Education in Latvia

Latvia - factsheet

Location: Northeast Europe, at the coast of Baltic sea;
Area: 64589 km
Population: 2,439,445 (Jan, 1999);
Capital: Riga, 796,700 inhabitants (Jan, 1999);
Borders: Latvia shares a border with Estonia, Lithuania, Russia and Belarus;
Climate: Maritime, summer 20-28 °C, winter - average temperature just below zero (but temperatures below -20 °C are no surprise to Latvians);
Ethnic groups (Jan 1998) Latvians - 55.5 %, Russians - 32.4%, Belorussians - 3.9%, Ukrainians - 2.9%, Lithuanians - 2.2%, Poles - 1.3%, others - 1.8%.
Main religions: Lutheran protestant, Roman Catholic, and Greek orthodox.
Official language: Latvian. Latvian language is neither Slavonic nor Finno-Ugrian. It is an Indo-European language, together with the Lithuanian language it falls into the Baltic language group.
Currency - Lats, worth 1.72 US dollars (you pay 1.72 Us dollars for 1 Latvian Lats);
Inflation (Dec 1998/Dec 1997) 2.8%;
GDP (per capita, 1998) - 2611 USD;
Average monthly salary (first quarter of 1999) - 229 USD

Latvia is a parliamentary republic, with the Saeima (parliament) elected by general elections. The Saeima in turn elects the president. The government cabinet is nominated by the leading coalition and approved by the parliament.

Latvia is a member of the Council of Europe and an associate member state of the EU. Both the EU and NATO membership are the strategic goals of Latvian foreign policy.

Data on national economy (From: Report on the development of national economy. Ministry of Economics, June 1999). As of 1998, the breakdown of added value by economic activity was: Industry - 24.3%, Transport and communication - 14.2%, Wholesale and retail trade - 17.5%, Agriculture, hunting, forestry and fishing - 4.7%, Construction - 5.2%, leaving 34.1% for other activities.

Total export of goods from Latvia in 1998 grew for 10% compared to 1997 while export to EU member states grew for 27%. The main goods exported in 1998 were wood and wood products (28%), products of light industries (18%), agricultural products and food (11%). About 1/5 of export goods are products of machine-building and metalworking industries. As the influence of the economic crisis in Russia continues, the total export of goods in the first quarter of 1999 is lower than in the first quarter of 1998, although the export to other countries has grown substantially. The external crisis has also caused an increase of unemployment, which grew from 7.3% in July 1998 to 10.1% in May 1999.

A substantial source of income to the economy of Latvia are its important sea terminals in Riga, Ventspils and Liepāja through which transport of goods, mainly oil and oil by-products from Russia to Western European countries takes place. Services and tourism bring income to the budget as well.

Remarkable dates

3000 BC

Europeid tribes enter Latvia which later form Latvian nation.

200 AC

Territory of Latvia first shown on geographic maps

600 AC

River Daugava becomes an international route of trade.

1200 - 1290

Conquering of Latvia by German crusaders belonging to the Order of Livonia. Foundation of the capital Riga in 1201


Order of Livonia rules the country


Order of Livonia loses all power in Latvia. The German nobility however keeps the ownership and the real ruling power throughout the centuries and different political powers until the establishment of independent Republic of Latvia in 1918.


In the wars between Poland, Sweden and Russia power in Latvia goes from hands to hands, longest periods of power being Polish (1562-1621) and Swedish (1621-1710).


As one of the outcomes of the Great Nordic war Latvia becomes part of the Russian Empire.


An electric telegraph line is opened Latvia as the first one in the Russian empire.


Latvian students of Tartu university organise group acting against Germanisation of Latvian intelligentsia. National movement begins.


Establishing of Riga Polytechnicum which later served as basis for the establishment of the University of Latvia.


Establishing of the first naval school with Latvian as language of instruction.


Establishment of the Baltic Teachers’ seminarium in Riga.


First electric power station is established in Latvia.


Telephone connection is established in Riga.


First electric tram line in Riga


Territory of Latvia is the first in Europe where women gain election rights.


