Latvia University of Life Sciences and Technologies in Jelgava, thinking about the future of the graduates, continue to improve the study programs
In the past decade, the content and organization of higher education in the world has undergone significant changes, so the future machine designer, forestry engineer and economist are learning the knowledge and skills that were not topical for 10 or more years. Thinking about the benefits of graduates after graduation and their future career opportunities, LLU as one of the leading universities in Latvia annually reviews and updates the content of the study program and study courses. However, at the moment, extensive evaluation of study programs has been started, involving Latvian and foreign experts.
Study programs are changing
LLU in Jelgava is a university with a considerable history of activity for many years, starting with 156 years ago, when agricultural higher education began to develop in Latvia. Over time, it has evolved from a small agricultural division to a multi-disciplinary university that pursues higher education studies and research in unique directions for sustainable use of natural resources. Currently, at various levels of studies LLU implements about 60 study programs. Some of them are being implemented for several decades, constantly adapting the study content to the needs of the labor market.
Technology development and digitalization nowadays encourage universities around the world to adapt more rapidly than ever before. In order to better integrate the latest trends in the national economy into the studies, the LLU program directors have started a major program evaluation.
“Currently, our study program directors look at the programs they run, not only from the view from the inside but also from the outside, as a product that will serve the young person in the long term. They are the only ones familiar with the benefits and challenges of their program, so they also know what the graduate who will graduate from this program, what is happening in the labor market and why the young person currently studying in high school and relying on their own and parents' reasoned opinions as a study place, one should choose a particular field of study, “says Aigars Laizāns, Vice Rector for Studies at LLU.
He says that during this year, the LLU study program directors will be evaluated by industry associations that are familiar with the current labor market situation and foreign experts who are familiar with global trends. Thus, the university will include in the study programs the views of different stakeholders so that graduates will have both theoretically educated and advanced skills in the field after the study program.
Which is more important – skills for today or for the future?
At the beginning of the year the LLU has announced procurement for attracting Latvian and foreign experts who will be able to participate in the evaluation of the programs. They are expected to start work in the spring of 2019.
According to A. Laizans, a serious challenge for the university is to maintain a balance between what the experts will offer and what the young people need in the future from the point of view of academic knowledge. Of course, employers will require practical skills that must be realized immediately so that a young person can work on a particular device in his company tomorrow. But the university must also teach general skills, have enough subjects in the program that give basic knowledge to be competitive in the labor market even after 10 years. In addition, the student should also be taught the skill to learn.
“Our goal is to create a structure for a study program that encourages young people to learn. Even if he or she did not feel the urge to study previously at school. It is important that he likes to learn and he or she can do it even after finishing our programs, because it is this skill that will provide him with work and compensation in the future, “explains A. Laizans.
Future prognoses are unclear
“Unfortunately, there are no accurate forecasts for the future development of the labor market in Latvia. The statements of the Ministry of Economy and employers that in a particular sector after 5 years will require 3,000 new specialists, would rather be seen as a scream that is not followed at the political level by either an action plan or activity or funding. No one takes into account 3 - 5 years of momentum. If you suddenly announce today that we need astronauts because we have decided to move to the moon, how many years later will the first astronaut be? Minimum 3-5 years. In addition, he will not learn anything in practice, but he will be ready to do something in theory, ”A. Laizans comments harshly on the situation that also affects the development of higher education.
What are the consequences? In the labor market, the head-hunting of the best employees takes place. In addition, because of the lack of hands on acute work, even students are currently being recruited and they stop working because of the fact that, without completed higher education, they are currently useful to the employer, but in a few years risk losing the job because someone else who has gained a wider range knowledge and qualifications, as well as being able to submit their knowledge and skills in higher education documents, can compete with them. LLU, as a higher education institution and its study program directors, are trying to stabilize this situation and show that education has a future.
In addition, A. Laizans also reveals another problem: “Everyone thinks that the robots will come and take us away. No, robot technology will not diminish people's employment as they will completely replace us only in heavy routine jobs. In order to create, manage and even repair robots, we will need the knowledge that is available at the university. There are a number of examples in history where the introduction of new technologies has contributed to the disappearance of some professions, but to others instead. The introduction of central heating reduced the number of firefighters, ash exporters, firewood choppers, wood choppers and chimney sweepers, but developed new professions in construction and energy. ”
In order to harmonize both today's needs and future challenges in higher education, the development of the study programs at LLU will continue in the coming years, including the introduction of various e-solutions and modernization of the study environment. LLU students have the opportunity to study in several directions: agriculture, veterinary medicine, forestry, wood processing, engineering, machinery design, energy, food technology, construction, landscape architecture, environmental science, land management, information technology, economics, and sociology and management science. Taking into account the wide offer of study programs, LLU prepares graduates for all sectors of national economy, therefore the improvement of study content is also important for those who are not directly involved in the higher education sector and the utilization of its benefits.
Evaluation of LLU study programs takes place within the framework of the European Social Fund project “Improvement of Latvian Agricultural Management” (184.108.40.206/18/A/009). The project started in September 2018 and will end in August 2021. Its aim is to improve the quality of the content of LLU study programs and, through the effective use of available resources, to ensure better management of higher education institution and improvement of management staff's competencies and skills. Total funding for the project is EUR 1 059 598.00.