Education reform: the signatures of the President are meaningless

LSMU studentai renkasi į diplomų įteikimo šventę
DELFI / Rafael Achmedov

Every year a higher education school fair takes place in Vilnius and Kaunas where as many as 47 high schools present themselves for students and 14 of them are universities that are dependent on the state. Now they each prospective student is priceless for them because of they get in, they bring in the so-called student bag with them, which is has certain amount of money and the number of students is rapidly decreasing. It is predicted that in 2020 only 55 per cent will get in to a university, which is less than in 2011. The amount of students decreased by about half in three universities, and another three should become concerned. The education system is in a crisis, and the Farmers and Greens Government set to reform it. This week the PM’s Saulius Skvernelis working group presented the project for reforms. But what came out was more like a school reform of general education. Everyone talked just about the school year, now everyone talks about the merge of universities, although they should put more focus on the quality of education.

The working group that was created by the Prime Minister suggests that the number of study programs has to be reduced in half, from 1800 to 700, and to adapt to the existing labour market.

The number of state universities has to be also reduced by roughly three times and what will remain are two diverse universities in Vilnius and Kaunas and technological universities in Klaipėda and Gediminas Technical University in Vilnius.

It is suggested that Vilnius University would be merged with Lithuania Education University, Mykolas Romeris and Šiauliai universities.

Universities would also become united by merging Kaunas University of Technology with Vytautas Magnus University, Alexandras Stulginskis University and Lithuanian sports university.

It is also suggested to merge Music, Theatre and Arts Academies. The new Art Academy would prepare specialist on a network principle in Vilnius, Kaunas and Klaipėda.

Also, a Specialized Police Academy should be created partially on the basis of Mykolas Romeris University faculty of Public Security and would be likely subordinate to the Ministry of the Interior.

The status of Military academy and Seminary won’t change. They also suggest to leave Kaunas University of Health Sciences open, which according to the data of the working group data, attracts a large number of students from abroad. It’s also planned to cancel the student’s basket.

However, the initiators of the reform have failed to take into account the already advanced merge plans of some of the universities. Juozas Augutis, a rector at Vytautas Magnus University, says that a few years ago they have agreed to merge and completely change the programs of training educators with the Lithuanian University of Education.

“This merge mainly focuses on changing the curriculum while training” said J. Augutis.

In 2015 the agreement on the cluster of universities was signed and a year later it was aproved byt the Senates and the Councils of both universities. Last year, Vytautas Magnus University and the Lithuanian University of Education council presidents, President Valdas Adamkus and general adviser of UNESCO Director Henrikas Juškevičius informed the Minister of Education and Science Audronė Pitrėnienė about the merger. This year on February, the managements of VMU and University of Education signed a contract of integration. Vytautas Magnus University on behalf of the signature and helped President V. Adamkus. This process had to be completed by the founders of the universities – the Parliament. However, a scandal happened in March, when the Committee on Education and Science agreed that this process has to be continued in the Parliament. Jurgita Petrauskienė, the Minister of Education in the new government, demanded to stop the process until the Government’s working group finishes their part. And the latter has destroyed the work of the last few years as the plan for reforms shows that Vytautas Magnus University and university of Education, won’t exist anymore.

The rector of Vytautas Magnus University is lost: they wouldn’t have started the negotiations if they did not receive the approval of the Parliament and the Government.

“I just want to say that if the Parliament and the Government live in their short terms in office, then universities can’t do that. The project was discussed with the previous Government and the Parliament, it had been approved and presented to the Committee on Education and Culture. There, it was also approved, it took a lot of effort “said J. Augutis.

J. Petrauskienė, who is the current Minister of Education and Science refuses to speak about the merge of Vytautas Magnus University and University of Education: “If we talk about the quality of higher education, it’s not fair to talk in fragments about the merge of two universities.”

That time, the Eugenijus Jovaiša, who is the chairman of the Committee of Education and Science, said that no decisions have been made and that the projects can and are already being adjusted: “Even in the distributed version, the one that I have, it was sent to me today by the Minister, and the writing in there is quite different. There are talks that the merge of VMU and LEU (Lithuanian University of Education) is possible and it has been approved therefore accepted in a meeting of the Government meeting. “

The PM S. Skvernelis and the leader of Farmers and Greens group in the Parliament, Ramūnas Karbauskis, rushed to calm everyone down and told that the merge won’t be forced. At that time Dalius Misiūnas, the member of the Government’s working group encouraged to start reforms instead of getting involved in useless arguments: “We’re just wasting time and harming the students by discussing and arguing but after the country’s universities have to compete not amongst themselves but on the international level.”

President Dalia Grybauskaitė, has repeatedly encouraged to reform higher education, said that the reform must start not from talks about how many universities will remain but from the overview of study programs and financing model: “Firstly, we have to start with quality, that is to review and reduce the number of programs, the second – the model of financing. If we did these two things, then the network of higher education institutions and universities would optimize and they would merge by themselves. “

There are doubts today whether the education reform of the Government working group, which seeks to cut down the number of universities, lose themselves in the discussions and whether it will remain as it is today. On Wednesday, the Government decided not to consider the plan, which was prepared by the work group, prepared by the working group, and said that they will talk about it with the senates and communities of the university before presenting it to the Parliament.

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