The “Revolution of 1905” begins in Russian Empire. In Latvia it has a special meaning - it is a struggle of Latvians against the double national oppression of German landlords and Russian political power. The revolution turns out to be unsuccessful.


Production of first automobiles in Tsarist Russia begins in Riga.


Latvian sportsmen first participate in the Olympic games in Stockholm and win a bronze award.


World War I. German troops conquer Latvia. Half a million refugees leave their homes.


Latvia proclaims independence on November 18, 1918. Liberation war begins.


Establishing of the University of Latvia, Latvian State Conservatoire and Latvian Academy of Arts.


Piece agreements signed between Latvia and Germany and Latvia and Russia.


Latvia becomes internationally recognised as independent state.


The first independence period. Latvia develops to a full-fledge European state and reaches a remarkable economic and technological success.


Following Stalin-Hitler pact, Russian troops occupy Latvia. Latvia is incorporated into the Soviet union. Repressive actions begin including mass deportations to Siberia.


World war II. Latvians are forced to fight in both occupant armies - the Red army and the German army. As the outcome of the war, 35% of the nation perish, are deported to Siberia or emigrate.


Latvia remains under control of the Soviet Union. This period can be characterised with socialist planned economy, lack of political freedom, minimum contacts with the World outside the Eastern block and carefully censured information.


May 4, 1990 the then Supreme Soviet de jure declares Latvia’s independence.


Full independence de facto is restored on August 21, 1991

General information on education

Education in Latvia begins at seven years of age. The compulsory (basic) education lasts 9 years. The number of pupils at basic school level in the school year 1998/99 was 293385. Upper secondary education is available both as general upper secondary education aimed mainly at preparation for university studies, and as vocational secondary education, aimed mainly at labour market. In 1998/99 46457 students were involved in general upper secondary education and 46237 in vocational upper secondary education.

Higher education institutions offer academic programmes leading to bachelor and master degrees, as well as professional higher education programmes. The total number of students in Latvia within the recent years has been changing drastically. After a decrease from 46’000 students in 1990 to 39’000 students in 1993, a rapid growth of student number begun in 1995 which has lead Latvia to 76653 students in 1998/99 - i.e. to nearly a double of the student number in 1993. In the early 1990’s, when a choice between academic and professional studies had just been introduced, most students chose academic programmes to acquire bachelor and master degrees. The importance and usefulness of professional studies has been understood by the society somewhat later which lead to a rapid increase in the number of applicants for professional study programmes.

Legislation in the field of Education

Law on Education (1991) was one of the first laws adopted upon the restoration of independence. It introduced a number of substantial changes and oriented education in Latvia in the direction many educational systems are currently developing in Europe and beyond.

A reform of was already under way since the middle of 1980’s, which extended the duration of secondary schooling in Latvia from 11 to 12 years. The Law on Education of 1991 provided legal grounds for introduction of compulsory and optional subjects at the upper secondary school level.

The Law of 1991 provided autonomy to institutions of higher education. It introduced bachelor and master level as well as professional study programmes instead of the 5-year diploma studies

The Law of 1991 also opened opportunities to establish private education institutions at all levels. Law on Higher Education Establishments was adopted in 1995. It set the relations between he state and higher education institutions and laid down regulations for opening, closing and re-organisation of higher education institutions, institutional governance and staff selection. As well, it introduced a higher education quality assurance system in Latvia as well as the rules for recognition of foreign qualifications.

More legislation in the field of education has been adopted in 1998 and 1999.

The 1998 Law on Education is a frame law replacing the law of 1991. This law contains definitions of all kinds and levels of education and lays down the general principles and competence of governing bodies of different levels in both governance and financing of education.

Law on General Education, which came into force from September 1, 1999, introduces an important new principle in general upper secondary education. Program principle is introduced which replaces the previous system where students were allowed to freely choose seven out of at least twelve subjects at upper secondary school. Now the students are allowed to chose between several upper secondary education programmes offered by the schools and having emphasis on different groups of subjects.

