction level of own students as core driver of their loyalty, as well as for any internationally oriented higher education institution who tries to recruit Romanian students.
Keywords: Student Satisfaction; Higher Education; Educational Experience.
1. BACKGROUND AND LITERATURE REVIEW
1.1 Contemporary context in Central-Eastern European higher education
Certain trends can be identified nowadays among European educational systems, one of the most important being the growing relative number of students simultaneously with concentration processes in different countries and different specializations (Zait, 2006). Still, in the context of a decreasing birth rate, of the governments' priorities given to educational quality and of the public financing reduction, many European countries have suffered decreases in absolute number of students (Alves, 2005).
All around the world and especially in Europe, universities are coping with the need to adapt and adjust to significant changes (Bratianu, 2002). Stronger competition among universities is generated by the internationalization of education and research, due to new informational and communication technologies, and due to the proliferation of organizations generating knowledge beyond the traditional relations between universities and the companies in a certain region. Another important change consists of reorganization of knowledge, which involves the fact that knowledge diversity and specialization must be harmonized with the need for the academic world to adapt rapidly to the interdisciplinary character of the fields arising form the major problems of society. Last but not least, new expectations emerge from a knowledge-based economy and society: horizontal skills and lifelong learning.
Financial difficulties also put higher education's principles and values in danger. Moreover, Europeans ad to these financial difficulties another negative aspect: ideas and values conflicts in higher education--client (student) orientation versus product orientation (skills demanded by the market), mass education versus elite education, traditionalist versus modern etc.
Especially in developing countries from the Central-Eastern Europe, there are concerns about the quality of educational processes, students' evaluation procedures and results and the public's often negative perception on all of these aspects. These countries confront themselves with the same difficulties presented above, but at a higher intensity and with stronger negative consequences.
A study recently conducted in Hungary in one of the most representative higher education center--Budapest--showed that financing, managing a large number of students and the educational process's quality along with their perception among students and other categories of public are the essential problems in the Hungarian higher education (Kovesi, Szabo and Bota, 2004).
A recent research conducted in Romania in one of the largest academic city--Iasi--representative for the Romanian students' community, tried to identify perceptions regarding Romanian higher education among five categories of stakeholders: high school students, former students, university professors, employers and, last but not least, …