Branches of study
The Vocational Education Law (1999) stipulates professional higher education at two levels and first are first level higher professional education programmes (pirmā līmeņa augstākās profesionālās izglītības programmas) or college programmes (ISCED 5 level or professional qualification level 4 according to the Regulations on Classification of Education in Latvia).
First level higher professional education programmes (2-3 years after upper-secondary education) are available at koledža and augstskola. The Diploma of the first level higher professional education is equal to professional qualification level 4, i.e. occupations of complex level are mastered, for example, bank officers, lawyer assistants, technologists. This qualification allows working in the occupation or continuing studies in the relevant higher education programme.
First level higher education programmes are available in the following study fields (as determined also in the Regulations on Classification of Education in Latvia and the Law on Institutions of Higher Education):
- Humanities and Arts,
- Social Sciences, Business and Law
- Natural Sciences, Mathematics and IT,
- Engineering, Production and Construction,
- Health and Welfare,
- Services (for example, personal services, such as hotel, restaurant, beauty treatment etc., transport services, environmental protection and civil and military defence).
Every resident of Latvia and persons who have permanent residence permission, have the right to study at higher educational level, if they possess a document certifying a completed upper-secondary education. There are no age restrictions for acquiring higher education.
If international agreements do not state otherwise, admission of foreigners in colleges and higher education institutions of Latvia is possible taking into account that:
- the certificate on upper-secondary education should correspond to the standards of Latvia,
- knowledge tested in an ordinary manner should correspond to the admission provisions in the respective institution,
- foreigners should know the language of instruction well,
- tuition fee is paid according to the contract between the foreigner and the higher education institution.
For citizens of the European Union member states and their children acquiring education in Latvia the tuition fee is specified and covered according to the same procedures as for Latvian citizens.
Admission to the study programme is regulated through admission provisions issued by the Cabinet of Ministers and higher education institutions, and colleges. There, the procedures of application and competition, entrance examinations (if prescribed), registration and matriculation are stipulated. The size of student population is influenced by government procurement, and a maximum number of study places is determined by individual institutions, which, in turn, depends on the supply and demand of specialists of each study field.
The admission to the study programme is organized according to the principles of competition.
All higher education institutions and colleges enrol local or resident students on the basis of the results of centralized examinations (at least in two subjects as determined by each higher education institution) passed at the end of secondary education. They are organized according to a uniform methodology, applying identical requirements and held at the same time in all secondary education institutions. There are, however, categories of persons who are allowed not to pass centralized examinations – those having completed secondary education till 2004 or abroad as well as persons with special educational needs. Admission procedure for such persons is developed by the higher education institution and approved by the Council of Higher Education.
Although the main criterion are the results of centralized examinations, higher education institutions may still organize one or several additional entrance examinations, aptitude tests or a competition with an emphasis on subjects pertinent to the chosen programme. The standards required for the entrance examinations correspond to upper-secondary education programme.
Alternative access routes for admission to higher education institutions are not developed yet, nor the methods to facilitate access to higher education (such as recognition of prior learning, special admission procedures, etc.).
The Cabinet of Ministers issues the Regulations regarding the State Standard for the First Level Higher Professional Education.
The content of first level higher professional education comprises study courses (comprising general subjects, humanities, social sciences as well as technical subjects), a practical placement and a thesis. The content of the study course and the practical placement is set out in occupational standards for some professions. The volume of programmes in credit points is 80-120 (1 Latvian credit point is equal to 40 student work hours and 1.5 ECTS credit point), of which general courses constitute minimum 20 credits, courses in speciality – minimum 36 credits, training practice – minimum 16 credits, diploma paper minimum 8 credits.
In Latvia, institutions providing higher education programmes have a significant degree of autonomy in determination of the curricula. Institutions have the right to determine the content and form of their education programmes themselves. However, an institution has to receive a licence from the Ministry of Education and Science for each particular study programme. Licensing is a kind of preliminary quality assurance, in that within three years after getting a licence, an education institution has to submit the study programme for accreditation.
