Education data awaits audit

  • 2012-11-28
  • From wire reports

Roberts Kilis leading the reform.

RIGA - The Education and Science Ministry’s alternative assessment of Latvian universities and colleges’ curricula, based on the Higher Education Council’s quantitative data, will not be used in the distribution of national budget funds among higher education schools until the Education and Science Ministry completes an audit of the Higher Education Council’s data, said Education and Science Minister Roberts Kilis’ advisor Reinis Tukiss, reports LETA. The ministry says it has information that Higher Education Council members themselves filled out part of the curricula assessment forms, and the Ministry’s evaluation of universities and colleges’ curricula is based on this quantitative analysis.

The Education and Science Ministry will nevertheless observe its principle that budget funds only go to quality curricula, and study programs that are of poor quality could receive budget funding only in exceptional cases - if they have no alternatives or if employers demand this.

The Education and Science Ministry’s talks with universities and colleges will be based on experts’ qualitative assessments until verification of the Higher Education Council’s quantitative data concludes.
Currently, the Education and Science Ministry is holding talks with several audit companies.
But there is unrest among those who are being impacted by Kilis’ plans.

On Nov. 22, the Senate of Riga Technical University (RTU) unanimously decided to express “no confidence” in Kilis and demand his resignation, said Riga Technical University Student Parliament President Juris Iljins. The RTU Senate also decided to declare “no confidence” in the ministry overall.
The Senate will request that the prime minister rate Kilis’ actions, as it does not see “sensible reforms.’
Kilis had promised to attend the Nov. 22 RTU Senate meeting, but had suddenly become ill on the way over. “This is what we were told,” said Iljins.

The higher education evaluation was awaited with grand expectations – to finally determine which university education programs offer the best education experience in Latvia, writes BNN. In order to determine this, 237 local and foreign experts were called in. The European Social Fund provided 1 million lats (1.4 million euros) for this initiative. A unique research project was planned - to evaluate Latvia’s university education programs in accordance with European methods and standards, reports TV3’s Neka Personiga (Nothing Personal) program.
Fifty-nine universities and colleges and a total of 857 education programs participated in the project.

Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis (Unity) told reporters on Nov. 22 that he planned to meet with a number of educators from Latvian universities and colleges to get their view of the controversial evaluation of study programs. The prime minister said that he heard Education Minister Kilis’ assessment of the strained situation today. He pointed out that right now, in debating the allocation of funding for higher education institutions, the disputed evaluation is being ignored.
Therefore, he wants to hear what educators have to say on the issue, and then he will decide on further action.
The Higher Education Council, in an open letter to Dombrovskis, had requested a meeting with him to provide objective information on the evaluation.

Commenting on Kilis’ statement that data in the Higher Education Council’s assessment of higher education curricula in Latvia and proposals for improving the quality of higher education had been forged, the Higher Education Council’s chairman Janis Vetra said that the data were tampered with by Kilis and the Education and Science Ministry’s employees, not the Higher Education Council.

It would be wrong to question the veracity of the Higher Education Council’s assessment, because 230 experts participated in the assessment procedure and it continued for over a year. After Kilis and his ministry added their data to the assessment, the data was certainly manipulated, Vetra said in an interview with Latvian State Radio on Nov. 20.
As for Kilis’ statement that the Higher Education Council’s assessment needs to be audited, Vetra said that if Kilis, who is also a member of the Higher Education Council, had participated in at least one of the twenty meetings of the council where the assessment procedure, methodology and experts were discussed, no such audit would have been necessary.

Vetra also says that the Higher Education Council’s dialogue with the Science and Education Ministry leaves a lot to be desired - although he has applied for a meeting with Kilis a long time ago, the meeting has still not taken place.
In an interview with TV3 television on Nov. 18, Kilis said that up to 25 percent of forms submitted by foreign experts participating in the assessment of the Latvian higher education system were nearly identical, which is almost impossible. Also, part of the foreign experts participating in the assessment left without filling out the forms, and these forms were filled out after that.

“This makes us believe that the data, which we were using fully trusting the Higher Education Council, an authoritative organization, may be of inadequate quality,” explained Kilis.
Last week, Kilis said that the mounting criticism of the ministry for the controversial evaluation of universities’ curricula should actually be addressed to the Higher Education Council and its head, Janis Vetra, because the council might have altered the findings of foreign experts.

Nonetheless, everyone agrees that a project of this scale should not have been carried out in a hurry - experts only had a week (otherwise Latvia could have lost European money). There was also the need to finish before September, when education program accreditation begins. It is also noted that the amount of allocated funding turned out to be smaller than expected.