Daiga Behmane: Best universities of the world join to promote transformation of the Latvian higher education establishments

Since March this year as the representative of Riga Stradins University (RSU), I have participated in the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) program. It is a several month program for educational leaders coordinated by Riga Business School (innovationeducation.lv) and the  Ministry of Education and Science which has allowed us to participate in international webinars and workshops on the management and digitization of education, and learn about approaches of leading universities in developing the education system. Together we are 17 participants, and are representatives of the education sector and business. Topics of the workshops have been related to possible development scenarios for the education system, the ability to solve challenges of the national economy and social sector, and how to provide the expertise that students need when they enter the labour market.


It is very useful for each participant to study one of the online courses offered by EdX about innovations and education management. This gives a practical overview of the distant learning process. It was very valuable for me as I was introduced to the materials of the course and how the process works.


The project group itself was important. In this part of the program we were representatives of the leading universities, public administration and companies working together. Within the group we discussed the development directions of the educational system of Latvia in what we had learned, the international experience, and the  situation specific to Latvia.


Gaining of knowledge and experience in Boston


As part of the MIT program, in the beginning of May, its participants took part in the Times Higher Education Digital Universities Week conference in Boston. It was an intense week filled with workshops and discussions. We participated in the sessions organised by the leading universities of the USA regarding innovative study process solutions, approaches, and results of educational research.


In the workshops we also discussed issues significant in my work – adapting of the study process to new challenges and changing needs of students, diversification of the study forms, and development of the distant learning process.


Talks with the academic staff of MIT were very valuable and I understood that, within our development perspective, we at RSU are going in the same direction, and we deal with the same challenges that the leading universities of the world encounter. The difference lies in the fact that we still have much to do to improve innovative study solutions and to digitize the study process.


Challenges in the education of Latvia through the experience perspective of Boston


Currently universities all around the world deal with many challenges especially in the implementation of the remote learning process. Also in RSU, during the last two academic years, we have especially focused on the application and adaptation of the curriculum of programs to distant learning, including rapidly developing digital solutions. Therefore, the MIT program comes just in time and provides possibilities to master the approach of the leading universities of the world and their solutions in the management of the study process.


As a special challenge, I see exactly the management of the educational process in total as universities encounter the insufficiencies of the previous education processes, including, gaps in student knowledge. Also in the events of Boston we a lot about the provision of the academic education in the equally good level for students with different previous knowledge levels. It places extra requirements on universities in the creation of various basic courses where students themselves have to learn the knowledge base they lack.  


In the case of Latvia, also the resources and academic staff remuneration issues come to the forefront. Several times in the Boston week we confirmed that the main promoters of educational innovations are knowledgeable, motivated university faculty members directed towards development. Currently the academic staff of Latvian universities has a very big workload but the remuneration is not always competitive. Therefore, attracting suitable academic staff to the universities is quite the challenge.


Our group discussed the broader cooperation of business with the universities of Latvia, as USA universities have much closer cooperation with entrepreneurs both in terms of implementation of long-term programs and projects. It should be promoted also here, as it would provide the study programs better suited to the needs of entrepreneurs and develop skills and expertise of potential employees, as well as allow attracting additional resources to universities.


It would be important to find solutions as to how Latvian universities could adapt globally accessible digital solutions and study materials where it is possible. The biggest burden currently in the digitalization of the study process is placed on the university faculty members of the study courses who require support and joint technological solutions. 


Creating a student-centered approach has been a strategic direction of RSU for several years.  As it was discussed in Boston, more attention should be paid exactly to finding the needs of students and respective aligning of the study process. At the same time it is also important to decide what forms of studies are more relevant for the implementation of a  specific program. In general, it was recognized that the combined study forms should be supported where the remote learning is provided with the availability of digital materials and combined with the study forms onsite, reducing the necessity of onsite lectures but increasing exactly the forms of discussions and group works. Among the negative traits of remote learning is the reduced mutual communication, discussions, and cooperation skills of the students. 


This program is a good example as it provides the possibility to learn from the experience and solutions of other universities. It would be important to create such a cooperation platform of educational leaders as a  long-term solution with the possibility to discuss the current challenges of Latvia, talk about them, and seek solutions on the global level.


What is Latvia lacking to successfully integrate what we learned?


It would be effective to establish a common platform of innovative solutions, as well as find additional resources for universities to adapt and introduce these innovative and digital solutions faster. Definitely, we should maintain the group of leaders created during the program with different representation which could develop the strategic direction of the education system in general and make it more effective.


Already in the nearest future


At the end of the program, each participant presents the selected education innovation project, bringing forward a solution to a specific problem. My chosen topic is digital health, justifying the necessity to create a knowledge base for the digitization of the health sector, including standardisation of the electronic data of patients, data exchange, and interoperability of programs and administration of the e-health system in general according to global requirements. In the health sector in general we lack knowledge about digitization of the sector, consequently, digital health and medicine issues are currently prioritised study development directions of RSU. In the development of new study programs, we are using the experience gained in MIT and resource base, establishing closer cooperation with companies working in the sector. At the same time we are introducing innovative teaching methods and upgrading technological solutions for the implementation of the existing study courses. In the implementation of the program I am planning to use the MIT approach – develop it according to the module principle so that it can be used both in the teaching of students and also applied for the upgrading of skills of representatives of health care sector.


* Program is implemented as part of the agreement of the Riga Technical University and Central Finance and Contracting Agency on the implementation of the project “Support for RTU international cooperation projects in research and innovations” ( Program is coordinated by Riga Business School.


Daiga Behmane

Riga Stradins University Vice-dean, Faculty of Public Health and Social Welfare, Head of the Health Management University Faculty Members