De Facto

Pērn strauji audzis naftas gāzes imports no Krievijas

De Facto

Zīmju valodā. DeFacto

14 % studējošo – ārzemnieki; pēc studijām te paliek vien retais

How to help foreign students stay in Latvia?

In Latvia, approximately 14% of all students come from abroad. Although educated people with a university diploma are always named as one way to add quality workforce in Latvia, foreign graduates remain here rarely, Latvian Television's De Facto reported on January 21. 

Yogesh, a graduate student at Riga Technical University, met in a canteen, agrees to the interview immediately. He has been in Latvia for more than four years, studying business informatics. The choice in favour of studying in Latvia was more because of chance than a conscious choice.

“I was 18, at that point. I had no more information about geography. [..] I tried to get to Canada first, but I didn't get there. Maybe there was no financial means, and maybe there were not enough IELTS points, so I chose Latvia,“ Yogesh said.

10,801 foreign students studied in Latvian institutions of higher education from the first level of vocational higher education at the beginning of the school year 2023/2024, not including those who are here in the framework of various exchange programs.

“If we are looking at the dynamics of foreign students in Latvia [..] we can see that this is a very large field in fact, and it is very important both for universities and also, to some extent, for the national economy of Latvia, a niche where we are actually very strong,” said Jānis Paiders, Deputy State Secretary for Higher Education, Science, Space and Innovation at the Ministry of Education and Science.

He said he would like universities to put more emphasis on attracting foreigners to master's and doctorate levels, as is the case in many places elsewhere. We have a bigger emphasis on undergraduate studies.

According to the Ministry, foreign students have most often chosen social sciences, commercial sciences, and law (4,190), the next group is healthcare and social welfare (3,075) and the third – natural sciences, mathematics, and information technologies (1,461). This is followed by engineering, manufacturing and construction (1,112).

Riga Technical University (RTU) is currently the leader in the number of foreign students attracted.

“The selected study programs do not change. Students primarily choose engineering, choose computer systems. And after that, business programs. These are the main programs that have not changed, now the last five, six years, and this year in 2023/2024 is the same choice,” says Zane Purlaura-Poriņa, director of the International Cooperation Department of Rīga Technical University (RTU).

RTU had 3,059 students from other countries as of the start of the school year. Here, most study at the master's level.

This is followed by Rīga Stradiņš University (2,775), which has been able to attract students from other countries of the European Union and the European Economic Area.

The third is the Information Systems Management School (1,423), followed by Turība (667) and the University of Latvia (644).

If, on average statistically, foreign students are around 14 percent of all students, then in Turība, for example, they are close to 40 percent. They also use agent services to attract students.

Imants Bergs, Chairman of the Board of Turība, said: “The strategy was built gradually, one country at a time developing to be interested in coming to study. It's a long process. For the flow to show up somehow, it's 4-5 years. Because not only do students choose university programs and everything around it, but they choose the countries where they go.”

Number of foreign students in Latvian educational institutions (IDM data as of October 1, 2023):

  1. India 2,676
  2. Uzbekistan 1266
  3. Sweden 896
  4. Ukraine 842
  5. Germany 759
  6. Sri Lanka 696
  7. Russia 498
  8. Finland 496
  9. Turkey 325
  10. Azerbaijan 240
  11. Norway 222

Data provided by universities shows that most students from Sweden, Germany, Finland, Norway, and Italy are interested in medical studies here. In addition, German students tend to return to their homeland and continue their studies there as soon as they get the chance.

The Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs (PMLP) notes that approximately five hundred, six hundred graduates remain in Latvia every year, which for a large part is due to private reasons. Some have found work here, but some require an extension of the residence permit to be able to seek work in Latvia.

Many young people, after completing their studies, make choices not only for more prosperous countries but also for those whose languages they know. 

Yogesh is already working for a shipping company in the field of logistics. However, he speaks Latvian fluently he is not planning to stay here.

“The thing is, I'm from India and you know that India has, I think 1.3 billion people, not millions, but billions. And I've been interested all along in living in a country where there's a lot of population because a lot of population means a lot of opportunity. If we make some kind of business, we would have a lot of people who can use our service,“ Yogesh said.

RTU, which also employs former students, would like more well-educated young people to remain in Latvia. This is why dialogue has also begun with employers on this topic. “I think we are moving with employers in that direction to become more open to the employment of foreigners, to understand the cultural differences or different needs involved [..]. There is also a need to do the kind of purely explanatory work for the students themselves, as there are many different offers. Maybe other European countries are more active, we could just be more active in this field as well,” says Zane Purlaura-Poriņa, director of the RTU's Department of International Cooperation.

Although planning documents often indicate that foreign students present here may be a resource of highly skilled labor, the practical side has not yet followed.

PMLP points out that it is already simpler for the employer, when choosing to benefit a foreigner, from a procedural point of view to bring in a young person who has completed studies here than to start the process from scratch. For example, there is no need for a criminal record tracking, which is mandatory for nationals of countries with a visa requirement.

Higher education records show between about 50 percent and 80 percent of foreign student graduate. Most often, studies are abandoned due to failure, and often there is also a lack of resources to continue learning.

According to the administration, universities have been selecting their students more and more responsibly in recent years, checking both language knowledge and previous education and interviewing them. Consequently, in general, there are also few problems with the holders of fixed-term maintenance permits.

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