Test of PM’s patience is still to come: universities getting ready for defences in Seimas

In the Seimas
DELFI / Andrius Ufartas

It seems that the initiative to merge Vytautas Magnus University (VDU) and Lithuania Educational Sciences (LEU) universities was all just a flash before the actual battle in the Parliament, where MPs will consider a network of higher education reform prepared by the Government. Some of the people elect suggest that one should not reduce the number of universities in Lithuania, while other MPs do not hide – to fight for the high schools to the end, despite the Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis cabinet positions, Alfa.lt reported.

Earlier this year, the Government presented a university network transformation. Optimizing the network of higher education institutions in the country by 2025 that will leave 3-5 active universities (currently there are 14), as well as one or two art academies and the Military Academy.

Vilnius would operate two universities, one or two Arts Academies and the Military Academy. Kaunas offered to leave one or two universities, a University in Klaipėda would still be active or its department, and Šiauliai – University or a college department. Prime Minister S. Skvernelis together with Education and Science Minister Jurgita Petrauskienė argued that Lithuania should only have 5 state universities.

Prime Minister S. Skvernelis reported a little later that a more detailed plan for the reform of higher education network will be presented to the Parliament at the end of April, but the parliamentary Education Committee, led by former Farmer representative, former teacher Eugenijus Jovaiša, approved the VDU and LEU merger without waiting for the Government’s working group.

This is caused the anger of S. Skvernelis. The Prime Minister said that he doubted the Committee whether that the declared the idea of change by Farmers was not just an enticing slogan for the election and whether it is possible to carry out the implementation of essential reforms in the Government.

University representatives attack the MPs

According to Alfa.lt sources, Prime Minister S. Skvernelis noticed that high school reform network will be presented to the Parliament at the end of April, university representatives visit the parliament, and the meetings of university management with the representatives extremely intensified.

About their future, according to Alfa.lt sources, the most concerned are Šiauliai, Aleksandras Stulginskis, Lithuanian Health Sciences, Lithuanian sports, an Klaipėda university communities. The most important “targets” of universities, allegedly became MPs who have graduated the above universities or taught there.

This was hinted to Alfa.lt and the opposition Conservative leader Gabrielius Landsbergis.
“We are now seeing the same thing, and that Health University (Lithuanian University of Health Sciences – Alfa.lt), and the Sports University (Lithuanian Sports University – Alfa.lt) people come to the Parliament, meeting with probably favorable Parliament members and are trying to shift their position to a favorable side. It is happening, and here without political leadership, in addition to a strong position of the government that cannot be avoided, “- said G. Landsbergis.

He said that the Conservative government is ready to support the planned reform of the higher education network, where it will be introduced to members of the opposition.

“We will support, if we will be included, if we know that we will be introduced. We have not just put a signature on a white sheet with the invitation to record anything on the page. If we debate, we will see that this is the right direction that Lithuania needs, improving the quality of higher education, it will be all good, “- he explained the leader of the Conservatives.

They do not hide: the university will take a stand

A temporary Šiauliai region group member which is mad out of 12 MPs, Farmer group member Valerijus Simulikas said to Alfa.lt that he is determined to fight for the survival of Šiauliai University (SU).

“I understand that today’s Šiauliai University has too much base, you need to take inventory of the base, human resources, there are not many students, the European experience shows that small universities – of 1000, 2000 , 3000 students – are competitive, “- explained the MP.

According to him, the university should remain independent and not become another school division.

V. Simulikas is extremely critical of S. Skvernelis and Minister J. Petrauskienė statements that Šiauliai should have a university department or college.

“They (S. Skvernelio notes – Alfa.lt) are unethical, and bring negative news, especially when the education and science minister said in some sort of conference that Šiauliai University will be closed. I publicly said in Siauliai that lets at least pass the threshold of September 1st, without interfering with or harming, – assured V. Simulikas.

“I personally, am not in favor, but as my colleagues will act, we will see. Siauliai parliamentary group will gather and talk “- the question of whether the Government will maintain the position if offered with the turn of another division or destroy it,” said the member of the Farmer group.

Social Democrat leader and former Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevičius has repeatedly spoken about the need to preserve SU as an independent higher education institution.

Parliament has 20 ASU graduates

Another headache for S. Skvernelis can become the defenders of Aleksandras Stulginskio University (ASU) (at the time – Agricultural Academy) which was established in 1924. So far it is not clear what fate may await for it, however, this Parliament has up to 20 ASU graduates, among them – and Farmer group head Ramūnas Karbauskis. In addition, the current Chairman of the Parliament Viktoras Pranckietis is the former Dean of the Faculty of Agronomy, ASU.

Alfa.lt interviewed one of ASU graduates, MP, influential Parliament Viktoras Rinkevičius said that his position on the ASU is not emphatic, however, the politician considers that the University should be maintained.

“For the A. Stulginskis University, it is the basis of agricultural, rural, environmental specialization. Anyway, if you look at international practice, those universities exist, they work and can stay and Lithuania. I’d be for it, but not categorically, that would be the only way, because it depends on the university, how he chooses his program as he chooses his strategy. It is still necessary. Specialists are now lacking in agriculture, as the equipment, technology is improving. Sometimes now the worker function is to manage the technology needs of higher education “, – explained V. Rinkevičius.

