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2019.11.18 14:30

Lithuanian universities ‘fortresses’ competing for funds, say experts

Jūratė Anilionytė, LRT TV, LRT.lt2019.11.18 14:30

Lithuanian universities are like closed fortresses competing with each other for government funds, which ultimately hinders cooperation and impedes progress, say scientists at the annual World Lithuanian Symposium on Arts and Sciences taking place in Kaunas.

Gediminas Karoblis, a professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, says “there is a lot of inter-connected work between the various institutions in Norway".

“I think this is the path that [Lithuania] could take, because the studies will be more attractive to students" and also motivate lecturers, says Karoblis.

Universities in Lithuania have been undergoing a merger process since 2018 in an effort to make the network more efficient. Critics, however, point out the often painful process, with employees losing jobs, numerous cross-party disputes, and other hindrances.

Read more: Lithuanian university mergers would be considered a failure in Europe, says education minister

Juozas Augutis, the director of Vilnius Magnus University (VDU) in Kaunas, however, says the problem is that the number of students has halved over the past 10 years.

“In ten years, we will have shortfall of around 100,000 people with higher education, according to our estimates,” Augutis says. “When the total number of [people with university diplomas] is around half a million, a 20 percent deficit will [...] have an impact.”

Fewer students also mean less state funding, and due to the stalling wages, lecturers in Lihuania are already planning a strike action.

Read more: Lecturers to strike as Lithuanian government falls short on pay-rise promise

“Although it’s usual to say that a country’s future depends on education [...] in Lithuania, we not only failed to get onboard that train, but it is already far gone,” says Aušra Park, an associate professor in the US.

A professor at the University of Illinois in the US, Giedrius Sabačius, says it’s time for Lithuanian higher education to turn back at the students and make them feel needed by universities.

“From the American perspective, I see the [US] universities allowing school students to attend lectures which gives them extra [university] credits while they’re still in school.”

Meanwhile, the VDU director says that the government should stop interfering with student admission processes and stop managing the admission criteria.

Additionally, he says, Lithuania should make undergraduate studies free across the board, which would help to bring back at least some of the students that opt to study abroad.