Law on Professional Education, which is in force since September 1, 1999, as well, brings several important changes to that kind of education, which prepares students to the world of work. The main principles introduced by this law are the following. Firstly, it legislates for steps to be taken in order to ensure that the results of training are labour-market accepted, such as involvement of social partners in formulating occupational standards, drawing up education programmes and assessment of students’ skills. Secondly, it harmonises vocational education levels in Latvia with the five-level classification of vocational qualifications, used in the EU. Thirdly, it provides legal basis for upgrading of the existing post-secondary vocational training programmes to first-stage higher professional education programmes. These are aimed at training medium management level professionals (Level four professional qualifications) who are also eligible to continue their studies towards “full” professional higher education diplomas and Level five professional qualifications.

Financing education. The State budget allocated for education in the recent years has been 6.5% of GDP. In 1998 it was 246.5 million Lats or 15.7% of the Total State budget spending. Although the share of education funding in both GDP and in State budget is appreciable, a need for more funds is felt at all kinds and levels of education. The share of education budget however also indicates that not too much can be expected from the State budget before the budget itself becomes substantially bigger. It means that, on the one hand, measures must be taken to optimise the usage of existing funds, on the other hand, alternative ways have to be sought for financing of education.

Financing of different kinds and levels of education is organised in different ways. Local governments own general education schools at both primary and secondary levels. At these schools the wages of teaching staff are allocated as state dotations while the maintenance and infrastructure costs are covered through the local government budgets.

As regards the secondary vocational education sector, the schools are owned by the State. It is foreseen to pass them over to local governments after the regional reform is completed. So far the schools remain State-owned and they are financed through four different ministries - Ministry of education and Science, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Welfare and Ministry of Culture. The total budget of vocational education sector in 1998 was 29.1 million Lats.

In 1998 there were 19 State higher education institutions. The State budget allocated for higher education in 1998 was 25.6 million lats. The Council of Higher Education sets the number of State-funded study places in each field of studies.

Tuition fees are charged to these students who meet the entrance requirements but fail to be admitted to the state-financed places, if they wish to study covering tuition fees themselves. As well, there are 14 private higher education institutions, which charge tuition fees from their students. All-in-all, in the academic year 1998/99 state financed the studies of 32763 students and 43890 more students studied, covering their study fees themselves.

It is foreseen that, while continuing the State funding to higher education, the system will be rearranged so, that all the students will pay a tuition fee and a system of study loans will be created concurrently. Introduction of the system of study loans has begun in the beginning of academic year 1999/2000.

The Structure of Latvia’s education system

The total duration of general school education in Latvia is 12 years. It consists of 9-years of basic and 3 years of upper general secondary education.

School year and students’ workload. The regular school year (excluding examination periods at grades nine and twelve, 2 and 3 weeks respectively) lasts 35 weeks, from the beginning of September through to the end of May. The total number of 40-minute lessons per week is 20 at grade one, 28 at grade five, 34 at grade nine and 36 at grade twelve.

grading system. A ten-point system is used. Marks 9 and 10 (with distinction) are reserved for distinguished students who perform substantially better than expected at the given age or level. To gain these marks, it is expected to be a winner of students’ contest, to participate in research of the appropriate profile (in higher education) or to complete advanced additional tasks at the examination. Mark 8 (very good) has the function of the normal maximum mark - it means that the knowledge and skills fully correspond to the expected maximum level. Mark 7 has a meaning of “good”, 6 is “almost good”, 5 means “sufficient” and 4 - “almost sufficient”.

Nine-year basic education (pamatizglītība) is compulsory. It begins at seven years of age and consists of 4 years of primary education (sākumskola) and 5 years of lower secondary school (pamatskola). Graduates receive a nine-year basic school certificate (atestāts par pamatizglītību).

Latvian language, Mathematics, Music, Visual arts and Physical education are taught throughout the 9 years. Handicraft and Basics of Natural sciences are taught at grades 1-4. At grade 3 English language studies begin and a second foreign language joins at grade 6. As regards the block of subjects “Myself and Society”, History and Home economics begin at grade 5, one-year courses are taught in Health science at grade 5, Ethics at grade 7, Introduction to economics at grade 8 and Civics at grade 9. As to natural sciences, Biology and Geography begin at grade 6, but Physics and Chemistry - at grade 8.

