Presidential debates: education – a priority for all candidates

Presidential candidate debate
DELFI / Rafael Achmedov

The university’s discussion featured MEP Petras Auštrevičius, engineer Alfonsas Butė, philosopher Arvydas Juozaitis, MP Aušra Maldeikienė, MEP Valentinas Mazuronis, former SEB bank economist Gitanas Nausėda, MP Naglis Puteikis and MP Ingrida Šimonytė.

For a deserted island – from the Bible to economy books

Journalist Rasa Tapinienė started the discussion with the candidates by asking, what book they would take to a deserted island. P. Auštrevičius answered that there are many books he could take, but he would go for one of Erich Maria Remarque’s books: “I would take the book that formed my views and from an author I like. I enjoy E. M. Remarque, who spoke of a critical period for Europe.” Candidate Alfonsas Butė said that he would take the memoirs of Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim. According to him, this book shows that even small countries have great capabilities when they are mobilised and their people love their homeland and are prepared to sacrifice for it.

Philosopher A. Juozaitis said he would take Simonas Dauktantas’ book Būdas Senovės Lietuvių, Kalnėnų ir Žemaičių [The way of olden Lithuanians, Highlanders and Samogitians]: “It is a book that Lithuanian literature began with, which we have not researched fully, that we do not know. I would like to explore this book in full.” MP A. Maldeikienė said she would take a book she has been reading for over 50 years, the Bible. According to her, it is the most paradoxical of creations, where in the same page, Jesus both praises and censures for the same thing: “It is an excellent book in teaching to think.”

V. Mazuronis said he would take the biography of one of the founders of tech company Apple, Steve Jobs, which he says he is reading right now. Economist G. Nausėda said he would take Franz Kafka’s The Trial: “Because I imagine that on an uninhabited island, there is just one palm and life would be very simple there, so I would not want to artificially complicate it for myself.” N. Puteikis quipped he would like to take A. Maldeikienė to such an island so that she would educate him on economics, however in terms of books, he said he would take her book Melo Ekonomika [Economy of Lies]. According to him, all politicians should read the book, several times over even.

Conservatives candidate I. Šimonytė said she would take John Maynard Keynes’ book The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. According to the politician, this book could be read till the end of the world. “It is not a book like the Bible, where you can find very many different meanings in the same texts, but a similarly deep book, where you can ponder on what you have read many times already,” I. Šimonytė said.

Education – a priority for all candidates

The candidates were asked where in the list of the country’s priorities among state defence, reducing social segregation, ensuring security and such they place education, science and technology. In her answer, I. Šimonytė said that education should be among the top three priorities. According to her, a state is strong when its society is well educated, able to create and able to resist various threats and create new things. Meanwhile, N. Puteikis stated that the largest problem Lithuania faces is the influence of wealth inequality on children’s education.

G. Nausėda observed that currently education and science are not held as priorities, while the opposite should be true. He believes that these areas, together with healthcare and culture should become priorities and should be financed as areas that could guarantee a breakthrough for Lithuania: “They should be granted the increasing public income, compared to GDP, cake.”

MEP V. Mazuronis stated that education and science should be the country’s top priority, but echoed G. Nausėda in noting that it is currently low on the priority list. A. Maldeikienė stated that education and science should take second-third place after legal structure: “For a state to exist, we have to have a legal basis. Education is what creates society. What is unacceptable to me in our education and what should be changed is that we are raising knowing people who do not know how to reflect their knowledge. Higher education where social and humanitarian sciences are demeaned is troubled. These sciences teach to think about science.”

Philosopher A. Juozaitis notes that the Ministry of Education, Science and Sports [ŠMSM] and overall the education system should be the president’s prerogative. According to him, it would be very simple to build a party agreement that the ŠMSM should be removed from party negotiations when forming coalitions. In his opinion, the minister of education should be appointed by the president and Science Council. A. Butė stated he believes that it is not enough to push education to first place, but should even have its funding doubled. According to him, only then will the brightest minds not emigrate.

