Law school future likely decided

  • 2005-06-29
  • By Aaron Eglitis
RIGA - The long running battle over the future of the Riga Graduate School of Law came to a close as the Cabinet of Ministers accepted the University of Latvia's proposal on June 21 to take over the financially troubled institution.

The state agreed to pay 250,000 lats (356,000 euors) for Sweden's 51 percent share in the school sometime before October.

Now the agreement must be accepted by the Swedish side, which is expected to take place on July 7, according to Erland Ringborg, head of the board of the Riga Graduate School of Law. A final meeting has been scheduled for August to oversee the transfer.

Yet, the education ministry has declined to publicize the proposal, saying that, while the document is neither confidential nor secret, it will not be released until signed by the Swedish side. The ministry also refused to answer questions about what the proposal contained.

What's more, a picture of the graduate school appeared on the University of Latvia homepage shortly after the decision was announced.

Many remain unsure of how the situation will play out: the number of professors who will remain and the school's autonomy are both up in the air. Meanwhile, Ringborg admitted that there needed to be more clarity on the Latvian side.

The University of Latvia won a bid over the Stockholm School of Economics Riga, which shares the same facilities as the law school.

Earlier this year, the Riga Graduate School of Law, which is housed in one of the most impressive buildings in all Latvia, finally succumbed to budget pressure. It was saddled with a large debt directly related to its refurbishment costs, an unrealistic business plan, high salaries for foreign professors and unfavorable lease deals.

The financial strain ultimately lead to its undoing, after the first payments on a 2.5 million-lat loan came due from the Nordic Investment Bank. The law school was unable to honor the debt after two of its owners, the Swedish government and the Soros Foundation Latvia, suspended funding until a final solution could be worked out. This, in turn, set off the crisis.

For many, the takeover solution raises new questions. Critics have bemoaned and pilloried the proposed merger with the University of Latvia, citing lower standards of education and an old guard of professors. The idea for the merger between the two universities was initially proposed by the graduate school, which later had some misgivings that were published in an open letter.

The merger, however, will reportedly leave the graduate school autonomous within the university, itself an enormous institution. It is now expected that some of the law school's foreign faculty will be retrained, albeit with lower salaries. This information, however, comes from media reports, and could not be confirmed since the Education Ministry declined to comment.

Relations between the two law faculties have reportedly been strained for some time, as the graduate school has enjoyed lavish funding, facilities, foreign faculty and small class sizes. The school's law faculty was considered one of the biggest departments in the university.

The graduate institution will be renamed the University of Latvia Riga Graduate School of Law, and will continue enrolling master's students this year, Minister of Science and Education Ina Druviete reportedly said after a seven hour meeting on the institution's future.

All that remains to complete the sale is the drafting of an intergovernmental agreement.

The Soros Foundation gave the Art Noveau building to the graduate school as a endowment for future expenditures, yet it was the costly refurbishment of the asset that ultimately lead to a fiscally untenable situation. The decline in the value of the Swedish kronor also strained the graduate school's budget. The law school was founded to serve as a graduate level education facility for the Baltic states, and move along needed reform by providing the essential education and training in law.