Those who for some reason have not completed their basic education at the estimated age of 16 years should, according to the Law, continue their studies towards completing basic education programme until the age of 18 is reached. They can also opt for basic vocational education programmes (see diagram of education system), which allow them to achieve a Level I vocational qualification and to complete their basic education programme.

General secondary education (vispārējā vidējā izglītība) attracts 55% of nine-year basic school graduates. Starting with those students, who enter grade 10 in the academic year 1999/2000, schools offer 4 types of programmes at upper secondary school level. These four programmes are: a “general” programme with no emphasis on any particular subject group, and programmes with emphasis on natural sciences, humanities, or vocationally oriented subjects. Seven subjects are compulsory in all of the programmes: Latvian language and literature, Mathematics, History, one foreign language, Physical education, Applied Informatics, and Basics of business. In addition, each of the programmes includes group of compulsory subjects specific to the programme. Finally, about 25% of the total study workload are left for a free choice of the students. Two different curriculum levels - basic (pamatkurss) and advanced (profilkurss) - are offered in each subject and at least one subject has to be taken at advanced level. The programme system will replace the previous system, where studies included at least twelve subjects, of which five were compulsory and seven were elective. These students, who are at grades 11 and 12 in September 1999, will still follow the previous system.

To be awarded a certificate of general secondary education (atestāts par vispārējo vidējo izglītību) one has to complete the courses prescribed by the chosen programme, and to pass five final examinations, including two examinations in compulsory subjects (Latvian language and literature and another examination which is set nationally each year) and three examinations to be chosen by the student. One of these five examinations must be chosen at the advanced level of the respective subject. Knowledge of the seven non-examination subjects is assessed at the end of 12th grade prior to the session of final examinations. Since recent years, centralised uniform State examinations are being introduced in order to ensure a uniform assessment throughout the country.

These holders of general secondary education certificates, whose marks in at least twelve subjects are not lower than 4, have access to higher education.

Vocational education

Basic vocational education (arodpamatskola) programmes are intended for the instruction of simple vocations to those who have not completed their compulsory basic schooling by the age of 15. Although the vocations acquired in these programmes are rather simple (they lead to just Level I vocational qualifications), this group of programmes is important in the sense of prevention of social exclusion of a certain group of young people. Apart from simple vocational qualifications the vocational basic education programmes lead to certificate of basic education thus making young people eligible for further studies at secondary education level.

Vocational education at secondary level. 33% of holders of basic school certificates and 7% of holders of general secondary education certificates opt for vocational programmes.

Since September 1999 the system of vocational education in Latvia has been simplified, leaving just two main groups of programmes at secondary education level.

Vocational education (Arodizglītība) programmes. These programmes are two or three years long and lead to Level II vocational qualifications (theoretical and practical skills required for independent work as a skilled worker). These programmes include elements of general secondary education, but not a full course of it; therefore the graduates do not have a direct access to higher education.

Secondary vocational (vidējā profesionālā izglītība) programmes are of four year duration. They lead to Level III vocational qualifications (an advanced level of theoretical knowledge and skills in the profession allowing not only to execute tasks, but also to plan and to organise the work). Holders of vocational secondary education diplomas have completed a full general secondary education course and are therefore eligible for access to higher education studies.

The post-secondary vocational education programmes which were not regarded to as a part of higher education before September 1, 1999, are now being re-structured into “college programmes” leading to Level IV vocational qualifications (theoretical and practical preparedness for performing sophisticated executive tasks and for organisation and management of other specialists’ work). College programmes are officially regarded to as the first cycle of higher professional education (see chapter on higher education).

higher education

Access to higher education. Holders of general secondary education certificates have access to higher education. However, universities are free to specify which particular subjects must be acquired at the secondary school level in order to qualify for admission to a chosen programme.

The admission procedure is not centralised: each higher education institution has its own admissions board. Depending on the number of applicants per study place the institutions chose appropriate admission procedure. They may organise one or several (usually not more than four) competitive entrance examinations or a competition based on secondary school transcripts with an emphasis on subjects pertinent to the chosen programme. In some cases, an interview by the admissions officers is also applied.

