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A Review of Higher Education in the Field of ICT in Latvia in the 21st Century

This paper is a review of numerical indicators related to higher education in the field of information and communications technologies in Latvia in 2007. The author focuses on trends since 2000 and offers his thoughts about students and graduates in this area.


Juris Borzovs, University of Latvia, RITI, Exigen Services DATI

IMPORTANT TRENDS

Two records were set in 2007 which probably will not be beaten in the foreseeable future.  First of all 1,265 graduating diplomas were issued to ICT students at the 13 higher education institutions in Latvia which offer training in that field (Figure 1 ).  Among these, 847 diplomas were issued at the basic level of studies (first or second level professional study programmes or bachelors degree programmes).  The second record in 2007 had to do with the number of diplomas issued by first level higher education institutions (colleges) 169 in all.

At the same time, the number of new students for whom tuition is paid from the national budget shrank by nearly 200.  The number of new students who pay for their own studies also declined to the lowest level since 2000.  Whats more, three-quarters of the latter group of students attend just two private educational institutions the Transport and Telecommunication Institute and the Information Systems Management University College.

We see that even though there is still massive demand in the ICT sector for young specialists.  Estimates of how many are needed range from 3,000 to 8,000, but it is no longer of use for the state to increase the number of budget-finance slots, instead diverting financing to scholarships for students.  We know that a stipend of just 70 lats (around EUR 100) a month is received only by one-tenth of students at this time.

NEW TRENDS, CONCLUSIONS

Figure 2  and Figure  3  underpin the cautious prediction that the maximum number of students and graduates was achieved in the past.  Figure 4  shows a stable decline since 2002.  The number of people who are prepared to pay for their own education in the field of ICT has declined three times over.  This is a terrible situation.  Latvian resources will not be enough to satisfy the ICT sector's demand, unless that level of demand declines substantially.

If it is not possible to hope for greater numbers of students, then the next issue is taking a critical look at where the national budget finances study slots.  The emphasis must necessarily be on those institutions which ensure a high-quality education.  Table 1 and Table 2 show that the Rga Technical University (RTU) issued 45.8% of all relevant diplomas in 2007.  The RTU, University of Latvia (LU) and Transport and Teleommunication Institute (TSI) taken together issued 76%, and if we add the Ventspils University College and the Vidzeme University College, we receive a total percentage of 86%.  It has to be said that some of the institutions which launched ICT study programmes during the boom of information technologies which occurred at the turn of the millennium have not been able to attract students or even highly qualified instructors and researchers.

Back in the late 20th century, it was suggested that there should be a so-called short cycle of education at the professional and college level, but at least in the ICT sector this has not yielded anything much in the way of benefits (Table 3).  The European Union concept is that at the basic level of studies, 50% of diplomas or more should be issued by colleges, while the rest should come from bachelors degree programmes.  In Latvia in 2007, only 20% of diplomas came from colleges.  Whats more, more than half of those came not from proper colleges, but from the University of Latvia, at which a college diploma is just one step on the way toward a bachelors degree.

Over the last two years, the number of doctoral degrees issued in the sector has increased substantially, but the total number of people with such degrees is still two or three times lower than is necessary (Table 4).

Many students are still involved in programmes which offer little in the way of practical training.  The Council on Professional ICT Education spoke up against this back in 2002.

The first professional standards were approved in 2000.  It is time for the Council to update those standards.

Latvia is facing a demographic crisis, too there are 6,000 fewer 18-year-olds this year than there were in 2006.  Those who are at the bottom of this demographic decline are now in the 3rd grade, and the ICT sector needs to work very hard on ensuring that larger numbers of these kids choose ICT professions, as opposed to others.

EMPLOYER VIEWS

Here we can take a look at what two employers in the ICT sector had to say about the output of ICT study programmes.  They said that most students begin to work in the sector while in their second year of university studies, some do so in the third year, and very few do so in their last year of studies or later.

Asked about shortcomings in the process, the employers said that many graduates do not have the knowledge that is really necessary to find a job in the sector, or else they do not know how to present that knowledge.  Some apply for jobs without understanding what they involve.  The theoretical knowledge offered by educational institutions is sometimes not in line with the knowledge which employers require.  Graduates have poor knowledge about projects and cycles in software development, they are unfamiliar with the various roles which are performed in these processes, and they sometimes want to take part in projects which they dont really understand.  This particularly applies to software testers and database administrators.

Asked about the skills of graduates, the employers complained that they are not flexible in their thinking and that most of what they have learned has come exclusively from their institutions of higher education.  They dont know how to look for information, they have poor communications skills in terms of presenting themselves in the labour market and asking appropriate questions, they are not analytical in their thinking, and they are incapable of learning new things on their own.

When it comes to attitudes, employers find that many graduates say they want to work in the IT sector, but they dont even visit the homepages of potential employers.  There is little desire to learn new things these are bright young people, but they are often lazy.  They want a high wage even though they have virtually no experience at work.  Many are apathetic or do not know what they really want.  Self-motivation is a problem, many young employees need constant supervision.  Some are careless or irresponsible they dont turn up for a job interview or miss many days once hired.

Employers feel that university and college students need more information about specific career directions and roles in the IT sector and in projects both in terms of clients and in terms of suppliers.  There is certainly a need for more instruction on those things which employers really need.  Universities are still teaching Pascal, but where is it used in practice?  There must be more encouragement of analytical thinking and understanding of what IT projects are, how they are organised, etc.

Employers get the sense that students dont really receive a universal education.  They learn some specific things, but they remain unaware of commonalities.  There should be practical tasks which students handle in teams, with each student presenting his or her achievements.  Teamwork is important at the university level, say employers, and more work should be done in class, as opposed to at home.  They call for better understanding of databases and their use from the very first year of studies.  More knowledge is needed about programming languages and developmental approaches.  This, too, must start at the very beginning.  There is no need, say the employers, for detailed knowledge of a single programming language at the start of the process that can be learned in the third year of studies.  The bottom line institutions of higher education must do more to facilitate analytical thinking.

Figure 1.  Diplomas issued by all ICT study programmes

Figure  2. Students admitted to ICT study slots financed by the national budget

Figure 3.  Diplomas issued in basic ICT study programmes

Figure 4.  Students admitted to ICT study slots financed by themselves

Table 1.  The Big Five

Rga Technical University

University of Latvia

Transport and Telecommunication Institute

Ventspils University College

Latvian Agricultural University

Grads from basic studies

284

160

131

52

52

Recipients of all levels of diplomas

578

219

166

69

60

Table 2.  The Little Eight

Rga Technical College

Vidzeme University College

Information Systems Management University College

Daugavpils University

Liepja Pedagogical Academy

Rzekne University College

Jkabpils Agro-Business College

RRC College

Grads from basic studies

40

38

32

15

16

16

9

2

Recipients of all levels of diplomas

40

38

32

20

16

16

9

2

Table 3.  College diplomas in 2007

LU

RTK

RTU

JAK

ViA

VeA

KRRC

88

40

16

9

7

7

2

Table 4.  Doctorates awarded

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

RTU

0

0

2

2

3

1

8

6

LU

0

0

0

2

4

1

2

3

Source:  Study programme directors or their authorised representatives at the 13 institutions of higher education in Latvia which offer ICT study programmes


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eBaltics
17.12.2018


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