EUA President Professor Jean-Marc Rapp led a delegation to meet the Latvian Prime Minister, Mr Valdis Dombrovskis, and State Secretary of the Ministry of Education, Mareks Gruskevics (on Tuesday 10th November).
The aim of the trip was to discuss the future of Latvian higher education, and particularly the funding for the country’s 34 higher education institutions, in the light of the severe economic downturn in Latvia. EUA also took part in a meeting at the Latvian Parliament with Mr Janis Strazdins, Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Education, Science and Culture and Mrs Baiba Rivza, a representative of the Parliamentary Committee on State budget.
The Latvian government has had to cut spending significantly in all areas of its overall budget and higher education has been particularly severely hit. The overall 2009 HE budget was severely cut (nearly 50%) by government and further reductions are planned for 2010, and this has already led to salary cuts and reductions in staff in all of Latvia’s 34 higher education institutions.
While Latvia is not the only country to experience cuts in higher education budgets over the last year, the EUA delegation - which also included Board member, Tadeusz Luty, and Secretary General, Lesley Wilson - stressed that it is more important than ever during such difficult economic times to invest in higher education. As underlined in EUA's Prague Declaration
, universities are motors for economic recovery offering opportunities to diverse groups of learners, and providing the optimal creative environment for the talented young researchers that Europe needs.
During the meeting, the leader of the Latvian government also spoke about the next year’s budget which is presently being discussed by Parliament, and highlighted that during the 2nd reading of the Budget in Latvia, the Ministry of Education and Science will have the possibility to submit proposals for the allocation of additional funds to higher education.
In the discussions, Professor Rapp also offered the expertise of the association in coordinating an external review, to be carried out by international experts, of the proposals on the table for reforming the structure of higher education in Latvia. Among potential issues that could be addressed in such a review, in addition to the overall structure of the system, are a number of questions addressed in EUA’s comparative study on university autonomy, such as the ownership of real estate in European universities, and different funding strategies.
As stressed in the Prague Declaration, EUA is calling on all member states to step up efforts to reach the Barcelona target of 3% investment in research and development – signifying more than 700,000 additional researchers – and to invest at least 2% of GDP in higher education, as proposed by the European Commission.