SSE Riga Rector Anders Paalzow on key trends affecting the education sector

The higher education sector continues to face significant challenges – Latvia’s changing demography requires higher education institutions to review not only their recruiting activities and programme portfolios, but also their overall strategy.

SSE Riga Rector Anders Paalzow answers a few questions about the latest developments in the education sector below:

How was the year 2017 compared to the year 2016 in the higher education sector in Latvia? What factors influenced it?

The trend continues: there are less graduates from secondary school. This means that universities face tougher competition for students. For students, on the other hand, this means that there will be less competition for places (since the number of places has not really adjusted to the changing demographics). Some universities, in particular in the regions, are finding it difficult to fill the places. 

In short: the supply of educational places does not correspond to the demographic trends. 

Which trends are reshaping the education sector and its further development?

There is substantial internationalisation of higher education. Universities (in many cases driven by the poor demographics) are actively starting to recruit from outside their home country. More and more students are looking for opportunities outside their home country. 

This means that quality of education will become much more of an issue. With students able to compare and learn from friends studying at other universities, there will be pressure on universities to increase the quality of their programmes. 

Through Facebook, Instagram, etc. it is easy for students to keep in touch and it is also easy for them to get information about other universities (at home and abroad) and their offerings. This will contribute to the trend where universities do not really compete on a local or national market, but on an international market.

Internationalisation and access to information (both discussed above) means that competition will increase. Local universities have to compete internationally, in particular when it comes to high-performing students.                   

What prognosis can be made for the future?

The demographics are what they are in Latvia and elsewhere in our region and Europe. This means smaller and smaller cohorts. As a consequence, we might see a consolidation process – in particular at “mass-market” educational institutions, with programmes being merged or closed down. Furthermore, higher education institutions will be forced to optimize their resources, ranging from faculty to physical infrastructure. There will most likely also be a consolidation of the sector, with some higher education institutions merging. 

As discussed above, students will, through social media, be better informed about the educational offerings. Not only what is available but also the quality of various programmes – at home as well as abroad. This will encourage mobility and also result in pressure to increase the quality of education. 

As a consequence of the demographics, we might also experience a re-orientation in terms of target groups for higher education. The very low level of “adult students” and lifelong learning in Latvia (by European standards) might be seen as an opportunity for some universities. An increase in lifelong learning is also of importance for Latvia’s competitiveness. Using the same argument, we might also see an increase in vocational and professional programmes. Again, with a positive impact on Latvia’s competitiveness. 

To conclude, a lot of what we will observe in the coming years will reflect the drastic demographic changes. 


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