For the year 2000, adult illiteracy was estimated at 1.8% (males, 0.9%; females, 2.7%). In 1948, the government established compulsory education for at least four years in rural areas and for seven years in urban areas, with the hope that the seven-year school would be general. A decree of 30 September 1961 provided for the transition to an eight-year general, compulsory, and free education for children between 7 and 15 years of age; since 1968, the compulsory span has lengthened to 10 years. According to the Education Law of 1978, Romania's educational system consists of preschool (ages three–six), primary school (grades one–four), gymnasium (grades five–eight), lyceum or college in two steps (each consisting of two years), vocational schools and schools for foremen, higher education, and postgraduate education. The number of years of primary school was reduced from eight to four in 1989, and the number of years of secondary school was correspondingly increased from four to eight. As of 1999, public expenditure on education was estimated at 4.4% of GDP.
In 1997, there were 6,188 primary schools with 1,405,308 students and a total teaching staff of 71,829. Student-to-teacher ratio stood at 20 to 1. At the secondary level in 1997, students numbered 2,212,090, and teachers totaled 175,958. The pupil-teacher ratio at the primary level was estimated at 19 to 1 in 1999. In the same year, 93% of primary-school-age children were enrolled in school, while 76% of those eligible attended secondary school. Institutions of higher learning had 263,310 students and 26,310 teachers in 1997.
Admission to an advanced institution depends on a variety of factors, including the student's social background. Over half the students receive government assistance. Yearly quotas are established by the Ministry of Education according to manpower needs. Students in some fields must first complete six months of practical work in industry or agriculture.
In 1959, the Romanian Victor Babes University (founded 1919) and the János Bolyai University (1945) for Hungarian minority students, both in Cluj-Napoca, were merged into the Babes-Bolyai University in order to strengthen "socialist patriotism." There are six other universities—in Bucharest (founded in 1864), Brasov (1971), Craiova (1966), Galati (1948), Iasi (1860), and Timisoara (1962).
Like the other formerly Communist countries, Romania has emphasized polytechnic education in recent years. This "link of education with life" in the early grades means studying practical subjects; however, beginning in the upper grades there are work programs, often directly in enterprises, in workshops, or on collective farms, depending on the locality.