Education policy in Latvia: urgent reforms are needed

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The number of students in Latvia during the last two decades dramatically decreased: from about 131 thousand in 2005 to 74 thousand presently. About half of the students enrolled in 52 higher education institutions are in bachelor programs, about a quarter at masters’ level, three percent are in doctoral programs, plus about 20 percent are in colleges. Our comment follows in the conclusion.  

Background: present statistics
According to Latvian Central Statistical Bureau, published this February, more than a third part of students, i.e. 35.3 percent, or 4.9 thousand obtained degrees in social sciences, business and law and about 20 percent or 2.7 thousand in health and welfare.
From about 14.000 graduates in 2023, which was about 5 percent fewer than a year before, more than a third (35.3 percent, or 4.900) was in social sciences, business and law, and about 20 percent, or 2.7 thousand in health and welfare. Engineering, manufacturing and construction programs attracted 1.500, or 11 percent of all graduates. Totally, the number of Latvian higher education institution graduates has declined by 35 per cent, or by 7.6 thousand during the last decade. A positive side is that women are making about half of the graduates, i.e. 16.500.

There are presently 52 higher education institutions, HEIs in Latvia: 28 universities and 24 colleges; it seems that for a country with less than two million it is too much! Out of 52 HEIs in Latvia, 37 (!) have less than a thousand students, and 11 HEIs have fewer than 200 students.
More than 78 percent of school leavers choose the state-owned higher education institutions and colleges; private educational institutions “attracted” about 22 percent.
More than half of all students are in three largest Latvian universities: national University of Latvia, the Technical University, RTU and RSU (the university which combines social and natural sciences, mainly medical ones). In the 2023/24 academic year, doctoral programs are implemented by 18 HEIs; they engage 3.254 doctoral students (2.073 women and 1.181 men). Just under half of them – 48,6 percent – participate in health and welfare programs and almost one fifth (18.1 %) in social sciences, business and law.

Note. All statistics in this article, as well as references, are from: https://eng.lsm.lv/article/society/education/13.02.2024-higher-education-student-numbers-hit-20-year-low-in-latvia.a542772/

Graduates in national growth
However, a significant increase was observed in engineering, manufacturing and construction programs (e.g. by about 20 percent) as well as in teaching and education (by about 18 percent).
But, a significant drop in the social sciences, business and law program enrolments in 2022-23, i.e. by over 14 percent, the enrollment in these programs has grown by over 15 percent presently.
However, as the University World News acknowledges, “there may be some cause for optimism as the number of entrants has grown sharply in the current academic year: about 29.000 students entered Latvian higher education institutions this year, which is 9.3 % or 2,400 more than in the previous academic year and the fastest increase in a decade”.
It is still not clear, how the national growth priorities correlate with the educational policy? In 2023/24, most entrants have chosen social sciences, business and law programs (about 36 percent), followed by health and welfare (15.4 %), as well as engineering, manufacturing and construction (15.4 %). The smallest number of entrants is registered in agriculture and education (1.6 % and 6.5 %, respectively).
Source: https://www.universityworldnews.com/post.php?story=20240216103457300&utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=GLNL0773

The top ranking of the most popular fields of education has not changed significantly over the past decade: in 2013 the largest share of students entered social sciences, business and law (37.5%) followed by engineering, manufacturing and construction (16.7 %). Similarly, the lowest enrolments’ level has been a decade ago in education (6.7 % of all entrants) and agriculture (2 %).

Social sciences, business and law programs still dominate in HEIs orientations – regularly, 34-36 percent of all “entrants” enter these programs; i.e. these programs are chosen presently by 35.9 % female students (about 15.5 thousand) and 31 percent of male students, or 9.5 thousand.
However, as it seems (see below) that the market doesn’t need so many social sciences’ specialists…

The market orientation is quite different: the country needs more specialists in engineering; products’ processing and ICTs, to name a few that really contribute to the GDP. Latvia urgently needs about 30-50 thousand specialists, i.e. “ideally”, about 100.000, according to Latvian ministry of finances. And they are not supposed to be from social sciences…

Presently, there are about 800.000 people in Latvian labour market: however, in 2022 national employment reduced by over 91 thousand (compared to 2005). In other two Baltic States the number of employees increased during the same period, i.e. in Estonia by 56 thousand and in Lithuania by over 31 thousand. It seems that the national education system is hardly tackling the employment issues and problems…
Reference to: https://rus.lsm.lv/statja/novosti/analitika/18.02.2024-ekonomika-na-palcax-uzkoe-gorlysko-rynka-truda.a543109/

    Our comment. Three things are vital presently for the Latvian education policy’s perspectives: first, the national priority’s orientation; second, the essential parts in education and training, and finally, the skills issues.

= The national priorities in growth are “dominated” by the EU-wide political priorities, which are presently oriented at digital, green transition and climate mitigation. Suffice it to say that the EU recommends the member states to use about 60 percent of the budget on these issues. Therefore the national education policy shall include these priorities.

= Presently, national education policies are subject to fundamental transformations facing modern global challenges, in line with the UN-2030 Agenda and 17 sustainable development goals, SDGs. That’s not an easy task for national governance and the education system… Engineering, manufacturing and construction specialisation attracted about 16 percent of all students: people don’t see any chances to be employed!

Additional information on the issue in:
a) Quality education is a key to addressing global challenges. February 2023. – University World News: https://www.universityworldnews.com/post.php?story=20230203095914813 .
b) Eteris E. Modern Educational Revolution: Challenges and Solutions (with O. Sparitis). – LAP, 2022. In: https://morebooks.shop/shop-ui/shop/product/9786205517871 . Book’s version in seven languages in: https://www.morebooks.shop/shop-ui/shop/translation-bundle/8b5689a6540

=The skills and qualification’s issue is presently the EU most urgent “project”: i.e. 2023-24 are the EU Years of Skills: it means that the national education systems shall “adapt” to new patterns in economic development and be ready for changes in market, work force and businesses.
Additional info in: Eteris E., Vasilevska D. Business in a New Century: Challenges and Outcomes. Political Economy & Entrepreneurship in Europe and the World. –Turiba University Publ. 2023. – 424 pp. ISBN 978-9934-543-39-5. https://www.turiba.lv/storage/files/business-makets-reklamai.pdf; there is also the book’s translation in Latvian.

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