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Context and main features

Governance and financing

The legal framework for tertiary education has evolved since independence in 1991. The 1991 Law on Education introduced tuition fees in tertiary education for the first time and initiated the move from a fully state-regulated and state-funded tertiary education system towards one with more autonomous institutions, both state and private, and funding from diversified sources.

In 1995, the Saeima passed the Law on Higher Education Institutions, which established the current structure in tertiary education and set the framework for institutional autonomy. The 1995 law regulates the opening, closing and reorganisation of institutions and institutional governance. It also establishes the principle of academic freedom, the rights and duties of academic personnel and students, the procedure for staff selection, and modes for academic degrees and professional qualifications. It determines the basic requirements for study programmes, the financing of studies, and the assessment and accreditation of study programmes and institutions.

In 2011, amendments to the law on Higher Education Institutions further enhanced the autonomy of state tertiary education institutions, by granting most of them (except the Latvian national defence Academy) a new legal status of “derived public persons”, comparable to that of municipalities. State-founded colleges remain under more direct state supervision by the Ministry of Education and Science (MoES) or other ministries, as described below. Private institutions (institutions founded by private persons), whether tertiary education institutions or colleges, are commercial companies or foundations. These institutions operate in accordance with the Commercial law or the Associations and Foundations law where these laws do not conflict with the law on Higher Education Institutions.

Public tertiary institutions in Latvia have a higher level of autonomy than in many Eu countries (Estermann, Nokkala and Steinel, 2011). Institutions are able to determine their internal structure, develop and adopt their own internal codes of conduct and procedures, establish academic programmes, determine the levels of pay for academic staff above government-established minima, and set tuition-fee levels. They are autonomous in regard to organisational procedure, implementation of the study process, internal rules and regulations, hiring and firing of academic and technical staff, and distribution of allocated funding. The main administrative bodies that represent and manage the work of the tertiary education establishment - Constitutional Meeting, Senate and the Rector - are elected in the order determined in the statutes of the tertiary education institution. The Cabinet of Ministers confirms the appointment of rectors of tertiary education institutions (MoES, 2015a).

Responsibility for tertiary education in Latvia is shared among a complex array of entities (Figure 5.1). The Cabinet of Ministers, including the Prime Minister and ministers, is the principal executive body of the government. In accordance with the Constitution (Satversme), and laws enacted by the Saeima, the Cabinet of Ministers approves the regulations and other actions necessary for policy implementation. The Minister of Education and Science has the central responsibility, within regulations approved by the Cabinet of Ministers, for the development and implementation of state policy.

Figure 5.1. Principal entities responsible for tertiary education, science and innovation in Latvia

The pre-1991 pattern, in which tertiary education institutions were linked to different sections of the command economy, is still reflected in responsibility for their oversight, which is distributed across seven ministries. MoES has responsibility for the majority of institutions and three-quarters of students. Within MoES, a department has specific responsibility for tertiary education, science and innovation.

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