Law school deal nearing completion

  • 2005-11-02
  • By Aaron Eglitis
RIGA - The fate of the troubled Riga Graduate School of Law edged toward a conclusion as a key document between the Latvian and Swedish governments transferring ownership to the University of Latvia was scheduled to be signed.
Concerns remained over the school's independence, funding and academic qualifications.
Nothing exists in writing concerning the future of some aspects of the institution 's what professors will be kept, or even who will occupy the school's magnificent building. Indeed, the Ministry of Education reportedly forgot to include money in next year's budget to keep the school running. The problem was rectified after a meeting with the Finance Ministry.

"The mood is cautious optimism," John Burke, current head of the law school, said. He cited strong support from the rector of the University of Latvia, Ivars Lacis.

The school's immediate plans focus on "revising the curriculum, and raising the level of sophistication since the university is no longer considered a remedial institution," Burke added.

Relations between the University of Latvia's law faculty and the Riga Graduate School of Law were always tense, partly due to the graduate school's superior facilities and higher salaries for its faculty.

In the run up to the decision to merge, relations appeared to reach a new low as an open letter in Diena was published by the Riga Graduate School of Law's former students and faculty opposed to the incorporation.

The dean of the University of Latvia's law school at the time stated that the Riga Graduate School had no staff to speak of.

The University of Latvia won out in taking over the debt-ridden graduate university when its proposal was accepted over a competing one by the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga, another joint Swedish-Latvian educational institute. It is located next door to the Riga Graduate School of Law.

The agreement between the Swedish and Latvian governments is expected to be signed Nov. 7. It will transfer the Swedes' 51 percent share to the Latvian government, while the Swedish government will give 250,000 lats (357,000 euros) to Latvia to help pay back a loan to the Nordic Investment Bank that had been granted to the law school. The exact sum will be returned to Sweden by the end of the year.

In the future the debt is expected to be refinanced by taking a loan against the building, something that could not be done previously due to a contractual provision.

The graduate law school is housed in one of the most ornate buildings in the city, on the legendary Alberts' Street, home to some of the most impressive Art Nouveau architecture in Europe. It will also be transferred to the state university.

The graduate law school was created by an intergovernmental agreement between the Swedish and Latvian governments to speed up economic reform by educating a new class of lawyers with foreign faculty trained in international law. Tuition was free, and attendance was open only to Balts.

The institution, however, was saddled with huge debts related to the costly refurbishment of their facilities and to high salaries, though poor management also played a role.