RIGA - More than 1,000 Latvian students rallied in Riga on May 5 to protest controversial cuts to the education sector.
Students from across Latvia marched from Dome Square in the Old Town to the Cabinet of Ministers building, where protesters sang songs and waved placards reading "Latvians 's the cheapest students in Europe" and "We don't ask a lot: Just education."
Marchers also stopped outside of the Education and Science Ministry on Valnu Street, where students laid books and flowers by its doors.
The demonstration, which remained peaceful throughout, attracted a heavy police presence.
In a show of solidarity for Latvia, a small delegation of international students was also in attendance.
Students are protesting against the government's decision to substantially cut funds for education, and have called for improvements to the higher education system in Latvia.
President of Latvijas Studentu Apvieniba (Students' Association of Latvia) Krists Avots told The Baltic Times the government's severe cuts posed a risk to education quality and standards in Latvia.
"This is quite a critical situation for the government and for universities... From what we can see these sorts of cuts means Latvia will produce fewer specialists; fewer students will have their social payments and another thing is that universities will have to search for alternative sources of financing," he said.
The association has delivered five key demands to the government mostly pertaining to increased social provisions for students.
These demands include reforms to the distribution of student stipends, the implementation of independent university advisory boards, and improvements in the student loan system and university administration bodies.
"Firstly this [protest action] shows that students can unite. We understand that there is limited budget, but we would like to see some structural reform to improve education quality," said Avots.
Last month student groups staged smaller protests outside the entrances to university campuses across the city where they crafted wooden bird boxes and baked potatoes atop barbecues.
The symbolic gestures were carried out to highlight the financial difficulties currently facing students, who are struggling to pay for basic living costs including rent and food while simultaneously trying to finance their studies.
This latest protest follows an April 2 demonstration which saw some 10,000 education and science workers take to the streets to demand better working conditions and protest against cuts in education spending.
Between 2,000 and 4,000 teachers stand to lose their jobs come Sept. 1 under radical cuts planned in the education sector.
Wide ranging government reforms in the education sector include closures and funding cuts to vocational schools, scientific institutions, state universities and colleges.
Public sector employees including teachers are also facing hefty wage cuts of between 20 and 40 percent.
The move comes as the government struggles to trim its ministerial budget in line with requirements of a 7.5 billion euro bailout package brokered by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to help prop up Latvia's ailing economy.
The May 5 protest was the largest student-led protest since 2000 which followed the then government's plans to dramatically cut student stipends.