LATVIA: EUA warns of inadequate spending

The European University Association has warned the Latvian government - and other European nations - that it cannot afford to run the risk of losing "a generation of talented people or of a serious decrease in research and innovation activity".

The warning came as an EUA delegation visited Latvia last week to discuss salary cuts and staff reductions imposed on all Latvia's 34 higher education institutions. Worse still, the government's planned 2010 budget for higher education may be halved because of the severe impact of the global financial downturn.

EUA President Professor Jean-Marc Rapp led the delegation to Riga to meet Latvian Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis and State Secretary of the Education Ministry Mareks Gruskevics.

The meeting was called to discuss the future of Latvian higher education and particularly its funding in light of the severe economic downturn. The delegation also met at the Latvian Parliament with Janis Strazdins, Chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Education, Science and Culture, and Baiba Rivza, a representative of the parliamentary committee on the state budget.

Rapp said that although Latvia was not the only country to experience cuts in higher education budgets over the last year, the EUA delegation emphasised it was more important than ever during difficult economic times to invest in higher education.

"As stressed 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," he said.

"When the economy falters, public funding is essential to guarantee continuity. Latvia, and indeed all European countries, cannot afford to run the risk of losing a generation of talented people or of a serious decrease in research and innovation activity."

Rapp said this was why the EUA was calling on all member states to step up their 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.

It is true that higher education is one of the key areas where investments have to be made in spite of financial crisis, but at the same time - knowing the quality of education in Latvia - the primary question is not about finances but much deeper reforms.

Andreta Livena