Modern persuasions and foreign liaisons

  • 2008-12-03
  • By Matt Withers

BALTIC LEARNING: Students from all over the world have chosen to study in the Baltics, while many professors prefer working in the three countries over higher education establishments in the West.

Higher education in the Baltics has come a long way from the forced memorization of Soviet days, but most universities in the three countries still have far to go to reach Western standards. Nonetheless, as Baltic research flourishes and more youths become interested in pursuing a university degree, the higher education system is constantly getting better. In this week's Industry Insider, we take a look at foreign students and teachers working in the Baltics, Lithuania's need for higher education reform, and Latvia's battle overcoming the Soviet legacy. For a further look at higher education in the region, see Q&A Page 14.

TALLINN - Since gaining EU membership, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have seen their historic universities rise from the ashes of the occupation and graduate to the world stage.
And while the schools remain overshadowed by well-established international institutions in the U.S. and Western Europe, the Baltic's diverse range of higher education is beginning to turn heads 's attracting healthy numbers of foreign students and academics alike.

In recent years Baltic universities and colleges, some of which date back over 400 years, appear to have shifted gears away from tradition and towards a modern, interactive and highly accessible brand of higher education. So far results have been positive.

The Baltic states have carved something of a niche for themselves, presenting international, though predominantly European, students with the opportunity to undertake an exchange year 's or even a full degree 's at institutions that deviate from the mainstream without markedly compromising the quality of education.
Add the experience of living in one the most culturally isolated and least traversed corners of Europe and it's understandable why studying at a Baltic university might appeal to the more adventurous student. That said, a large contingent of foreign students in the Baltics also have ancestral ties to their adopted place of study and simultaneously acquaint themselves with their family's homeland.

According to George Lozano, an American zoologist currently researching at the University of Tartu, there are additional benefits to studying in the Baltics. He said the university hasn't been encumbered by the student-centric shift in higher education that has plagued the U.S. system in recent years.
Ironically enough it would appear that due to the academic isolation endured by the Baltics, universities here have managed to circumvent some of the less favorable developments that have taken place at institutions in the U.S. and Western Europe.

"The quality of education has been going down in North America for the past 20 years. The shift towards teaching by non-tenured, part time, and temporary instructors, along with the proliferation of students' evaluations of teaching effectiveness 's it is hard to find a more biased group 's and the increased importance of these evaluations in promotions, has led to a severe decline in the quality of education," Lozano told The Baltic Times.

"My point is that here students have not yet developed that sense of entitlement. I have little data on this, but again, it just seems that students are a lot less likely to complain and more likely to just work hard. This should allow professors to teach challenging courses without the fear of retribution," he said.
Yet without the state funding and global integration that is enjoyed by long-established U.S. and European universities there are some inevitable limitations to the standards of education, with even highly renowned Baltic universities sometimes falling short of the mark.

"I sometimes wonder if the level of the school I am at now would be on par with some of the lower level universities back home in America," said Aras Zirgulis, a master's student at the University of Vilnius.
"Other than that, the general impression is that professors are more relaxed in that they are willing to accept student's suggestions about test and course formats. Back home that wouldn't have been possible," he told The Baltic Times.

Due to these limitations it seems that while bigger and more renowned institutions 's such as the University of Tartu and to a lesser extent the University of Latvia and the University of Vilnius 's may be able to provide qualifications with international repute, many smaller Baltic institutions are simply unable to do so. o

Webometric Assessment of Baltic Universities

Web presence measures the activity and visibility of institutions and it is a good indicator of the impact and prestige of universities. The rank summarizes the global performance of the university, provides information for candidate students and scholars, and reflects the university's commitment to the dissemination of scientific knowledge.

Tartu University
National Rank #1 - Global Rank #298

University of Latvia
National Rank #1 - Global Rank #1041

University of Vilnius
National Rank #1 - Global Rank #511