Higher education system

The system of higher education in Latvia is binary since the Law on Education Establishments (1995) sets a difference between academic and professional higher education. The popularity of professional programmes is growing rapidly - in the academic year 1998/99 professional programmes attracted more than double number of new enrolees compared to the Bachelor programmes.

The binary structure of higher education system in Latvia however is not strictly institutionalised, therefore one can see universities running professional programmes and institutions not bearing the name of university running academic programmes. In principle, three groups of programmes can be distinguished: - academic programmes leading to academic degrees, - professional programmes based upon a standard of the first academic degree thus making graduates eligible for further academic studies, and, finally - the applied professional programmes oriented towards higher professional qualifications but not providing background for direct admission to further academic studies.

When applying the university type/ non-university type approach, the academic programmes and these professional programmes based upon academic degree standard should be attributed to university type while the applied professional programmes - to the non-university type.

Academic higher education (ISCED level 5A). Academic higher education programmes are based upon fundamental and/or applied science; they usually comprise a thesis at the end of each stage and lead to degrees Bakalaurs (Bachelor) and Maģistrs (Master). Bachelor degree is awarded after completion of the first stage of studies. Duration of Bachelor programmes may be 3 or 4 years at different institutions. The 4-year Bakalaurs degree is seen as a complete academic qualification, while a 3-year Bakalaurs degree is rather an intermediate qualification before choice between professional programmes or Master studies.

Maģistrs degree is awarded after the second stage of academic education and requires total duration of university studies 5-7 years.

In medicine and dentistry (6 and 5 years of studies respectively) bachelor and master degrees are not applied. Degrees in medicine and dentistry, however, are considered equal to master.

Doctoral studies. The degree of Maģistrs (or the equivalent) is required for admission to doctoral studies. The degree Doktors, which usually is internationally recognised as a Ph.D., can be achieved at public defence of a doctoral thesis. Doctoral studies last four or (more seldom) three full-time years. They include advanced studies of the subject as well as a research towards doctoral thesis. Publications in internationally quoted scientific journals are required before defence of the doctoral thesis. In the past, especially while most research institutes in Latvia were outside the universities, an equivalent amount of independent research and passing of the appropriate doctoral examinations while working at a research institution very often replaced doctoral studies. At present, regular studies in doctoral study programmes at the universities and having thesis research as an integral part of study programme is becoming the main way.

A second-level doctoral degree - the degree habilitēts doktors still exists in Latvia. Until the end of 1999 this degree is a formal prerequisite for a full professorship. However, according to the changes in national legislation, the degree Habilitēts doktors will not be awarded after January 1, 2000. Instead, new procedures have been designed for selection of full professors to ensure that the pretender who should be holder of degree Doktors has a sufficient scientific competence and pedagogical experience.

Professional higher education. The Law on professional education (1999) provides for higher professional programmes of two levels: college programmes leading to Level IV professional qualifications and professional higher education programmes leading to Level V professional qualifications. In a number of professional fields it is possible to establish college programmes as the first cycle of professional higher education.

College programmes are of at least two-year duration and are considered as the first cycle of higher professional education. These programmes lead to Level IV professional qualifications (theoretical and practical preparedness for performing sophisticated executive tasks and for organisation and management of other specialists’ work) and give credit to one’s further studies in the second cycle of professional higher education. College programmes are currently being established at both the existing higher education institutions and at the former institutions of post-secondary vocational education. The fields in which college education programmes are first being established are engineering, computer science, business administration, nursing, and law (training of business lawyers for SME’s). In order to ensure that training in college programmes can give credit for further studies in higher professional education, the quality assessment of college programmes will be carried out together with the appropriate “full” higher education programmes.

Higher professional education programmes are aimed at Level V professional qualifications (highest professional qualification of a specialist in a given branch, which provides for practical performance as well as planning and research in the most sophisticated professions).

