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Raising the Bar in Higher Education & Bridging the Gap in the Labour Market

21 December 2020

While Latvian government's primary focus right now is on fighting the COVID-19 pandemic and dealing with its negative impact on Latvia's Healthcare system and economy, Latvia's long-term challenges have not disappeared. One of them is the quality and competitiveness of Latvia's Higher education system and ability to bridge the gap in the labour market. With this in mind, the Norwegian Chamber of Commerce in Latvia last week organized a discussion with Latvia's Minister of Education and Science Ilga Šuplinska, who outlined plans for reforms in Latvia's Higher education system.


Employers point out existing gap education and market needs

During the online discussion, which took place on December 16, Valērija Vārna, Country Manager of TietoEVRY in Latvia, pointed out that currently there is a huge gap between the knowledge the students are getting during their studies at Latvia's higher education institutions and the actual market needs particularly in IT positions, and hence the essence of having a diploma is devalued. "That creates additional pressure on companies as we are forced to invest more and more to educate our employees, and we are partly replacing universities' and high school roles. In a long term perspective, it gives a really negative result, because Latvia's location as a potential delivery center is loosing its position, because the costs are raising and the labour market is very limited," said V. Vārna.

"Industries are developing very fast, while Latvia's education programs are many steps behind in certain areas. It is not any more just about the quality of education, but also about the topicality of the disciplines provided by local academic institutions," points out the Country Manager of TietoEVRY in Latvia. "In Latvia we have very limited labour market, and the only way to compete is to have well-educated employees," concluded V. Vārna.

The current business environment requires agility and ability to respond to the market needs. That means that the existing program accreditation model and period (6 years) leads to a situation that students are provided with knowledge and skills that end up being out-dated. Another problem with the current higher education system V. Vārna pointed out is the lack of interdisciplinarity, which is in high demand in global competence centres, which require both high level knowledge of foreign languages and technical skills. Country manager of TietoEVRY in Latvia expresses surprise that only a few universities in Latvia offer the opportunity to learn Nordic languages, despite that closeness of the Nordic markets and the strong bilateral trade relations. To address the existing gap between education programs and the labour market, it is important to introduce reforms in higher education and adult education, including requalification.

Key Challenges - Governance and Funding

„The underlying problem in the adult education is the same as in Higher education. If a good governance system is not in place, the academic excellence suffers. If we set the governance system properly, we are going to help universities and vocational institutions to perform better," says Claudio Rivera, Deputy Head of RTU Business School and Head of the FICIL's Education work group. "Governance is not the only thing. But if we don't fix the governance, other solutions will not offer the final shot. Our universities are not competing with each other, they are competing with international institutions. We have been loosing a lot of students and we have been loosing a lot of faculty members due to that. Good governance will help us bring back people that have left and will attract new people as well," says C. Rivera. He points out that there needs to be much better coordination of education processes and the decision making process should be driven by data.

Creation of councils and attracting new sources of funding will be one of the ways how the universities will be able to sustain their autonomy, says Rivera. "Why is university autonomy reduced? it is because they heavily rely on one source of funding - budget places and European Union funds. If you start to diversify the funding sources, and that is the role of councils, then you start to give more autonomy to the universities," explains the Head of FICIL Education Work group.

Now there is a window of opportunity to rebuild the Latvia's Higher education system. "COVID times have put all the higher education system in the world, even the leading universities, to square one. Everyone now needs to rebuild the business model how they work, so it is a very good opportunity for Latvian Higher education (institutions) to raise their ambitions and implement reforms and move forward," says Rivera. The full discussion, including Minister's presentation on the Reforms in Latvia's Higher Education, is available on our Youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jus4ICopnmQ&t=2106s

Discussion with the Minister of Education and Science engaged prominent representatives of Latvia's Higher education and private sector - Claudio Rivera, Deputy Director of the RTU Riga Business School and the Head of the FICIL Education Working Group; Valērija Vārna, Country Manager of TietoEVRY in Latvia; Toms Baumanis, Vice Rector of Riga Stradins University, and Reinis Znotiņš, Member of Parliemanet and Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Education and Science. The discussion was organized by NCCL with the support from the Embassy of Norway.

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