VILNIUS - The new Education and Science Minister, Algirdas Monkevicius, has spoken out against too many students wanting to go to university. In a statement which is bound to cause controversy in some circles he called the situation "unnatural."
About 90 percent of school graduates want to go to university directly after high school. Monkevicius said that he believes that young people should pursue vocational studies.
Monkevicius' comments reflect a situation where the government is struggling to finance higher education and keep standards up.
"We would like as many of Lithuanian citizens as possible to acquire a higher education, yet not all of them should seek higher education straight after finishing secondary school," the minister said.
Monkevicius said the nation faces a skills shortage if the situation doesn't improve.
"Lithuania now needs highly skilled people with professional qualifications. Therefore, now we encourage our young people to more actively opt to be trained as workers," he said.
At present, Lithuania brings in workers for manual labor jobs from countries like China to build infrastructure.
Some academics have supported Mockevicius stance. Dr. Aleksas Pikturna who is Pro-Rector for Administration at Vilnius University said that there were plenty of students, but the state funding is inadequate.
"The state is giving us money, but it's not enough and we have to charge the students money to study," Pikturna said.
Vilnius University, which is arguably Lithuania's most prestigious education institution has a huge number of applicants.
"We have no problems with students. We sometimes have five students going for one place," Pikturna said.
Student leaders recognize that there is a problem.
The president of the Vilnius University Student Guild, Monika SiÃ±iunaite, thinks there are too many people with a university education.
"Normally it should be based on principle of pyramid - most of people get lower education and only little number goes to university. In Lithuania the situation is reversed," she said.
Monkevicius plans to revamp the educational system by speeding up integration between higher education facilities and business centers. There will be five different programs implemented for the centers. The Education and Science Ministry plans to invest about one billion litas (290 million euros) in European Structural Funds towards this seven-year program.
In Lithuania, there are 17 institutions that call themselves universities.
Student leaders and academics claim the quality of education in some of these institutions are below par.
"Lithuania's universities can not compete with foreign ones. Mainly for low income and for lack of professionals and scientists," SiÃ±iunaite said.
The government's policy is that employees from outside the EU can only be hired if there is no local person or EU citizen to do the job.