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Problems in higher education funding cause concerns for education quality

Photo: lu.lv.
There can be no certainty about the progression of Latvia’s higher education towards excellence, because no ambitious goals have been set up for its development so far, as concluded by State Audit after performing an assessment of the country’s education funding system.

‘The system is not efficient; division of funds for budget spots is dictated by universities, not the state, based on established development priorities. Finances are divided among education programme the way universities see fit. The process itself is not supervised sufficiently by universities or responsible ministries. Problems have also been noted with the education staff wage system and attraction of better teachers. The fact that there is no plan in place to secure funding for development of education programmes after the end of EU funding in 2020 only worsens the situation,’ State Audit adds.

The institution also notes that development is very slow in higher education. This is because focus is put more on remaining at the current level, rather than reaching for ambitious goals. For example, no major increase is planned for funding of exact sciences, even though it is a priority field for Latvia.

Latvia’s higher education funding system, according to State Audit, is inefficient and does not offer any confidence about its longevity. It is currently aimed at providing funding for universities, not studies and training specialists for the labour market. Universities, not ministries, are the ones who decide how many budget spots are needed. The current situation allows for division of state budget funding for budget spots based on views of universities. Often funding is provided to programmes that do not prepare specialists in priority fields – engineering sciences, ICT, pharmaceuticals and agriculture.

State Audit emphasizes that ministries and universities have not secured sufficient control over money allocated for budget places. Some universities do not even know how much preparing a single specialist costs, some universities have established fees below the state-offered funding for budget spots. The biggest difference, for example, is noted for veterinary science programme, in which Latvian University of Agriculture has established annual fee at EUR 3,200, whereas state budget funding for a single budget spot is at EUR 15,458.

Throughout 2014-2016, universities included in the audit had used nearly EUR 6,000,000 of funds originally allocated for budget spots for their own interest. This money was taken because many budget spots were never filled. Instead the money was divided among different study programmes.

State Audit also concluded that Latvia lacks a unified academic personnel succession policy to attract better teachers to help improve competitiveness and raise education quality. Remuneration system and workload establishment system are too complicated and non-transparent.

«Seeing as though there is room for improvement in the use of funding, State Audit has provided recommendations to Education and Science Ministry, Culture Ministry and Agriculture Ministry. Successful realization of those recommendations would benefit students, their parents and employers. It will also help Latvia’s education system progress towards excellence,» the State Audit said.


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