P. Auštrevičius also stated that education and culture are currently not state priorities. According to him, the minister of education is not one of the core members of the cabinet and their demands are not decisive in cabinet meetings. The Liberal Movement’s candidate stated that the minister of education is typically left in the role of the beggar because they often have to ask for better financing from both the minister of finance and the prime minister. “Lithuania needs three T’s: talent, technology and tolerance,” the candidate said.

What awaits the new president

According to I. Šimonytė, Lithuania is suffering from a problem of public sector vegetation where on one hand the public is promised great commitments on public services, but on the other hand, we hear talks, which prevent from adequately financing the services. According to her, this is a fundamental problem: “Due to this, we have all those troubles in both the healthcare system and in education, in both higher education and primary education. We must return to the fundamental discussion. We cannot reduce taxes by 300 million euro with one hand at the start of the year and then in autumn, when preparing the budget, discuss with teachers, doctors and other social groups how we cannot change the fundamental situation because we lack the money.

N. Puteikis stated that upon becoming president, he would organise a discussion of the Lithuanian public sector’s best economists, where they would uncover, why specialist wages are several hundred euro higher in neighbouring countries despite similar economic levels. “The root of the problem is clear – we do not gather the same income relative to GDP as our neighbours do. The problem is how some are paying lower taxes, others are paying higher and the more honest you are, the bigger the taxes you pay,” N. Puteikis spoke.

Meanwhile, G. Nausėda said that in terms of education financing, the country has cornered itself. According to him, sometimes it is no longer clear whether we simply lack the funding or lack the political will to hold education financing as a priority. “A very specific question on teachers’ wages – I propose to increase the untaxed income size slower, respectively less budget income would be lost compared to the current untaxed income plan and thus we would have the extra 50-60 million euro for teachers’ wages. However, the government decided that it is the strongest here and did not do so, drove through with their bulldozer and passed the law,” G. Nausėda said.

V. Mazuronis stated that there is need to begin strengthening the free and national Lithuanian state and that decisions would be made first and foremost in reflection of benefit to state and its people. Also, according to him, a just country should be created, where justice and legality should be synonymous. Furthermore, he stated that conditions must be made for Lithuania to become the most appealing country in the region.

MP A. Maldeikienė said that the new president will enter a different world than was five years ago, one where both democracy and the rule of law are being questioned. “I believe that the most important task of the next president will be to protect the liberal democracy enshrined in the Lithuanian Constitution, where we have democracy, the rule of law and protection of minorities. IN the Seimas hall, I can see how right-wing populism is entering Lithuania, treading on minority rights and even the opposition’s voice is undermined every day,” A. Maldeikienė said.

Candidate A. Juozaitis stated that Lithuania and Latvia are the two countries most hurt by globalisation. He explained that Lithuania may be unappealing because the education system’s inadequacy can be seen and emigrants are not returning to their homeland. Furthermore, he noted that social business law must be passed.

How many universities does the country need?

When asked, how many universities Lithuania needs and whether small and contracting schools should be closed, the candidates’ views diverged. I. Šimonytė said that the country needs only as many universities as can be truly viewed as universities. In terms of schools, she noted that a clear direction is needed and that if there is no movement of people to the regions, schools there will also be unable to survive.

N. Puteikis stated that the large municipalities privatised kindergartens 15 years ago and now there is a deficit of them. He said that he is an optimist and hopes that economic migration from Lithuania will be halted and urged to not hurry with closing universities. A. Maldeikienė stated that Lithuania needs as many universities as it can support and according to her, the country can support “one normal humanitarian and social science university.” Meanwhile, A. Juozaitis stated that the country needs a regional university network with two technology universities.

P. Auštrevičius noted that Lithuania can support the number of universities it has. However, he points out that the question is how many of these universities can be competitive at the world scale, with not a single university in the country able to enter the European top one hundred.

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