Question marks over foreign students at Latvia's universities

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Universities in Latvia are  preparing for the new study year. Because of the pandemic, there is a great number of uncertainties - especially those related to foreign students, said Latvian Radio August 16.

This year, the number of applicants for studies in Latvian universities is the largest in recent years, which has also increased significantly at Daugavpils University and Rezekne Academy of Technology. In educational institutions, this is explained by the choice of prospective students to study closer to their place of residence. But there is great uncertainty about foreign students: not knowing whether students will be able to come to Latvia, and whether educational institutions will be able to ensure self-isolation if a student is from a country where COVID-19 risk is high.

In total, the number of foreign students in Latvia is over ten thousand, of which nine and a half thousand study in full-time programs in one of Latvia's higher education institutions. According to the Ministry of Education and Science (IZM), the number of foreign students in Latvia is increasing.

Austra Irbe, senior expert in the Department of Higher Education, Science and Innovation at the Ministry of Education and Science, said:

“The Rīga Stradins University (RSU) is certainly at the forefront, Riga Technical University (RTU), Information Systems Management Institute (ISMA), as well as the University of Latvia (LU). A very large proportion of foreign students are directly interested in health care programs, as well as the programs related to management sciences.” 

At the moment, however, it is difficult to predict something about welcoming  foreign students in this year of study.

“I will not be able to tell you, because it depends on the individual case of each institution in relation to what they are preparing solutions, how they plan to organize the training process, how much of the studying will be remote, in what quality and many other aspects,” explained Irbe.

There are 20 foreign students studying at Daugavpils University. They study in programs such as philology, Eastern European business culture communications, economics. Mostly, students are from Russia, Belarus and Lithuania. Similarly, students from the United States go to Daugavpils University to learn Russian.

Seven contracts have been concluded with those who already have a residence permit in Latvia and are currently here.

“There are nine people we are uncertain about, who are both in European countries and outside, there is a question whether we will take them in this year of studies, because they will not be able to get to Latvia soon enough,” said Jānis Kudiņš, deputy Rector for development at Daugavpils University.

The university shall wait to see what the epidemiological situation will be elsewhere in the world, assuming that the studies may also take place remotely if the students are willing to do so.

“At the moment, we cannot provide guidance from the SPKC on foreign nationals (..) we have no place to house them, these issues are unresolved, who will deliver them food and all other household matters if they are to be in two weeks' isolation. We don't have the kind of dormitories to provide them with separate entrances and everything else, if we have at least one COVID-19 patient in the dormitories, we have to evict all the dormitories,” explained Kudiņš.

Rēzekne, meanwhile, has about 20 foreign students at the Technologies Academy. New students have not been admitted this summer.

“We don't know what September is going to be, October, so we are more focused on January, that is, when studies start from February, maybe it will be a little more predictable,” – said Iveta Mietule, Rector of Rezekne Academy of Technologies.


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