The first institutes of higher education that functioned on the territory of Romania where Academia Vasiliana (1640) founded by prince Vasile Lupu in Iasi as a "higher school for Latin and Slavonic languages" and the Academy of Bucharest opened at the end of the 17th c. by the prince Constantin Brancoveanu.

The bases for higher education in Romanian language where laid down in the 19th c.: courses for topometric engineers organised in 1814 by Gheorghe Asachi in Moldavia and by Gheorghe Lazar in Wallachia in 1818. In 1835 the Academia Mihaileana was set up in Iasi and in 1852 in Bucharest the School of Agriculture was opened, the forerunner of today's Agronomic Institute. In 1857, the National School for Medicine and Surgery was set up in Bucharest and in 1864 the National School for Bridges, Highways, Mining and
Architecture was opened to become later the nucleus of the Politechnical School in Bucharest. It was also in 1864 that the foundations of the fine arts higher education where laid down.

The first Romanian universities were established by Prince Al.I.Cuza - the University of Iasi (1860) and the Bucharest University (1864) - under whose rule was issued the first Public Education Law (1864), which regulated the whole system of school education from primary to university education. At the end of the 19th c., following a dramatic development of the educational system, different fields of education were regulated by separate pieces of legislation: the Law of Primary Education (1893), the Law of Secondary and Higher Education (1898), the Law of Vocational Education (1899).

In Transylvania, in 1872, the Cluj University was set up and in Bucovina, the University of Cernauti (1875). After 1918, the Romanian system of education was unitarily regulated by the new laws of organisation of education issued in 1924-1928.
Between the two World Wars the network of higher education institutions was strongly developed.

In 1948, after the onset of the Communist rule, education was organised by the State as a unitary highly centralised structure. Completely separated from the Church, education was accessible to all children. However, due to a structural imbalance, and a chronic lack of material resources, an effect of the economic crisis, the growth of the highereducation was inhibited, both in point of technical and material resources - chronically outdated and insufficient - and in point of number of students. In the academic year 1975/1976, there were 42 higher education institutions in 20 university centres, among them being 7 universities: Bucharest, Cluj, Iasi, Timisoara, Craiova, Brasov, Galati, with a total number of 164,567 students.

After the overthrow of the Communist rule in 1989, a major reform was initiated by the higher education institutions themselves. Under the reform programme, the number of students enrolled in the various study programmes available in Romania has been on a constant increase in the last decade, reaching 353,228 for the 1999-2000 academic year. This huge increase is also the result of the introduction of a new opportunity for the Romanian citizens to pursue studies based on tuition fees.