He made no secret of maintaining links with the ASU rector Antanas Maziliaukas. V. Rinkevičius said that the last time he met with A. Maziliauskas and ASU Alumni Club members was three weeks ago. During the meeting, according to V. Rinkevičiaus, they talked about the future of the university.

Positions are that ASU should not be combined with other universities, states the same opinion other Farmer, the university graduate Kęstutis Bacvinka.

“I think that the more higher education institutions should remain in the regions. It should be a more evolutionary, rather than a revolutionary way to go. I have in mind that leave more of them (University – Alfa.lt) and see what will take place then. Suddenly everything is reduce and the destruction can be quickly and harder to restore. […]

This University (ASU – Alfa.lt) is specialized. It might be connected to the specialized colleges and an agricultural, forestry specialization. The university is just off the center of Lithuania, the territorial approach and a very convenient location, “- explained MP to Alfa.lt.

Farmer V. Rinkevičius argued that regional universities spoken often about their future with the Group.

“In fact, now I hear about it in the group every other day”, – assured the politician.

Are reluctant to talk about LSMU and LSU future

Lithuanian University of Health Sciences (LSMU) and the Lithuanian Sports University (LSU) – two more institutions, whose representatives are also worried about the future. LSMU has already declared that it wants to remain an independent higher education institution.

LSMU educated Farmer Darius Kaminskas argued to Alfa.lt that the university representatives were not met. However, when asked whether to save LSMU as an independent body, did not want to give his opinion.

“Yes, I have my inner resolve, but I would like to see if it will match or not match (the Government’s view – Alfa.lt). In any case, the views may be expressed later on the question of the higher education reform, “- said D. Kaminskas.

On March 30 this year Farmer group led by Kęstutis Smirnovas and Family Youth and Sports Affairs Commission discussed the issue of sports science and research potential concentration in LSU. LSU for Education and Science Ministry has submitted a proposal, which implied that they not want to integrate into any other institutions of higher education. The university offered university programs related to sports, concentrating in LSU. This time the commission meeting comes LSU Rector Aivaras Ratkevičius in a meeting said that it is difficult to imagine Lithuania without sports, reasoned about the decrease in the number of people who will determine the student decrease.
Commission President K. Smirnovas, who is himself a graduate of LSU, considered that Lithuania needs schools that prepare professional athletes.

When Alfa.lt asked whether LSU should remain an independent university, K. Smirnovas was not talkative.

“Of course, each university is concerned to remain within the field of art education institutions, and sports and wants to stay. It is a specialized educational institution; it is natural that they want to survive. Clearly, there is a need and that they would be. But do they have to be independent, or otherwise, it left it to the Government. There is a working group that will examine the matter, talk it out and then begin discussion in the Parliament “- said K. Smirnovas.

Political scientist: it reminds of forest enterprises reform

Alfa.lt interviewed a Mykolas Romeris University (MRU) lecturer, political scientist Rima Urbonaitė said there are no doubts that the network of higher education reform in the Parliament will result in a lot of broken spears.

However, R. Urbonaitė said, when observing battles against that transformation, which has not even introduced, it is worth paying attention to the Government’s communication gaps.

“Where does the Parliament corridors interested persons trampling and attempt to access and influence the Parliament? First of all, today it emerges from the fact that the question of the content of the reform is still in the air, in other words, it is not, as originally was pressed “very, very strong – ask universities to present their positions and do it very quickly. It resulted that those proposals have been prepared days and nights, universities tried to consortia. […] and it was later stopped “, – assured the political scientist.

According to R. Urbonaitė, on the other hand, the danger of higher education reform success raises to the Pariament, especially those who started to work in the Parliament for the first time, unprofessional and short-sightedness.

“In general the Parliament today, the situation is difficult to define; it is difficult even to find even a scientific definition. We have a lot of chaos, constant consideration of what will happen to the ruling majority, who will be the Farmer fraction. […] Parliament is unprofessional. I am not afraid to say that, “- said a lecturer at MRU.

Political scientist compared the upcoming debate on the reform of higher education to forest enterprises restructuring, which resulted in full swing disputes in the Parliament.

“It is a similar situation like with the forest management, as officials in single-member regions support a specific policy. Then we have an endless vicious circle.[…].

This government may not be able to do any reforms in general, if every Member of Parliament of thinks that he needs to defend or a specific university in the region, despite the fact that the university might not show even minimal results, which should show in a University. In this place we have a sad situation “, – said R. Urbonaitė.

According to the political scientist, now differences are visible between the Farmer leaders R. Karbauskis and S. Skvernelis, the Parliament began to discuss higher education reform, and it can turn into more serious conflicts.

“It shows the signs that we have a very difficult situation when the conflict between S. Skvernelis R. Karbauskis continues, because it seems that the Farmers group favors one part, the other – other. These are important signals and they are the worst. It may be that we will have a serious change, it cannot be excluded “, – R. Urbonaitė hinted at a possible fracture of the ruling coalition.

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