Tertiary education in Latvia

This chapter covers tertiary education and the key policy issues Latvia faces. Latvia’s tertiary education system expanded rapidly after independence, but the country is now faced with a system whose capacity is not aligned with demographic decline, fiscal reality and labour-market needs. The government funds a certain number of tuition-free study places, but the funding system does not serve wider national priorities. Staff salaries are low and are based on teaching loads and do not account for research. Quality assurance has so far not met international standards.

Latvia should develop the new funding model recommended by the World Bank and continue to focus on improving the quality of tertiary education. This includes developing a robust quality assurance framework. Latvia should further continue its efforts to realign system capacity with demographic decline, fiscal reality and labour-market needs. Finally, it should strengthen leadership capacity at both national and institutional levels.

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A focus on human resources and quality of life has been a cornerstone of Latvia’s development policy since the Saeima, Latvia’s parliament, adopted the “people first” growth model in 2006 (Republic of Latvia, 2006). Latvia’s tertiary education system has a central role in realising the goals of increasing its global competitiveness and long-term sustainability. In 2013, 31% of 25-64 year-olds had attained a tertiary education, which is only slightly below the OECD average of 32.6% (OEDC, 2014a). However, Latvia’s younger citizens are considerably better educated than older age groups, above the OECD average, suggesting that the gap in tertiary education attainment is likely to narrow in the coming years.

As Latvia emerges from economic crisis, it faces major challenges in realigning its tertiary education and research institutions with its national priorities. These include declining enrolment, severe underfunding, an ageing academic and research workforce, and widely dispersed and uncoordinated institutional capacity. In addition, its network of research institutes functions somewhat separately from the universities, a legacy of Soviet times, although the trend has been to incorporate these institutes into universities and to develop an integrated national system of tertiary education, science and innovation.

The country has completed a thorough assessment of the challenges it faces and started several promising initiatives to strengthen quality assurance, improve transparency, reform finance, and strengthen science and research capacity. The aim is to become a more integral part of European tertiary education and global knowledge networks, increasing the mobility of students as well as academic and research staff, and attracting foreign students and researchers. Maintaining the momentum of these reforms will be critical to the future of the country.

This chapter outlines the context and main features of the tertiary education system. It describes the major policy issues and current initiatives before concluding with some recommendations for the Latvian government to consider.

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