Foreign Investors’ Council in Latvia (FICIL) commends open discussions about the necessary changes in higher education institutions (HEI) in Latvia, organised by the Ministry of Education and Science and the Chancery of the President of Latvia. It is time to make bold decisions in regards to modernising the governance of HEI’s, reviewing the level of financing for higher education and consolidation. FICIL believes that changes in the governance model of HEI’s can serve as a catalyst for further improvements in the education system.
In December 2017, the State Audit Office published a report with concrete facts and recommendations which triggered public debate on the lack of excellence in the higher education system and governance. The report revealed that the problems, which were identified in the higher education system in 2008 such as inefficient financing and governance of higher education, insufficient attraction of talented and qualified specialists for academic and scientific work in Latvia, etc. are still unresolved.
There have already been attempts to reform the governance model of higher education institutions in Latvia, but so far these have been unsuccessful. Analysing international experience, we see that the governance models vary, and they depend on a number of factors: national goals, vision of higher education, financial opportunities and so on. For Latvia, the key is to ensure that the model grants sufficient autonomy to the governance of the universities and allows for the necessary reforms to take place (for instance, modernisation of curricula).
In line with the discussions that have recently taken place, the separation of executive and decision-making roles in higher education institutions is imperative. The council of the institutions could be the decision-making body on strategic and economic issues. It is essential that the composition of the council, in terms of number of participants and their expertise, ensures independence, professionalism and connection with the labour market.
Changing the governance model will improve transparency in the decision-making process, balance administrative and academic governance, and promote the affinity of study programs to the labour market. But above all, it will help to improve the overall quality of studies, thereby encouraging students to study in higher education institutions in Latvia and, hopefully, attract the best students from abroad. Establishment of the council in HEI’s can become an important tool to address some of the most significant shortcomings identified in the report of the State Audit Office: lack of institutional oversight, inefficient financial management, difficulties in attracting talented specialists in research and academic work, the available amount of funding per student, and the excessive number of higher education institutions.
Trust and cooperation are essential to foster reforms in the education system. President of Latvia Mr. Egils Levits has emphasised that the reforms in higher education will bear fruits after five to ten years. The time to take decisive action is now, so that we do not delay progress for another 20 years.