LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Volume 46, No.3 - Fall 2000
Editor of this issue: Gundar J. King
Copyright © 2000 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
A CALL FOR REFORMS IN LITHUANIAN HIGHER EDUCATION
EDWARD B. JAKUBAUSKAS
University of Colorado at Denver
It has long been recognized that investment in education is a component of a nation's capital formation that yields large benefits in economic development and growth. The scientific literature on this is vast, and leading scholars have supported this thesis over the last fifty years. Today, this thesis has become axiomatic. In the Baltic states, a great deal of new knowledge and skills has become necessary for satisfactory performance in a market economy. From a practical viewpoint, far-sighted public policy decision-makers have recognized that a nation's standard of living is directly related to the investments made in its educational institutions. In the United States, the Morrill Act of 1862 established a system of land grants for colleges and universities. It set the foundation for massive increases in productivity in agriculture and industry over the next hundred years. The Servicemen's Readjustment Act ("GI Bill") following World War II educated thousands of scientists and other professionals. This led to unprecedented economic growth in the U. S. In Germany, graduate and research centers have been in place for the past century. They were a key factor in that nation's scientific and economic growth, even after the disasters of World War II.
The soviet sphere of influence
While most nations evolve a system of education over time to suit their specific cultural and economic needs, Eastern Europe suffered as education and training were harnessed to serve philosophies imposed by the Soviets. Emerging from a devastating world war and a half-century of occupation, a new model is gradually evolving for the Lithuanian economy and educational system, one that is democratic and market-oriented. The educational system serves as the fulcrum for these changes. The political, economic, and educational models must converge and reinforce one another to meet the needs of independent Lithuania in the years ahead. The system is not yet in place. It is unfortunate that the pace of change in education and economics is slow. The patience of the people, especially of those entering the universities, is wearing thin after a decade of haphazard change. While there is evidence of sound democratic changes in the political sphere, it has not been recognized that education and economics must proceed in tandem, with one reinforcing the other to promote growth. What must evolve is an economic and educational system that has shed the negative and counterproductive aspects of Soviet occupation. Economy and education must adopt changes that focus on the need of the people to develop their own distinctive cultural and educational system, one that will accelerate the process of economic growth. A sound economy can only exist in an appropriate cultural and social environment.
The educational system and needed changes in Lithuania
Many reforms are needed in Lithuanian higher education. Changes in the elementary and secondary levels are not considered here. By and large, these sectors, though delinquent in teachers' salaries and school infrastructure, do prepare students reasonably well for their futures with rigorous and disciplined instruction. The need for change is noted by visiting volunteer groups from the U. S. and Canada, working with Lithuania's teachers on continuing education programs. Students who complete the elementary and secondary levels do well when studying abroad, but are shortchanged in their higher education. We propose urgent reforms and major changes to this postsecondary level. Reforms in higher education must give serious priority to four areas: adequate financial resources; curricular changes to create a better system for imparting knowledge; outreach, wider service areas and new learning centers; and productivity and excellence in creating and imparting new knowledge in school and on the job.
Adequate financial resources
The first priority for Lithuania is to secure a higher financial resource level for its colleges and universities. The last ten years have seen a serious erosion in faculty salaries and a depreciation in buildings, capital, and equipment. The situation has reached a crisis as outstanding faculty leave academe for lucrative positions in the private sector or teach only part-time. Some idealistic faculty have remained, but the upward mobility of the best faculty has degraded the universities severely and the end is not in sight. An even greater crisis is that the best and the brightest students perceive the low level of remuneration for academics and do not aspire to university careers. For the remaining faculty/contact hours have increased to a ridiculously high level, which adversely affects the morale and effectiveness of instructors. A system of credentialism is currently evolving. Degrees are awarded that are not rated highly by employers. It is apparent to outside observers that the nation is rapidly approaching a point of no return. There are, however, few champions in the ministries or parliament who are willing to recognize the problem and "lead the charge" for change. A further problem is that educational costs are free for students who fill authorized slots in universities and pursue "quality" work. In practice, the concept of "free education" is a misnomer, because costs are absorbed by low-paid instructors. Lithuania needs a system of full-cost pricing of higher education, with government subsidies to low-income families arid scholarships for truly outstanding students. The present system leads to grade inflation ("if you give me less than an 8, I will have to pay for my tuition"). More seriously, low-paid faculty subsidize students from middle-class families who could pay for their education.
While a low resource base is a serious detriment to change, more resources without meaningful reforms would be insufficient, given the rapidly deteriorating conditions in higher education. A higher resource base must be coupled with other reforms to make the system optimal and conducive to economic growth and development.
