On May 6, 2015, Belarusian State University (Minsk) hosted an international seminar "European Studies: Educational and Scientific Dimension". Using case studies of Lithuanian and Estonian universities, participants of the seminar studied the intricacies of how the Bologna process functions in development of Masters programmes that train civil servants. Doctor Abel Polese (Belgium), Research Associate at the Free University of Brussels (VUB), and Mantas Bileišis (Lithuania), Associate Professor at the Institute of Public Administration of Mykolas Romeris University gave presentations about possible ways to create successful training programmes in cooperation with Western universities and to make education more cost effective. The seminar was organized by the ODB Brussels (Belgium), Faculty of International Relations of Belarusian State University and the Foreign Policy and Security Research Center (Belarus).
|Mantas Bileišis, Associate Professor at the Institute of Public Administration of Mykolas Romeris University (Lithuania)|
Mantas Bileišis, Associate Professor at the Institute of Public Administration of Mykolas Romeris University, presented the experience of reforming higher education and spoke about joining the European Higher Education Area (EHEA), pointing out that the "strategic" aim of the European Commission in the Bologna process – ensure 40% of people aged 30 to 34 have university education – is no longer relevant for Lithuania: here the number of citizens in this age group who have university education is already more than 50%. However, Lithuanian universities are facing serious commercial problems: the number of students in Lithuania decreases every year. This is due not just to the 40% decrease in birth rate in 1990-1994 but also to migration issues. In 2010 only, about 100 thousand people left Lithuania after the government decided to issue medical insurance on the basis of job location and not place of residence (or after obtaining the unemployment status) – many Lithuanians left for the UK and Scandinavian countries to get insurance and access to medical services. 80% of Lithuanian migrants are young people aged 19 to 35. Even though 90-95% of Lithuanian schools leavers enter colleges or universities, according to Mantas Bileišis, even in 2019 the number of students in Lithuania will be less than in 2009. In this situation, Lithuanian universities aim to offer competitive study programmes both for Lithuanian and foreign students.
According to Mr. Bileišis, while higher education in European countries until 2000 was focused on national aspects, now it is important to understand the principles of the open market and free movement. (In the Bologna process this is reflected in the principle of mobility of students and teachers and the mutual recognition of university diplomas by employers in different countries).
|Andrey Rusakovich (on the left), Head of the Foreign Policy and Security Research Center, Head of the Department of Diplomatic and Consular Service of the Faculty of International Relations of the Belarusian State University (Belarus)|
In Lithuania today the state chooses in which field the students should be given support. For example, in the IT sector education is free and the students receive scholarships, while only 10% of liberal arts students are given such funding. The state uses a "voucher" system to provide funds to the best students rather than to the universities. When study programmes are developed, the educators take into account opinions of student representatives and "social partners" (i.e. employers): they are included as members of special faculty committees. However, in practice their do not always have an objective view. According to Mr. Bileišis, students are not always actively involved in this process, while employers do not have full statistical data on the labour market tendencies. Also, in his opinion, these participants lack motivation to guarantee proper monitoring and development of study programmes: they approach their involvement in the committee very formally and are not paid to do this.
"If you offer a general study programme identical to those offered by other universities, it is most likely a commercially non-viable option.
The Bologna process, among other things, is a matter of how to ensure commercial profitability."
According to Bileišis, the "breakeven" point for a Masters programme in the Lithuanian university is 15 students. Otherwise, they will get their money back or be offered to take a different course. Training programmes for civil servants in Lithuania are now most promising for students: the EU member does not fulfil quotas of the European Commission on the number of functionaries, so graduates have a good chance to be employed right after they graduate from the university. Mykolas Romeris University teaches public administration as a course on management rather than political sciences. Such areas as municipal government, management of human resources, education and health are particularly attractive to students.
|Abel Polese, Research Associate at the Free University of Brussels (Belgium)|
"In order for a university programme to be "well-known" at the educational market and to be "purchased", it is necessary to go around educational fairs in Europe and promote it", - explains Abel Polese, Research Associate at the Free University of Brussels (Belgium). According to him, it is easier for universities to receive European funding if they can find their "niche" and offer a unique programme.
"Your Masters programme should be different from others: why should anyone sponsor your MA course and not a different one? You have to find your specialization, a unique selling point to offer to the EU."
According to Mr. Polese, one of universities in Tallinn had to shut down their MA programme on European studies because it was insufficiently advertized and bore similarities to a study programme in London, and it is more prestigious for Estonian students to study in London. Speaking about European studies, he pointed out that the university's policy and the region where it is located are of great importance when a new programme is created. For example, in the Baltic countries or in Belarus, according to Mr. Polese, subjects connected to European studies can be taught from the perspective of relations with Russia or the development of Eastern Europe: "European Studies and Migration" or "European Studies and the CIS". An additional minor – studying a local language or regional studies – in his opinion, will make a specific MA course stand out among other such programmes.
At the same time, says Mr. Polese, no training course should be developed without the development prospects of the local labour market taken into account. In his opinion, today the system of higher education in Belarus is strongly influenced by the legacy of Soviet education. According to the participants of the seminar, Bologna educational system responds to changes in economy and labour market needs in a more flexible way than the Belarusian one where introduction of any new standards requires substantiation, which takes time and makes the system itself more bureaucratic and less time efficient. In the Bologna process, the demand for new educational services compels universities to update their programmes and apply new approaches. Bologna system is focused on individual performance of students and research: for example, a Lithuanian university professor on average works for 1000 hours per year, with almost half of that time – about 400 hours – doing research and only 250 hours reading lectures. Compared to their Lithuanian counterparts, Belarusian teachers annually have 1000 academic hours of just lectures.
Abel Polese, Research Associate of the Free University of Brussels (Belgium), works in the Centre for Studies on Sustainable Development, Board Member of Adult Education without Borders (Finland), Scientific Advisor at the Center for Sustainable Development Studies (Vietnam) and the Regional Studies Center (Armenia), Research Associate at Marmara University (Turkey), Centre for the Study of International Relations, author of numerous publications.
Mantas Bileišis, Associate Professor at the institute of Public Administration of Mykolas Romeris University (MRU), Board Member of the Academic Management and Administration Association (AVADA): www.avada.lt, MRU PhD Alumni club chairman, www.mruni.eu/lt/mokslas/mokslas/mru_phd_alumni/, Team member of a study commissioned by the Lithuanian National Youth council to evaluate NGO development trends and perspectives in Lithuania (with an emphasis on future initiatives that might help strengthen youth engagement and participation in creation of public value).