President's Address to Chambers of Commerce

Parents and senior students may be interested in the comments and questions posed during the luncheon today, in which President Levits addressed the various chambers of commerce here in Riga.

The president spoke for around 15 minutes in which he not only explained his role as a non-executive president, but his concerns with inequality and corruption, and the government's preparations for a no-deal Brexit.

The president responded to a series of direct questions including the following:

  1. Is now the right time to support reform in University Education? He stated that it is 'always' the right time to reform. On December 17th the government will present reforms which hopefully will result in significant improvement within 10 years. At the moment young people do undertake studies in other countries, which can of course bring an added advantage to our companies and the country as a whole when they return. However, our universities must reform.

  2. The Metaphor of Latvia as an East-West Bridge: He felt this metaphor was no longer relevant in this century as countries can undertake trade directly with Russia without using Latvia (or any other country) as an intermediary.

  3. The loss of young people to other countries will create problems for retirees in the future: Government data suggests that the net loss is becoming much less, and within 3 years he believes there will be a balance. People returning bring new knowledge, experience and skills needed here within Latvia.

  4. NGO's have lost significant funding needed to support those in need: He stated that the tax reform in recent years has resulted in a loss of some 50% of the funds that would have been available to these NGO's. The government is now making a change to eliminate this loss, but will also look at other ways to support these NGOs such as a percentage of income to be set aside for an NGO of the taxpayers choice.

  5. Trust in Latvian Bureaucracy: He agreed that trust needs to improve, but he believes that this feeling correlates also with economic development. The psychological basis for this lack of trust he would want to change and the performance of state institutions may actually be better than what is perceived.

The government may need to find ways to report their performance, and ensure the society also takes co-responsibility for performance.

Note: The inequality, the president mentioned, will likely increase here in Latvia, without a significant rethink about education generally and not just in universities. This is true of other countries as well. As was mentioned in the presentation to parents last Monday, the Fourth Industrial revolution will create tensions within society as unskilled repetitive jobs are replaced by new technologies and software. Let's hope that the university reforms will lead to reforms in secondary and primary education. The fact that the government brought to Latvia one of the worlds leading Educational Psychologists, Carol Dweck, last week suggests that such reform is being considered.

R. White, 9 Sept 2019

Photo from president.lv

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