Curricular changes: more options, choices and electives
All over Eastern Europe, the Soviet system severely limited or eliminated non-scientific and nontechnical studies. Social Studies were harnessed to further the goals of Soviet propaganda. The unified campuses were broken up and faculties separated by discipline, which reduced faculty interaction and cohesion. Teaching and research were separated. Research was assigned to academies of science, away from the influence of universities; the latter were given the primary function of teaching. Science and engineering were severed from what was left of the social sciences and humanities. Degree programs were single-track systems: a student majored for four or more years in mathematics or electrical engineering, and a major had to be chosen in the first year of study. There was no education core common to all colleges and universities.
Combined with the rote learning inculcated in the elementary and secondary systems, a single-track university system left the students passive learners. This system continues to the present, maintained by faculty trained in a like manner. What is being maintained is the passive learner who is a "fish out of water" when it comes to understanding knowledge in new areas or in areas that border his or her discipline. The strength of the elementary and secondary school systems, whereby the student obtains rigorous and disciplined training, works against the modern university, where skills are required in discussion, analysis, synthesis, and integration across disciplines. This is the observation of numerous Fulbright scholars in Eastern Europe and Lithuania who find classes of note-takers—good at memorization, but passive participants in their education. This is not the fault of students or faculty, but a characteristic of the system inherited from the Soviet period. One weakness of over-specialization is that mathematicians and engineers may complete four or more years of study and find that narrowly structured jobs are no longer available. There is no process to elect courses in banking or business, where employers are seeking to fill vacancies. As long as admissions procedures allot a certain number of free tuition slots in certain areas, areas often outmoded in terms of current national needs, there will be an imbalance in the labor market. In business and law, which are demand areas, students are penalized economically: they must pay tuition.
Lithuania and other East European countries need a university system that provides both a general core of knowledge and a greater opportunity for students to elect courses outside their disciplines. Engineers and business students should have some exposure to social science courses to permit them to adapt to rapid changes in the economy and society in general. Moreover, interdisciplinary courses and degree programs should be introduced to provide a wider menu of selection for some students. The problem of inflexibility has been noted by numerous foreign lecturers teaching interdisciplinary courses in law, public administration, and social work. Furthermore, Lithuanian higher education could benefit by encouraging and admitting transfer credits from study abroad and internships with employers. In fact, internships should be an integral part of many disciplines. Graduates must be able to connect their studies to a broad range of possibilities and opportunities.
New learning centers
The larger cities in Lithuania have universities and technical institutes. In rural areas and small towns, there is a need for community colleges, to serve a number of needs not currently met by the universities. There have been branch campuses of some of the major universities, but what is suggested here is a multipurpose institution serving a variety of groups with a wide range of studies. First of all, there is a need to upgrade the agricultural skills of farm enterprises. Modern agricultural extension services and experiment stations are needed, but Lithuanians also need the skills to market and manage farm enterprises as well as compete in the world market.
Lithuania's agricultural and rural sector comprises over one-fourth of the employment of the country and, if this sector were strengthened, it would enhance the nation's Gross Domestic Product. It would also help small communities develop the new skills and trades that encourage entrepreneur-ship. Small business enterprises would emerge to serve these small towns and rural communities.
The rural sector desperately needs trained teachers. Graduates of large urban institutes have little desire to teach in small towns. All aspire to positions in Vilnius or Kaunas. The proposed community colleges would be a source of teachers for rural elementary schools, if some cooperative arrangement could be made with the large institutes in the cities. Distance learning would supplement rural teachers for continuing education. The proposed community or technical colleges would also serve as multipurpose institutions and offer business, technical, and craft skills. In addition, some university courses could be offered to those unable to commute to university centers or to take time off from work responsibilities. The current system of higher education in Lithuania (as in all of Eastern Europe) tends to benefit city dwellers. The rural population rarely sends its youth to university and is disadvantaged in business enterprise from a lack of education and training. What is proposed here are one-stop regional educational and training centers, affiliated with the large urban universities, but serving rural areas. Full democracy cannot be achieved until the educational needs of one-fourth of the nation's population are addressed.
Excellence, assessment, and evaluation
Lithuania's economy will be an integral part of the European Community and the world economy in the near future. As a market system, the Lithuanian economy will have to offer competitive products, prices, and services. These decisions have already been made by the parliament and the executive branch of government. Efforts are now being made to implement these decisions and to integrate the Lithuanian economy into Europe. Capital and finance will flow across national boundaries and, after Lithuania formally joins the European Community, its workers will compete with those of other nations. In like manner, its colleges and universities will have to be up-to-date and competitive—not just with Europe, but the world. To insure the high quality and timeliness of education and knowledge, Lithuanian university faculties should be the peers of faculties worldwide. Some are already known throughout Europe and internationally. In the future, this means more graduate students studying abroad and more PhDs returning to Lithuania for their careers. The present system of habilitation within the country should be replaced with a more cosmopolitan system of appointing and promoting professors who have distinguished themselves beyond the national boundary. There is a precedent for this policy. Vidzeme University College at Valmiera appoints and promotes only those faculty who have done some of their degree work beyond the borders of Latvia. Appointments and promotions should be validated on an international basis. Faculty should understand that the academic community is competitive on an international level. Just as the market system is international, so should higher education be internationalized.
