Sfantu Gheorghe is located in the central, historical region of Transylvania. The majority of the population is made up of Hungarians (77%), with 22% identifying as Romanians and most of the remaining population as Roma.
Like most Eastern European cities of the same size, lack of employment, increasing social inequality and out-migration of young people are the greatest challenges facing Sfantu Gheorghe. In the past decade, the number of 15 - 24 year olds decreased by 48%, whereas the number of 65+ increased by 66%. Although the educational infrastructure of the region is adequate (4 high schools, 4 vocational schools, 1 art school) and average attainment rates are above the national average, some schools are falling behind drastically. The lower-performing high schools and vocational colleges are largely attended by pupils from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and poor access to existing educational, economic and cultural resources.
The city lacks a coherent youth policy which could respond to the needs of these young people, and support them through secondary education and into employment. Several projects have been launched by the municipality in the past years, in an effort to tackle social inequalities by understanding the roots of migration of young people, to increase active citizenship and to support Roma people. The CLLD programme is so far the biggest investment project in the field of social interventions.
Through UPLIFT the city of Sfantu Gheorghe will establish a scheme targeted at young people who are not in education, employment or training (NEET) and other at-risk groups. Additionally the city aims to develop capacity for education programmes and vocational schools, so that higher retainment rates and educational outcomes can be achieved. Further, a pilot program is being launched for young people still in full-time education (15 - 18 years old) and those in the NEET group (15 - 29 years old), in order to develop their skills and improve employability.
Problem statement and target group
Drop-out from school is a serious problem in Romania, particularly among vulnerable and deprived groups such as the Roma population. Sfȃntu Gheorge, a town with a bit more than 50,000 inhabitants in the centre of Romania, is no exception to this. Due to lack of coherent policies and insufficient coordination between the responsible partners, Sfȃntu Gheorge is in need for better solutions for the school drop-out problem. UPLIFT offers the opportunity to create such solutions in close collaboration with their target group: vulnerable young people in the school age. The objective is to carry out a participatory process of development of local education policies in Sfȃntu Gheorghe. This policy development should result in solutions that enable disadvantaged youth to enter, and stay in, mainstream education, that improve educational outcomes, including in remedial education (Second Chance), and that integrate youth support services with educational services.
Sfȃntu Gheorge currently does not have coherent youth and educational policies; The institutional context can best be described as fragmented. That is the reason why the UPLIFT research starts with a comprehensive preparatory phase (with interviews and consultation meetings), in which relevant stakeholders are identified and suitable collaborating partners are sought for. These preparatory activities will result in a stakeholder group (possibly split up into an inner and an outer circle) that will likely consist of several municipal services and NGOs in the field of education, child protection, social services and employment.
The disadvantaged young people will be represented by a youth reflection group (15 to 20 members) and a youth board (4to 5 members). The youth reflection group will participate in consultations and will benefit from several capacity building activities that will prepare them to better articulate their needs and vision. The Youth Board will have approximately 4 to 5 members who will benefit from preparatory training and who will participate fully in the co-creation process. Members of the youth board and the youth reflection group will be recruited through a range of activities:posters, school presentations, individual recruitment, peer to peer recruitment and the use of social media.
The local action plan envisages a clearly structured co-creation process that consists of several stages.
In the first stage of the co-creation process, the institutional stakeholder group and the youth group (youth board and youth reflection group) will work in parallel to each other. In each group, the process starts with trust and capability building. After that, the focus is on an inventory of the problems encountered by the youth, as well as on possible solutions for these problems. Various focus group discussion techniques will be used to facilitate this process.
In the second stage of the co-creation process, the institutional stakeholder group and the youth group will work together on the creation of joint reflexive policy agenda. In this stage, the focus is on building a common ground, negotiation and co-decision, following a specific methodology that will be developed in due course. The outcome of this stage isa draft local policy document (agenda and action plan) that targets the main interventions necessary to improve the situation of vulnerable youth in Sfȃntu Gheorghe.
In the third stage of the co-creation process, the draft local policy document is presented to the municipality (which is also part of the institutional group) and support of the local municipal council is sought for. In this stage, it is decided which elements of the plan will really be implemented in the last stage of the process (stage four).