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Controversial changes prohibiting education in Russian language approved in Latvia

Raimonds Vējonis/president.lv.
Latvian President Raimonds Vējonis has declared amendments to the Law on Institutions of Higher Education that prohibit private higher education institutions from offering education programmes in Russian language, as detailed in the publication in Latvian Herald.

After meeting with Prime Minister Māris Kučinskis, Vējonis said any law approved by the Saeima is carefully considered before adoption. This was done this time as well, he added.
 

«The decision was made to not send amendments back for repeated review, because we need a unified use of state language on all education levels. Finally, this political decision has been made, and I see no reason why they should not be declared,» says Vējonis.
 

Opposition party Harmony and representatives of higher education institutions and non-government organizations previously asked the president to not declare amendments.
 

Education and Science Ministry proposed applying to private higher education institutions and colleges restrictions already applied to state education institutions on realization of education programmes only in Latvian or any other European language, which means a ban on education programmes in Russian language.
 

The ministry proposed allowing higher education institutions and colleges the realized education programmes of which do not comply with requirements of the law to continue realizing programmes in a specific language until the end of accreditation term. However, after 1 January 2019 enrolment of students on education programmes with a language not permitted by Law on Institutions of Higher Education will no longer be allowed.
 

In accordance with the law, state-founded higher education institutions are to realized education programmes in state language. Education programmes in foreign languages will be permitted only in certain cases. Realization of education programmes in European languages in Latvia will be permitted in accordance with existing programmes governing EU programme and intergovernmental agreements. Foreign students studying in Latvia have to study the state language if their education programme in the country lasts longer than six months or exceeds 20 credits. At the same time, no more than one-fifth of education programmes’ credits are to be realized in official European languages. At the same time, this amount cannot include final and state exams.
 

The law also states that education programmes that subjects in which foreign languages are required – language itself, culture and others – are permissible to be taught in foreign languages. Finally, official EU languages are allowed to be used in join education programmes.
 

Education and Science Ministry explains that amendments to the law clarify use of state language in private higher education institutions come from recently approved language use regulations in the Education Law, which dictate a gradual transition to education only in state language in all secondary education institutions. Until now the Law on Institutions of Higher Education dictated use of state language only in state education institutions. Now it has been decided to apply the same requirement for private colleges.
 

Last year, approximately one-third of students studied in Russian language in private colleges. In state higher education institutions, on the other hand, the percentage of Russian-speaking students did not exceed 1%, according to information compiled by Education and Science Ministry for 2017.
 

The largest percentage of Russian-speaking students is found in the Transport and Telecommunication Institute, where their numbers reached 86% or 2,358. 53% of students in Information Systems Management Institute were Russian-speakers. In RISEBA, 34% of students were Russian-speakers last year. Russian-speaking students are also found in other Latvian higher education institutes: 18% in Riga Aeronautical Institute, 17% in Baltic International Academy, and 6% in University of Economics and Culture.
 

Amendments to the Law on Institutions of Higher Education also provide for expanding Higher Education Council by one more member by including a representative from Latvian Universities Association.
 

In total, 7% of 5,332 students studied in Russian language in Latvia’s state and private higher education institutions last year.

BNN/LETA

04-07-2018
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