It iš difficult to implement a policy for internationalization in a university system that has local faculty autonomy, and where the top leadership is elected to limited five-year terms. The leadership often becomes beholden to local faculty politics, and the horizon for change is very short. The Ministry of Education and Science also has its shortcomings. Education ministers serve for short periods, are beholden to political parties and pressure groups, and feel restrained by faculty autonomy. The possibility for change does not exist in the present system. Higher education is a victim of academic and political rigor mortis. Change can come about only through visionary efforts that include improvements in academic programs. It must also include better employee training.
While American accreditation programs can be faulted on many counts, they do assure a minimal level of program excellence. Peer groups visit campuses and report on the quality of programs. Shortcomings are noted in oral and written reports. Most importantly, they evaluate progress. A serious problem in a small country is finding peers to do evaluations of this kind. There are less than a half dozen major institutions in Lithuania and, when one looks at specific disciplines, the number of professionals in each is very small. Unless evaluation teams are international, there is an inevitable inbreeding of academics by institution and discipline that makes true, objective evaluation impossible. Add the fact, that there are few peers outside the country conversant in Lithuanian, and the problem becomes insolvable. Quality becomes what the local personnel determine it to be. In the Middle Ages, at least, the universal language of teaching and research was Latin, and scholars were conversant across national boundaries. It was a more cosmopolitan world. This is not to suggest the elimination of Lithuanian as a language of instruction, but that a quality university should be multilingual, with courses offered in many languages. Quality universities broaden rather than limit communication Countries such as Netherlands, Denmark, and Sweden have recognized this, and their scholars are multilingual. The reformed assessment and accreditation systems should include other Baltic universities, the Scandinavian countries, and other European institutions. Whatever scheme is designed, some external system of program and faculty evaluation must be implemented.
Planning for the needs of the economy and higher education
i It is unfortunate that, upon its departure from the Soviet system in, 1990, Lithuania and other Eastern European countries downgraded economic and manpower planning, and the relationship between the two. This is quite understandable in view of the gross misallocation of resources and industrial activity that took place for over fifty years. The mix of industries then did not correspond to the advantages of the country, but was designed to meet the needs of a larger Soviet system. But to eliminate planning entirely is also a mistake. Lithuania could benefit greatly by studying the clusters of occupations and industries emerging worldwide, identifying critical future needs for the country as these emerge, and developing a guideline for colleges, universities, and technical institutes. There is an immediate need to estimate Baltic manpower needs over the next few years. This is not to suggest that manpower needs can be measured with any precision, but that it is possible to identify Lithuania's economic advantages and to identify clusters of occupations that will be needed. As a start, it would be useful to sponsor a series of conferences on Lithuania's future manpower, which will be affected by entry its into the European Union and by the rapid changes taking place in the global, industrialized world.
Lithuanian society has changed over the last decade and will continue to do so. The basic thesis of this paper is that economic development and education reenforce one another in a very close interdependence. Elementary and secondary education in Lithuania offers rigorous and disciplined instruction that has some advantages, but results in weaknesses when combined with an overstructured, and outmoded higher educational system. Currently, students by and large are passive learners, who are not inclined to be active participants in their education. This is not their fault. Potentially, they are the equals of the best and the brightest worldwide. What is to blame is the inflexibility that permeates higher education, with its single-track degrees and disciplines, and lack of program options. What is called for is a more open system, with a wide choice of electives, options, and interdisciplinary programs to develop students who actively participate in their educational programs. Degree validation and routine credentialism must give way before teachers and learners who are more interested in knowledge than a certificate.
Given a higher level of financial investment in education, reforms are needed in curriculums that would introduce flexibility in courses and degrees. Programs must be offered at convenient locations. New systems of delivery, such as distance learning, must be adapted to rural areas currently not served by universities. There must be international and external validation of programs and competition from new types of institutions. Faculty quality must be validated through international competition and evaluation. The traditional habilitation within the country should be replaced with a system that encourages wider competition and international validation of faculty. Agents of change are needed to promote much-needed reforms. There is no need to adopt either a solely American or European system. Rather, it is necessary to choose the best from each. Lithuania's new system of higher education would be dynamic and meet the needs of a rapidly evolving society. Academe must eliminate those characteristics inherited from the Soviets. If meaningful changes can take place in Lithuanian higher education, the reforms would spread to the elementary and secondary levels. Lithuania owes its people a modern, flexible, competitive, and effective system of higher education. One that will permit a more rapid pace of economic development and a more democratic society.
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