BUCHAREST, Romania — Romania's education ministry is defending cuts in education spending that will hit the country's oldest and most prestigious universities.

The ministry said Thursday it is investing in new higher education priorities such as IT, security, climate change and health, subjects for which there will be 5,000 more places next year.

The reaction came amid allegations that universities critical of the ruling Social Democratic Party and Education Minister Valentin Popa have been targeted, while smaller universities whose rectors supported Popa have been rewarded. Nine out of Romania's 56 state universities will see budget cuts.

Rectors of the University of Bucharest and West University of Timisoara called the cuts "arbitrary" and threatened to file lawsuits.

The Babes-Bolyai University and the Alexandru Ioan Cuza University, both considered elite institutions, will also see places cut.