Ban on teaching in Russian at private universities to affect Latvia’s education export capacity

Saeima’s amendments to the Law on Institutions of Higher Education, that were recently promulgated by President Raimonds Vejonis, will affect Latvia’s education export capacity, Riga International School of Economics and Business Administration (RISEBA) Vice Rector Igors Graurs said in an interview with Latvian Radio today, cites LETA.

“If we refuse enrollment to would-be students who wish to study in Russian, I believe that Latvia will be losing 2,000 to 3,000 students annually,” points out Graurs. He refers to a study done by the Certus think tank, which finds that each foreign student contributes approximately EUR 27,000 to Latvia’s budget. “Let me do the math for you: 2,000 students means minus 54 mln [euros] for the Latvian economy,” Graurs explains.

Likewise, Latvia’s restrictions on studies in English can also scare foreign students off as there are no such restrictions in the neighbor countries. “We are in fact handing the students who currently study in Latvia over to them [the neighbor countries], and that is rather dangerous,” says Graurs.

According to Graurs, some 5,300 students in Latvia study in Russian, which is approximately 6% of all students. These include local as well as foreign students, many of which have come to study in Latvia because they can choose Russian as the instruction language.

Graurs said that he and other like-minded activists would continue trying to have the amendments altered. If these attempts fail, the number of students in Latvia will decrease dramatically, which will affect universities and colleges, as well as availability of qualified lecturers.

As reported, earlier this month President Raimonds Vejonis promulgated the bill banning use of Russian as the language of instruction also at private universities in Latvia. Saeima passed the legislation on June 21.

Saeima group of Harmony, as well as the heads of several universities and NGOs previously asked Vejonis not to promulgate the amendments.

The Education and Science Ministry proposed applying to private universities and colleges the same restrictions that apply to public higher education institutions, where students have to be taught in Latvian or any of the official languages of the European Union, which means that private colleges and universities will have to discontinue teaching their students in Russian.

The ministry said the changes were needed also in relation to the legislative amendments about the switch to Latvian-only secondary education at schools.

The amendments will take effect on January 1, 2019, and after that the education establishments will not be allowed to enroll students in new Russian-language study programs and will have to complete the ongoing study programs in Russian by December 31, 2022.

According to the Education and Science Ministry’s report on higher education in 2017, approximately one-third of students at private universities and colleges studied in Russian last year, while the proportion at state-funded universities and colleges was less than 1%.

The total number of students studying at Latvian public and private universities in the Russian language was 5,332 or 7% of all students in 2017.

The Transport and Telecommunications Institute has the highest share of students studying in Russian – 86% or 2,358 students.

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