RIGA - Education and Science Minister Roberts Kilis, back at work on Jan. 2 after undergoing heart surgery in mid-December, has accused the coalition and some in the education sector of delaying higher education reform, reports LETA.
“It is crystal clear that the chosen tactic is to stall,” the minister said at a press conference on Jan. 3, adding that this tactic is being used by some within the coalition, as well as some in the education sector.
According to the minister, discussions within the coalition on education reforms have been “extremely difficult.” Furthermore, he added that these reforms have a greater chance of being implemented by the 11th Saeima with a different government coalition makeup.
At the same time, the minister did not respond to the question whether he believes that there will be changes in the makeup of the government coalition during the tenure of the 11th Saeima. “I will not comment on this at the moment,” the minister said.
Support grows for reform
Public support for Kilis’ reforms to higher education increased in December, reaching 42.7 percent, said the minister’s advisor Reinis Tukiss. According to a survey carried out by SKDS in December, 42.7 percent of respondents said they approved of Kilis’ reforms, 27.6 percent said they opposed the reforms and 29.7 percent had no opinion. In September, 39.6 percent of respondents said they approved of the reforms.
Support for Kilis’ reforms is the highest with residents with higher education (50 percent), people with high income (60.8 percent) and residents of Vidzeme province. Low-income residents oppose Kilis’ reforms the most (only 33.6 percent support), as do Latgale Province residents and non-Latvians.
SKDS also asked respondents to evaluate individual proposals for higher education reforms. More than half the respondents said they supported all of the reforms.
Seventy-nine percent said they supported the proposal to bring more foreign lecturers to Latvia, 73 percent are for the allocation of budget funding only for quality education programs, 72 percent are in favor of attracting more foreign students to Latvian universities and colleges.
Sixty-five percent agreed that independent foreign experts should evaluate the quality of Latvian scientific institutions’ work and their competitiveness. Sixty percent said they supported the proposal for more study programs in other European Union languages, 57 percent support the proposal to allot budget funding to only competitive scientific institutes, and 56 percent support mergers of Latvian higher education institutions.
Fifty-eight percent agreed that there were too many universities, colleges and academies in Latvia. Twenty-seven percent said their number was just about right, and 4 percent said there should be more higher education institutions in Latvia.
Asked to comment on higher education quality in Latvia, 20 percent said it was high or very high, 24 percent said it is low or very low, and about half said it was satisfactory.
Kilis receives good marks
In an interview in the Jan. 3 issue of the newspaper Vesti Segodna, former Latvian President Guntis Ulmanis said that Latvian politicians have not matured enough to put national interests over their private or party interests. Commenting on what Latvia has gained from the dismissal of the 10th Saeima, Ulmanis, who was a member of the For a Good Latvia alliance led by two of Latvia’s so-called oligarchs - Andris Skele and Ainars Slesers, - which was not elected to the 11th Saeima, said that there was no basis for this.
However, he said that some good has come out of this, as the Reform Party has given Latvia several new and promising politicians. As one of the best of these new politicians, Ulmanis mentioned Minister Kilis, who, even though he has made some mistakes, is the first education minister to have the courage to carry out reforms within the stagnating education sector.
Ulmanis said that Kilis’ activities highlight one of the main problems within Latvian politics, as it seems that only Kilis himself needs these reforms, and that Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis, the government and parliament could not care less about them. He said that this situation shows that Latvian politicians are not capable of putting national interests over personal ones.
Too many Public Relations students
The government on Jan. 3 heard the Education and Science Ministry’s report on its further plans for science and higher education reform. Prime Minister Dombrovskis said that the government was accepting the report but no specific decisions would be made about the findings in the report.
The report offers an initial version of the ‘Action Plan for Higher Education and Science Reforms in 2013-2014,’ which the ministry is planning to present for public debate that would continue until April 1. Members of the Council of Higher Education Council, Rectors’ Council and other relevant non-governmental organizations will also be involved in the debate.
In the report, the Education and Science Ministry explains why the reforms are necessary and informs about the main priorities and how the reforms will proceed in order to attain the goal of quality, internationally competitive and science-based higher education offered by efficiently-run institutions with consolidated resources.
The Education and Science Ministry notes in the report that there are several problems in the Latvian higher education system - the structure of the system is not in line with Latvia’s development needs because there are too many students studying humanitarian sciences and too few studying engineering and natural sciences. The network of higher education establishments is too fragmented, which also affects the quality of higher education and makes it harder for Latvian universities and colleges to compete on the international level.
Higher education programs are quite weak - those studying for masterss and doctor’s degrees are not offered sufficiently productive environments for research, the number of doctors of science is limited, and the programs are fragmented, says the report.
The report also emphasizes insufficient international competitiveness and financing, as well as inefficient higher education management, both by the state and by universities, colleges and academies.
The Education and Science Ministry hopes to concentrate on three main areas: improving the quality of studies and scientific work, consolidation of higher education and science sector, internationalization of higher education and science and improving their international competitiveness.
In order to improve the quality of studies and scientific work, a new system for accreditation of higher education institutions and a new quality management model will be introduced, as well as a new financing model.
Consolidation of the higher education and science sector will include consolidation of the higher education sector’s resources at institutions with the necessary capacity and quality, whereas science and research resources will be concentrated at national research centers. Also, international assessment of scientific institutions is planned, the result of which only competitive scientific institutions will be offered budget funding.