Problems with University of Latvia rector’s election signal necessity for new legislation

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Problems with the University of Latvia rector’s election show that there is a necessity for new governing legislation that would help Latvia’s science and higher education sector rise above the current mediocre level, President Egils Levits told LETA.

The president also indicated that scientific and higher education centers of excellence should be created in Latvia to raise the international profile of Latvia’s universities and students chose to study in Latvia instead of elsewhere in Europe.

“I believe that the strategic goal is completely attainable. The turbulence around the University of Latvia rector’s elections shows that a temporary solution is needed before a new law is adopted that would enable an overhaul of the University of Latvia and other higher education institutions, so that they can achieve a breakthrough. The solution has to be considered in the context of the ultimate goal,” the president said.

Commenting on the University of Latvia rector’s election, Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins (New Unity) said during a meeting with Levits that a “good crisis should not be missed”.

“In my view, the stalemate reveals a bigger challenge – we need to raise the level of higher education and science. We need to ensure the competitiveness of science and state universities, so that they can attract students and academic staff from other countries,” said Karins.

It is also necessary to ensure that the education system serves the Latvian economy and helps it break free from the low and medium wage trap.

“I have had several conversations with Education Minister Ilga Suplinska (New Conservative Party). Her position is the same as mine and the president’s. We need to change the system to make it more competitive,” said Karins.

The latest stumbling block, which is the rector’s election, indicates a necessity for systemic improvement. Karins voiced confidence that the government will support Suplinska in her efforts to create system that would serve well to the state.

As reported, Muiznieks’ reappointment as University of Latvia rector is currently under question as Education and Science Minister Ilga Suplinska (New Conservative Party) has advised the government against approving Muiznieks’ reelection, but this decision will ultimately be made by the government. She added that she will submit to the government conclusions on the violations established by the State Education Quality Service.

Meanwhile, the head of the State Education Quality Service Inita Juhnevica confirmed that they have ascertained violations in the LU rector election process. Juhnevica also said that the legitimacy of the Constitutional Assembly of the University of Latvia is also under doubt.

The Constitutional Assembly of the University of Latvia convened an extraordinary meeting on June 6 because of uncertainty related with the election results during the first stage of the elections organized in May.

On May 24, Muiznieks was supported with 141 votes, while 143 members voted against him. The other candidate – Gundars Berzins – received 128 votes, while 156 members voted against him.

Initially the regulations were interpreted so that the winner is the one who received more votes in his support. However, after protests from students and other institutions, Muiznieks ordered to convene an extraordinary meeting in order “to strengthen the rule of law and the university’s reputation”.

In the second meeting, Muiznieks was elected with 132 votes to 112, while nine voting slips were not valid. Delegates this time voted only on one candidate who won the majority of votes at the first stage in May.

The Cabinet of Ministers still has to make the decision on appointing Muiznieks to the post.

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