Prohibition to implement programs in Russian at private universities is in line with Constitution, but not in the official languages of the EU

  • 2023-02-09
  • LETA/TBT Staff

RIGA - Restrictions on private universities implementing study programs in the official languages of the European Union (EU) do not comply with the Constitution, but restrictions on other foreign languages do, the Constitutional Court (ST) has concluded.

This means that private universities may have study programs in, for example, English, but not in Russian, which is not an official language of the EU.

On Thursday, the court announced the decision in the case regarding the norms of the Higher Education Law, which determine the implementation of study programs of higher education institutions and colleges in the national language.

The contested norms stipulate that study programs in universities and colleges are implemented in the national language.

The ST explained that the use of foreign languages in the implementation of study programs is possible only in the cases mentioned below.

First of all, study programs that foreign students study in Latvia and study programs that are implemented within the framework of EU programs and international agreements can be implemented in the official languages of the EU. For foreign students, the mandatory scope of study courses includes learning the national language, if the studies in Latvia are expected to last longer than six months or exceed 20 credit points.

Secondly, no more than one-fifth of the credit points of the study program can be implemented in the official languages of the EU, taking into account that this part cannot include final and national exams, as well as qualifications and bachelor's and master's theses.

Thirdly, study programs, the implementation of which in a foreign language is necessary to achieve the goals of the study program, according to the classification of Latvian education in the following groups of educational programs: language and cultural studies, language programs. The Licensing Commission decides on the conformity of the study program to the educational program groups.

Fourthly, joint study programs may be implemented in EU official languages.

The case was initiated after an application from 20 MPs of the 13th Saeima. In the opinion of the applicant, the disputed norms limit the right of private universities to conduct commercial activities. The contested norms prevented the implementation of already licensed and accredited study programs in foreign languages, and the legislator has not ensured a gentle transition to the new legal framework.

Likewise, the disputed norms have restricted the freedom of entrepreneurship and business activity for citizens and companies of EU member states who wanted to establish private universities in Latvia in order to provide higher education services.

The applicant believes that the restriction of fundamental rights is disproportionate, since the legitimate goals - promotion of the use of the national language and preservation of national identity - can be achieved with less restrictive means of fundamental rights, which would allow a wider use of foreign languages. Also, a fair balance between the interests of private universities and the interests of society has not been achieved.

Analyzing whether the contested norms comply with the Constitution, the court concluded that the restriction was established by a law adopted in due course. It also has legitimate goals - the protection of democratic institutions and the rights of other persons - because the contested norms strengthen the role of the national language in higher education and promote the skills of using the national language, protecting the right of Latvian nationals to use the national language.

According to the ST, the means selected by the legislator are suitable for achieving the legitimate goals. Every person is provided with the opportunity to fully participate in the democratic processes of the state and society, and the right of Latvian nationals to use the national language in mutual communication is protected.