over the past two decades, latvia has put in great efforts to strengthen the quality assurance of its tertiary education system. latvia ratified the lisbon Convention in 1997 and was one of the signatories to the Bologna declaration in 1999. This engagement in the Bologna Process and the development of the European Higher Education Area committed the country to the creation of an external quality assurance system in accordance with the standards and guidelines of the European Quality Assurance Register for Higher Education (EQAR).
Prior to changes implemented in 2013, there were three main elements to the quality assurance processes: 1) MoES licensed study programmes for three years, within which time the tertiary education institution had to seek accreditation of the programme; 2) the latvian Higher Education Programme Accreditation Commission (AIKNC) accredited study programmes; and 3) the Higher Education Council accredited tertiary education institutions.
The AIKNC, which operated from 1996 to 2012, was a non-profit organisation with tertiary education institutional representation and other tertiary education stakeholders. The AIKNC was funded primarily by the tertiary education institutions undergoing accreditation, but it also carried out tasks under contract by MoES (MoES, 2014c). In 2010 an international assessment concluded that AIKNC was in full compliance with only two of the eight criteria set up by the EQAR. Its deficiencies included gaps in the expert selection procedure, potential conflicts of interest, and insufficient financial and human resources.
The foundation for a new external quality assurance model for tertiary education was enacted through amendments to the law on Higher Education Institutions in 2011 and was adopted by the Cabinet of Ministers at the end of 2012. under this new model, the transition from the accreditation of student programmes to accreditation of study directions (subject areas) encompassing a range of study programmes has been introduced. At the same time, the licensing process was merged with the accreditation process for study directions.
In early 2013, responsibility for the accreditation of study directions was assigned to MoES and the AIKNC was disbanded. The new regulations incorporate quality standards consistent with European Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance. They define clear evaluation criteria as well as the rights and responsibilities of the parties involved in the accreditation process. Between May 2013 and March 2014, 247 study directions were considered for accreditation: 218 were accredited for 6 years, 27 for 2 years and 2 were rejected.
Meanwhile, efforts to strengthen the quality assurance system continue. in 2015 regulation was passed transferring the function of accreditation and licensing to the Academic information Centre (AiC) on the basis of which an independent external quality assurance and evaluation entity will be established and registered in EQAR by 2018.