Regional university merger idea discussed in Latvia

The Liepāja University Council has proposed to set up a Kurzeme University within the next four years. The intention is to merge Liepāja University and Ventspils University, said Andris Grafs, Chairman of the University Council of Liepājs, in an interview to Latvian Radio on July 11.

 In the proposed model, Liepāja University and Ventspils University could work in partnership with the larger universities: University of Latvia, Riga Technical University (RTU) and Riga Stradiņš University.

The intention has been discussed informally so far, but Ventspils University has stated it does not support the merger and wants to continue an autonomous development path, said Grafs. 

The University of Liepājas will invite the government to decide conceptually on the formation of Kurzeme University in September. Accordingly, the creation of an association would take place at the beginning of 2025 and the university would be established in 2026.

The intention of the University of Kurzeme is to strengthen regional universities. Grafs described the process as complicated and time-consuming, but with significant long-term benefits.

“If we look at the University of Liepāja and Ventspils University, the specialization courses recently approved by the government show an overlap between specialists in social sciences and humanities and science,” Grafs said.

Ventspils High School wants to continue developing autonomously. Ventspils University Rector Kārlis Krēsliņš said that he did not see any benefits in the merger:

“First of all, regarding the claim that we overlap in specialization, I will say no. Once again, we have physical sciences, radio astronomy, and translation science, which has long been one of the best. We continue to grow."

The Latvian Association of Local Governments (LPS) has mixed feelings about potential mergers. LPS Advisor Māris Pūķis said that, in any case, higher education institutions are needed in both Ventspils and Liepāja, as it contributes to the development of these regions. 

“It's not a good idea. That only consideration that savings can be made to the administration won't justify it. It is necessary that each of these centers, which is a development center growing in Latvia, have its own university. Kurzeme is not a single economic system. Currently, however, Kurzeme is dividing, and what is the economic potential in Ventspils is not the same as in Liepāja,” said Pūķis.

Former Education Minister Kārlis Šadurskis (“New Unity”) is skeptical about this intention, noting that there were too many higher education institutions in Latvia.

“Well, if it's a real merger, Liepāja with Ventspils [..] and I mean not only the number of students, which is the formal criterion, but also the pooling of academic staff, then it could be perspective. But if it is [..] a formal act, it will not bring much to Kurzeme science,” Šadurskis said.

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