As mentioned above, there are both university-type and non-university type professional higher education programmes in Latvia:

University-type professional programmes (ISCED Level 5A) are based upon an academic degree. As shown in the diagram of education system in Latvia, they can be either relatively short programmes on top of a Bakalaurs degree, or independent programmes providing higher professional education but including a standard of Bakalaurs degree. The graduates of these programmes are eligible for further academic studies.

Non-university type professional higher education programmes (ISCED Level 5B) are mainly aimed at acquiring of professional skills and acquiring of Level V professional qualifications. They are of at least four-year duration and they can, where possible and feasible, be organised in two cycles having a college programme and Level IV professional qualification as the first cycle.

Quality assessment. According to the Declaration on Co-operation in Quality Assurance of Higher Education in the Baltic States, quality assessment in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania is carried out using international peers from the three Baltic States and beyond. Baltic states have organised a number of joint training events for the experts used for external review of higher education programmes/institutions.

The first pilot assessment in Latvia took place in 1996 when the study programme at the Stockholm School of Economics (SSE) in Riga was assessed with a support of British council. More than half of the higher education programmes and a number of institutions have been assessed in Latvia as of September 1999. According to the Cabinet regulations all the higher education programmes in Latvia should be assessed by the year 2002.

Institutions of higher education

Universities completely cover one or several significant fields and are entitled to confer the degrees up to doctoral level. According to decision of Latvian Council of Higher Education the following institutions of higher education have university status:

University of Latvia;
Riga Technical University;
Latvia University of Agriculture;
Medical Academy of Latvia;
Daugavpils Pedagogical University;

All the other institutions of higher education, which have no university status, are usually specialised in one or several specific fields.

Institutions granting doctoral degrees:

Latvian Academy of Music;
Latvian Academy of Arts;
Latvia Academy of Culture;
Liepāja Pedagogical Higher School,

Latvian Academy of Sports Education;
Police Academy of Latvia.

State institutions granting degrees below doctoral level:

Latvian Maritime Academy;
National Academy of Defence of the Republic of Latvia;
Rēzekne Higher Education Institution;
Riga Higher School of Pedagogy and Education Management;
Stockholm School of Economics in Riga;
Banking College of Higher Education;
Vidzeme College of Higher Education;
The Ventspils College.

Accredited private institutions. The following private institutions of higher education in Latvia run accredited programmes:

Higher School of Social Work and Social Pedagogic ²Attīstība²;
Latvian Evangelic Christian Academy;
Business School Turība;

Riga International College of Economics and Business Administration;
Business institute RIMPAK Livonia;
Baltic Russian Institute;
Institute of Social Technologies.

Licensed private institutions

A number of private institutions in Latvia have been granted a license to begin activities in higher education but have not yet undergone a systematic quality assessment/accreditation.

Before accreditation their diplomas/degrees are not recognised by the State.

Licensing procedure however, involves a preliminary examination of the curricula and facilities. The institutions listed below exist legally and are working to meet accreditation criteria. They should therefore be distinguished from some others, that operate without licenses and, consequently, without any state oversight.

The following institutions in Latvia have received licenses for activities in higher education:

International Institute of Practical Psychology;
Riga Humanitarian Institute;
Riga Institute of Aeronavigation;
College of International Tourism;
College of Information System’s Management;
College of Economics and Culture;
College of Psychology.

Student statistics. A sharp increase of student number over the last two years, brought total enrolment in academic year 1998/99 up to 76653 students. The most popular fields are social sciences - 45.6% of student population, teacher training - 20.3% and engineering - 14.8%. Humanities attracted 7.1% of students, natural sciences - 4.4%, health care - 3.2%, agriculture - 2.9% leaving 1.5% to other fields. 10015 students (13.2%) studied in master level programmes and 985 students (1.3%) in doctoral programmes.

© Academic Information centre, 1999.

Published by Academic Information centre - Latvian ENIC/NARIC

Address: Vaļņu iela 2, LV-1050 Rīga, LATVIA, telephone: +371-7-225155, +371-7-212317; fax: +371-7-221006; e-mail:;

With the support of Ministry of Education and Science and higher education institutions