Latvia’s higher education system has successfully embraced the three cycle system – Bachelor (undergraduate), Master (graduate) and Doctoral studies - in accordance with the Bologna process. However, in some study fields such as medicine, pharmacy, dentistry and veterinary medicine, long studies involving qualification or residency periods are still provided.
Higher education is provided as academic and professional programmes in two types of institutions: non-university (up to Masters's degree) and university (up to Doctoral degree) augstskola. Most higher education institutions run both academic and professional programmes. Short-cycle professional higher education programmes are offered also by koledža. The qualification obtained after completing any of the long study programmes (e.g. medicine) is equated to Master's degree, according to Latvian legislation.
The strategic objective of academic higher education is to provide acquirement of theoretical knowledge and research skills, preparing for independent scientific research activities in the chosen field of science. The main aim of Bachelor study programmes is to provide students with scientific background for professional activities. Studies should favour the development of scientific analysis capacity and skills to solve problems independently.
The aim of Master study programmes is to prepare students for activities of independent scientific research; the main task – to promote the use of theoretical knowledge and research skills.
The strategic objectives of first-level professional higher education are:
- to prepare a person for work in a certain profession promoting one’s development as an open, responsible and creative personality;
- to advance the acquirement of skills and knowledge for gaining the fourth-level professional qualification;
- to motivate one for further education and provide the possibility to prepare for continuation of education in the second-level of professional higher education.
The strategic objectives of second-level professional higher education are to provide professional studies corresponding to economic, cultural and social needs of the state. The main aims are:
- to educate specialists of fifth-level professional qualification in the fields necessary to national economy and state security, favour competitiveness in the changing social-economic conditions and in international labour market;
- to implement acquirement of knowledge characteristic to each field enabling to develop new or improve existing systems, products and technologies and prepare for research, pedagogical and creative work.
Satversme (the Constitution) of Latvia declares the right to education for every resident of Latvia. International agreements and the Law on Institutions of Higher Education determine persons who have the right to study in a higher education institution augstskola.
The Law on Institutions of Higher Education sets the relations between state and higher education institutions as well as regulations for opening, closing and reorganization of institution, institutional governance and staff selection. The Law establishes academic freedom, rights and duties of academic personnel and students, determines the procedure of obtaining academic degrees and professional qualifications, the basic requirements for the study programmes, financing of studies, assessment and accreditation of study programmes and institutions. Other regulatory enactments apply to costs of one person in higher education per year, grants and loans offered to students and system of loan clearance.
The Constitution (Satversme) of a higher education institution (developed and approved by Constituent Assembly (Satversmes sapulce) - representatives of academic staff, students and other groups of employees) is the main legal act regulating its activities. The Satversme establishes the name of the institution, address, legal status, the name of the founder and its address, objectives and spheres of activities, procedure of acceptance of the Satversme and its amendments, rights, duties and tasks of representative, management and decision maker institutions, composition and establishment, return or appointment of these institutions, term of office, displacement procedure, establishment, reorganization, closing of institutions’ subdivisions, branches and enterprises. The procedure of acceptance of internal rules, reorganization and liquidation procedure of the higher education institution should be also determined in the Satversme of each institution.
In general, the Saeima (the Parliament) approves constitutions of state-founded higher education institutions, while the Cabinet of Ministers approves those of other institutions as well as bylaws of koledža.
Although the organization of academic year depends on each institution, it is usually divided in two semesters altogether comprising ten months (40 weeks) of lectures, seminars, and practical work, starting in the beginning of September and ending at the end of June. January and June are devoted to taking semesters’ examinations. Recently, another system of examination has been introduced by some institutions that when a course (subject) does not last till the end of semester the examination is held shortly after the course is completed, even in the middle of a semester. There are Christmas and Easter national holidays for students during the year. The summer break lasts at least 8 weeks. In some universities students also have to undergo practical training in the form of an internship during the summer.