Studying in Latvia
I am in Ventspils today, one of Latvia`s seven university cities. Anda (22) and Sandra (23, both in photo) are MBA students at Ventspils University: I have found myself two experts in Latvian student life.
August is ending and students are starting to get busy installing themselves in the university dorm, right next to the university building. Ventspils as a city is not extremely popular, but the local university has a good accreditation for its economics studies, languages and computer sciences. Anda and Sandra have been around for 5 years now. They first obtained their bachelor degree and are now working and studying at the same time - aiming to graduate from the master course by next summer.
Anda (22) and Sandra (23):
`Ventspils will get full of students again when the study year starts again`
The university system in Latvia is extremely result-focused. Being a good student pays off: top students get priority treatment for housing, they do not have to pay for their studies and in the cased of proven brilliance, they may even get a government grant on top of that. If you`re not so lucky, you pay for the courses, get no allowance from the state and have to fight for accommodation on the campus.
For many young people, studying provides access to a new life, away from parents and with plenty of partying around. University studies are available to anybody who obtained sufficient marks in the central secondary school exam. Most universities or courses do not have entrance exams. There is some barrier to entry though: the party that the student council organises at the beginning of each first year. Older students let the newcomers perform slightly dirty yet innocent activities (polish shoes of people in the streets, clean cars etc) before a big party sets in.
This one party is most likely not be the only one during the student`s university career. For the lower years, Fridays are often free, allowing them Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays off for partying. Most go to popular clubs in the city, free for girls but paid for by men. At other occasions, many organise food and drink parties in people`s rooms.
Exchanges with other European universities are not yet common, at least for the incoming part. Many students went abroad, including Anda who spent half a year in Bavaria, but last year was the first experiment with foreigners coming to Ventspils. One Finnish student and a German one. They received a warm welcome by the local students and are expected to be followed by more students during future semesters.
I ask Sandra whether university studies are generally accessible to young people, and the answer is yes. Even when they do not belong to the best groups, and thus do not qualify for the free education, they can easily get loans to pay for their studies. It is not the study fees that may cause financial distress. Housing however is likely to be more of a problem.
In the case of Ventspils, finishing your studies gives good job opportunities. Anda and Sandra both started working during the last year of their bachelor studies. They say it`s a usual procedure. Due to the small scale of Ventspils university, students even have a fair chance of being approached by companies directly. That procedure is less likely to happen in the big scale universities of Riga - another reason to come to Ventspils.
Ventspils is moving. Not yet today but it will be once all students have arrived for the first day of the academic year. The EU is providing local development funds to improve housing and university facilities. Studying in Ventspils sounds like a sensible pastime, with a good mixture of hard work, fun and lots of open doors to the future.
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