Latvian universities attract more and more foreign students

The number of foreign students is growing in Latvia by 10% each year, despite the fact that the Latvian education system is often criticized. As of now, higher education exports amount to a few dozen million euros each year, but there's room for a lot more, reported Latvian Television's Panorāma Tuesday.

Some universities have already found attracting foreign students to be a lucrative enterprise, while others are taking the first steps into this direction.

In Western European and Scandinavian universities there are fewer vacancies than those willing to study there, so foreign students are seeking to obtain a veterinarian's education abroad. This year the Latvia University of Agriculture (LLU) has opened doors to foreign students. Karina Ring from Germany has become a student there as the fierce competition didn't allow her to study in her homeland.

"In our country, only small universities have veterinary programs, so there are only about 200 spots with thousands competing for them. There were other options in Europe, but it's rather expensive, and it'd be hard to get in as there are many who want to study there. I looked at universities in Germany, Hungary, Austria and Spain," Karina said.

While a student from Hong Kong, Mikki Chan found the study program he's interested in on the LLU website. "The studies here aren't too expensive and take place in English, that's why I came here," the youth said. 

Foreign students pose a lucrative business opportunity to universities as they have to pay about €4,200 more than the locals to study at the veterinary science program.

"The number of students is decreasing due to demographics. The competition between the remaining university graduates is quite high. It's a limited resource.

As state support for higher education is insufficient, we have to look for resources abroad. And foreign students are a resource we put into Latvia, into the Latvian economy and into the Latvian University of Agriculture," said Voldemārs Bariss from the International Cooperation Center at the LLU.

Nine foreign students are studying at the LLU this year, while Rīga Stradins University and Rīga Technical University host about 1,500 students each, while Latvian University has 344 foreign students. Though it's not only the universities that gain from foreign students, as it has been estimated that students from abroad have brought about €30m to the Latvian economy, according to Imants Bergs, head of the Higher Education Export Union. 

Besides, Latvia can potentially attract some 'brain power' from abroad by teaching foreign students. According to 2012 research, however, only about 2% - a small number by any means - of the foreign students stay in Latvia to live and work.

However, we shouldn't expect that the young specialists will decide to stay here on their own accord, according to experts. According to the Higher Education Export Union, an investment of €50m into building modern dormitories where foreign students could be placed, a tenfold return could be reaped within a few years. 

However, not a single ministry to which the union had turned with the idea has expressed any interest in building the dormitories.

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