Latvian Government goes hardline on HE and students
As starts to the New Year go, this was not what the students of Latvia had in mind. The Government of Latvia heralded 2009 with a swift cut in the higher education and student support budget. Both the magnitude and manner of doing so have been outrageous. The student response, on the other hand, has been modest. The anatomy of the situation is as follows:
In the middle of December, the Latvian Parliament held an all-night session producing a plan and law to enable huge cuts in the country’s budget. The impulse for this came from the International Monetary Fund; a condition set for the granting of a loan worth 7,5 billion euros. The cuts have come through a range of measures including cuts in public sector wages of 15% and a reduction in public sector spending on goods and services by 25%. Public higher education sector was hit much harder – a 25% cut on public subsidies to higher education (state financing of higher education stood at 60% before the cut), which includes a state subsidy for merit-based grants for students, a subsidy for public transportation, and indirectly – a subsidy for student dormitories. Additionally, the government has required HEI’s to maintain a 10% “safety fund”, and if the targets for tax income are not met, this 10% can be withdrawn.
Such a dramatic move was done without any consultation of either HEI’s or student representatives. The effects of the cuts have been immediately felt – the largest universities have either stopped subsidising dormitories, or reduced the number of students receiving merit-based grants. The economic crisis is adding to the gloom as well, horrifying for a student body that derives up to 70% of its income from the employment sector. In response to these moves, massive protests have taken place which have, at times, turned violent, such is the strength of feeling about the cuts.
The Latvian Student Union (LSA) has decided to take a different approach to fighting this particular battle. With the goal being to get the government to listen to the counter-arguments that are being made and to reconsider its position, the most effective route to this end still appears to be negotiation. LSA is therefore focusing on detailed discussions with the Prime Minister until the end of January, and only if this proves to be unsuccessful will public activities commence, reflecting an approach based on engaging with politicians before throwing stones at them. Whether this strategy will yield results will be revealed in the weeks ahead.
For more information on the campaign, please contact:
Student Union of Latvia