Jānis Grēviņš: in a nutshell – why are we developing North American style business education in Latvia for 30 years

“Why US education model is praised so much in Riga Business School?” a question frequently asked by the employers, potential students and cooperation partners.

To provide answers I have to look into history and my personal experience spent in the university administration and working with projects at the University at Buffalo (USA) in USA, Latvia, Belorussia and China.

But first instead of business education we have to focus on general principles of education. European approach in education could be characterised as follows – everyone completes one program and excellence is evaluated by the type of the school and, possibly, "prestige" in society. However, in US system pupil and later student focuses on the facultative programs or subjects, building individual knowledge. This leads to various directions and knowledge levels formed in frame of one school due to different choices of programs.

Let’s continue to evaluate historical aspects of education in Europe and North America. In general higher education tradition stems from Europe but the progress achieved in higher education in Great Britain and USA is substantial. Progress is obtained with the help of approaches and directions universities opt to follow. Initial educational format in Europe comes from monasteries with their deeply rooted procedures, regimen and requirements. At the same time wealthy part of US society, intelligentsia and religious communities understood that further development of economy is only possible when people will learn things that are needed during the specific period of time and also will be suitable in future, helping to shape the community. In USA historical and current investments in universities are directed towards building up knowledge to face challenges of today and make use of opportunities of future.

Also the foundation principles of universities alter how university is managed and how it responds to its mission. Philosophy prevailing in Europe emphasize that the university creates the service itself, on the basis of its educational model. Philosophy in USA developed differently – historically founders of private universities explicitly told: “we require from the university to prepare the society for the circumstances of today and the future”. We can clearly see that, looking into missions and visions of US universities. The first emphasis in the visions of US universities is serving the society. Europe still mainly focuses on “teaching students and creating science”. It is correct in its essence but the question remains – teach who, how and why?

These philosophical relations determine how universities operate. In general the following differences can be observed in the curriculum. Universities in USA focus on preparing of students for the labour market and its current and future requirements. Today one of the hottest topics on agenda is that we don’t even know many professions that will exist after 10 years. And how can we prepare young people for them? US education system partially answers this. University graduate has to be intelligent and versatile. One study year is devoted on acquiring basic knowledge – natural science, art, human management. Sometimes we incorrectly interpret the concept “Liberal arts” in Latvian. It does not mean “Free arts”, but “Arts that make a person free”. These arts or sciences form a person who is intelligent and free in one’s convictions and possibilities to shape one’s future. Person who understands what functions separately and together in various fields. How things interact. Further in the university person finds his or her specialization but the foundation helps to see the regularities in life. Probably, you have already heard this before but I will repeat – user interface is 90% from the success story of the mobile app. Who is the most important person in creating the app? The one who helps to figure out the winning user experience as only technological solutions are not enough. It is important to understand both. For this reason we created BITL – IT Leadership Bachelor’s Program in Riga Business School.

Already from the day one European model focuses more on preparing individuals to be managers in a certain area. Higher education programs in Europe are focused on a specific profession. In USA students choose their profession in second, third year. In Europe it is frequently done already in the first study year. In Europe students are learning subjects directly related to their profession. It provides them with good knowledge in one niche area but they lack perspective require in the current labour market and also for managing change. This perspective matters in introduction innovations as well.

When selecting study programs, this has to be kept in mind. European model is better, if one wants to be a high level, niche specialist-expert. Nevertheless, US model has proved its superiority and is more suitable to the current educational demand.

Another interesting thing. In European model all students study together – starting in the first year and continuing until graduation (some drop out, of course). This allows to build a good team, though a monodisciplinary one. In US model every student can interact with different fellow students, as each individual selects different combination of courses, tailored to his or her needs. It is an advantage allowing to meet people from different years, fields and areas. This provides broader perspective and knowledge. Also you can get more friends.

Currently Holland is trending as the new hot spot for Bachelor studies. It is attracting young people with its half-American model, providing foundation during the first year, multi-disciplinary programs that are one step towards US direction. At the same time Holland accepts all students and only the best continue. US focus on thorough selection and the supporting of students during the studies to facilitate ability to graduate successfully.

Choice of university is a serious decision. Young person has started one’s path of development and decided to study. The responsibility of university is to provide that the young people “absorb” the curriculum, forms, ideas offered and complete the studies. In USA 85 to 95% of students graduate, in Latvia we haven’t achieved that level, on average these are 50% of students who graduate. But this is another topic.

Considering the founders of Riga Business School (RBS), RBS is the school belonging to the US philosophy league. There is a serious competition in Bachelor programs. Around 10 to 15% of students discontinue the studies. Main filter for enrolment – English language and mathematics. You have to pay for this education, making one thoroughly consider return of investment, use networking possibilities during studies and after, as well as cooperation with companies (in case of RBS many are representatives of technology areas). There are CEOs and founders of enterprises of various sizes amongst our more than 1000 graduates. Jānis Bergs, Arnis Riekstiņš and other people working in the technology area prove that interdisciplinary approach is the success factor in the technology area.

System has proved – if a person has interdisciplinary knowledge, he or she can master other knowledge easily, the so-called “compounding knowledge”. Interdisciplinary education is exponential. It inspires me.


Jānis Grēviņš, Director at RBS, European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), Member of the Governing Board