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18 November 2017
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A higher education reform in Lithuania: Upsides and Downsides

Many reforms are needed in Lithuanian higher education. Changes in the elementary and secondary levels are not considered here. By and large, these sectors, though delinquent in teachers’ salaries and school infrastructure, do prepare students reasonably well for their futures with rigorous and disciplined instruction. The need for change is noted by visiting volunteer groups from the U. S. and Canada, working with Lithuania’s teachers on continuing education programs. Students who complete the elementary and secondary levels do well when studying abroad, but are short changed in their higher education. We propose urgent reforms and major changes to this postsecondary level. Reforms in higher education must give serious priority to four areas: adequate financial resources; curricular changes to create a better system for imparting knowledge; outreach, wider service areas and new learning centres; and productivity and excellence in creating and imparting new knowledge in school and on the job

 

Text: Olga Medvedeva

To write about the higher education reform in Lithuania… - why me?!

That was my first reaction to the request to look into how the higher education (HE) reform is going on and to write about it.

I have always tried to avoid giving opinion about something I don’t think I know well enough. Indeed, there are people who study all the figures and ratios about HE: numbers of students by age, by type of studies, by future qualification, the labour market supply & demand, investment and outcome (in whatever units of measurement), trends in demography and vectors of migration, intra- and extra- factors etc. They diagnose the state of things and recommend what is to be reformed, transformed or introduced…

On the second thought, isn’t education one of the areas we are all involved in? First as students, then as parents, then just as common people who do care what specialists treat them in hospitals, design houses, set prices or calculate taxes? And as citizens, who are concerned about lots of university graduates leaving Lithuania in search of a job elsewhere…

 

A few facts about the HE reform in Lithuania:

Lithuania has switched over to the European model of higher education that makes a clear distinction between university and non-university studies; it is divided into undergraduate, graduate and post graduate studies. The common time- and workload framework allows for a bigger mobility of students and comparability of degrees. At present there are 21 universities (state and private) and 27 colleges in Lithuania; the country is well above the EU average by the proportion of students per 1000 to the total population aged 20-29 ( LT- 73.21; EU-52,8). The changes in the legal status and governance of universities have granted rights to engage in business activities: purchase and sell property, set up companies, get loans. The most disputable innovations of the reform are changes in financing: the notorious “student basket”, which includes teachers’ salaries, costs of study materials and scholarships, has caused a real commotion in universities’ hunt for potential students with their full baskets. The more students are admitted, the more finance a university or college gets…

No reform would be true to its name if it were not challenged and questioned at each step. Almost 50 HE institutions in Lithuania - is it just enough or too many? In 2009-2010 45,6 % of the emigrants from Lithuania were of the age of 20-39, how many of them carried away their university diplomas and educated brains?

Tertiary education “…equally accessible to all, on the basis of capacity,…” –shouldn’t there be more weight given to measuring or assessing capacity? Otherwise, we face an eternal clash between quantity and quality. With no intent to hurt anyone’s feeling, let me remind you Ezra Pound’s words about education:

“Real education must ultimately be limited to men who insist on knowing–the rest is mere sheep-herding”.

When going to universities in other countries rather than in Lithuania, most young people justify their choice by the reasonable prices for a better quality there… Quality is a complex concept; it is probably more complicated to define and assess “quality” in education than in the production of tangible things. But one cannot start wondering about quality when you see that financing per student in Lithuania is approximately 2 times less than the EU average, not to speak about Sweden, Finland or Denmark. And why do many university lecturers feel awkward when their peers from Belgium or Ireland talk about salaries? Is it because they are paid adequately for their lower-quality work?

My reflections on the changes in HE in Lithuania are fragmentary and subjective. Though formally “a teacher “, I believe in Shaw’s interpretation of teaching: “I am ….only a fellow traveler of whom you asked the way. I pointed ahead – ahead of myself as well as of you”.

Category : Education research & development / Featured sub-section

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