State or municipal education institutions provide education in the state language (Latvian). There are three cases, when it is, however, possible to use foreign languages (the first two refer to the use of official languages of the European Union, and the last one, to any foreign language):
- in study programmes acquired by foreign students in Latvia, and study programmes implemented within the scope of co-operation provided for in European Union programmes and international agreements;
- it is rather common to invite a guest lecturer from a cooperation university of another country to deliver a lecture, or to offer several courses in foreign language taught by local teaching staff. In such a case, it may not exceed one-fifth of the credit point amount of a study programme (in this part final and state examinations, as well as the writing of qualification, bachelor and master’s thesis may not be included).
- in study programmes where implementation in foreign languages is necessary for the achievement of their aims, for example for language and cultural studies or language programmes.
Teaching methods are chosen by teaching staff of the institution, depending on the type of studies and specifics of individual courses.
Teaching is structured by discipline, and the main teaching methods are lectures and seminars. Lectures are held for larger groups of students, and involve little student activity, whereas seminars are based on active participation and performance. Other teaching methods include exercises, consultations, seminar papers and reports, practical work, internships, individual studies, projects, laboratory works, and colloquia; in arts – individual training lessons.
Various teaching materials may be used in teaching and learning process, their choice is upon the lecturer, and students themselves may choose supplementary reading.
Progression of students
Progression to the next year is automatic if the student has fulfilled all requirements set by the study programme. There are no regulations regarding the number of times the student can attempt to pass an examination, but a mechanism has been developed by several institutions to raise students’ motivation – an extra payment must be made in order to pass an examination repeatedly.
It is possible to interrupt studies for a short period of time. Each higher education institution defines provisions regarding the length of study break, possible reasons, procedure etc.
Students may seek assistance and advice concerning study process in counselling centres of their education institutions and administrative units of the respective faculty. In the recent years the issue of guidance services has gained more importance. Several higher education institutions offer a wide range of services, not only career counselling, but also training on how to apply for a job consisting of general information, information on vacancies, and supplementary training.
In Latvia students have taken initiative to run Career Days in order to learn about their potential employers, exchange information between students and companies, learn how to present oneself in labour market and investigate what kind of skills and knowledge employers want to see in their future employees.
The main principles of student evaluation in higher education programmes are as follows:
- principle of mandatory evaluation – it is necessary to acquire positive assessment on the content of programme;
- different methods are used to determine assessment (the main forms are tests and examinations);
- adequacy of evaluation: students are given a possibility to prove their analytical, creative skills and acquired knowledge.
10-scale grading system is used to evaluate study performance on all levels of higher education:
- Very high level (outstanding – 10, excellent – 9);
- High level (very good – 8, good – 7);
- Medium level (almost good – 6, satisfactory – 5, almost satisfactory – 4);
- Low level (a negative assessment: poor –3, very poor – 2, very, very poor – 1).
The lowest "pass" grade is 4 – "almost satisfactory". "Pass" and "Not pass" are used for assessing tests and internship.
The main form of evaluation is end-of-semester examinations, when students receive credit points for every course and get their internship assessed with "pass" or at least 4 in 10-scale grading system. However, continuous evaluation during the semester may be carried out by lecturers as well.
Students of first-level professional higher education programmes (college programmes) pass state qualification examination at the end of studies. Part of state qualification examination is presentation of a qualification thesis. Graduates receive a diploma on first-level professional higher education if the programme is completed, a state qualification examination is passed and the assessment of the qualification examination is at least 5 (almost satisfactory). A certificate on professional qualification profesionālās kvalifikācijas apliecība verifying fourth-level professional qualification is also granted to the graduate.
Some colleges – providers of short-cycle tertiary education – offers acquisition of study programmes through distance learning. Distance learning or e-studies are positioned as a student-friendly and result oriented approach to higher education studies.
A student admitted in a distance learning programme acquires study content through internet and video-lectures. However, the study programme has all the components of ordinary study programme, namely, objectives/study aims, content/curriculum, a system of control and assessment of the results, etc.
The study programme usually comprises 80 national credits and is 2,5 years long. Students have the rights to change the distance learning study programme to normal study programme, and vice versa, if they wish.