Development of Higher Education Quality Assurance System in Latvia
Late 1980s and early 1990s
Formation of the system
The development of the Latvian national quality assurance system was one of the first higher education reforms in independent Latvia, taking place at the end of the 1980s and at the beginning of the 1990s. The aim of the reform was to obtain international recognition for the Latvian higher education system.
In 1991, the first law on education in independent Latvia – the Education law – was adopted. It formally defined licencing and accreditation of higher education institutions, but a number of important aspects, including a functional quality assurance system, were barely mentioned.
The quality assurance system in Latvia was created jointly by the state and the higher education institutions, influenced by two main factors:
- Major restructuring of study programmes from the former five-year programmes to a two-tier (bachelor and master) structure, which led to a number of practically new study programmes and the need to assess whether these programmes were of sufficient quality.
- The establishment of private higher education institutions and scepticism about the quality of education provision in these institutions.
In December 1994 the first Latvian quality assurance agency – the Higher Education Quality Evaluation Centre (HEQEC) – was founded.
In November 1995 the specialised Law on Institutions of Higher Education was adopted and shortly after, the first national regulations that described procedures for accreditation were approved.
The system described by these regulations, which can be considered the first quality assurance model in Latvia, included three procedures:
- Licencing for private higher education institutions only. It was established as the initial assessment for emerging private institutions in order to monitor their intentions and capacity for education provision. A positive outcome allowed the higher education institution to implement study programmes and to issue the education certificates to its graduates in the name of the institution (but not in the name of the state). For public institutions, this procedure was not considered relevant because the state as the founder was already aware of the capacity and the intentions of the institution.
- Accreditation of all higher education institutions. It gave to higher education institutions the right to issue state-recognised diplomas. Within the accreditation process, the organisation and resources of the higher education institution were assessed.
- Accreditation of all study programmes. In order to award a state-recognised diploma to graduates of a certain study programme, both the higher education institution and the respective study programme had to be accredited.
Starting from 1996 HEQEC was the responsible organisation for evaluations of higher education institutions and study. HEQEC was responsible for maintaining the databases of accredited programmes and quality assurance experts and also for organising the site visits and expert work. However, the decision-taking bodies were – Council of Higher Education (CHE) in case of institutions and Higher Education Programme Accreditation Commission (HEPAC) in case of study programmes. Since 1996 HEQEC operated under agreements signed with Ministry of Education and Science (MoES).
The programme evaluations in Latvia began in 1996 and until 2012 HEQEC had completed two full review cycles (each being 6 years).
During the years of operation HEQEC was also a member of CEENQA, INQAAHE and contributed to work of EQANIE and EAQAN.
In 2010 ENQA did not grant full membership to HEQEC, after it went through the procedure for assessing the compliance with European Standards and Guidelines (ESG), and review team concluded that HEQEC didn’t comply with all necessary criteria.
Assessment of all higher education programmes / study directions
In 2011 when HEQEC was still responsible for organising accreditation procedures, CHE within a European Social Funds project organised an assessment of all higher education programmes in Latvia. The purpose of it was to identify duplication and scope for the amalgamation of programmes, to highlight the best performing programmes, and to eliminate poorly performing programmes.
In order to make system more comparable, study programmes were grouped according to study. That helped to obtain conclusions and recommendations in three levels – the level of programme itself, the level of study direction within one higher education institution and the level of study direction in the whole country.
Later, it was decided that the audit approaches and results could also be used for taking decisions on regular accreditation of programmes and subsequently study directions. This decision was institutionalized with amendments in the Law of Higher Education Institutions (in 2012) that stated the transition from evaluation of study programmes to evaluation of study directions.
Ministry of education and science
In September 2012 the Cabinet of Ministers approved the new regulations on accreditation of higher education institutions, colleges and study directions, which stated that accreditation can be organised by an authorised institution with which MoES signs a delegation agreement or MoES itself.
As it was crucial to make decision about study directions evaluated during the audit, in April 2013 Ministry of education and science took over the accreditation process. Decisions on accreditation of higher education institutions were taken by CHE, decisions on accreditation of study directions were taken by Study accreditation commission which was an extended version of HEPAC.
All the time during the operation of MoES there was a common understanding about the need of a new agency that would fulfil the requirements for ENQA membership.
Current system / AIC
To avoid uncertainty within the higher education system and dropping prestige of Latvian higher education within the secondary school graduates in Latvia, after debate between stakeholders, it was decided that AIC is the most relevant organisation for the task of quality assurance of higher education. In November 2014 Cabinet of ministers approved conception of AIC as a proposed institution.
After AIC selection and revision of actual regulations for accreditation, AIC established a substructure called AIKA (Quality Agency for Higher Education) to carry out the function of quality assurance in higher education. AIKA has competence to organise the accreditation of higher education institutions, colleges, study directions (study programme groups), licensing of study programmes, as well as the implementation of other tasks related to the quality assurance of higher education. The Higher Education Quality Assurance Council (Council), which comprises 8 members representing different stakeholder organisations interested in the quality of higher education is responsible for approving the Study Quality Committee and Appeals Committee.
Important that AIKA as the new institution for quality assurance of higher education in Latvia has been formed from the very beginning in accordance with new ESG-2015 edition adopted shortly before.
Currently there are three main quality assurance processes performed in Latvia:
- Accreditation of higher education institution – assessment of the work organisation and quality of resources of a HEI as a result of which the HEI is recognised by the state and can issue state recognised diplomas. The HEIs are accredited for an indefinite term and the extraordinary accreditation of a HEI can be initiated only in case of violations of regulatory acts. The decision on the accreditation of a HEI is taken by CHE.
- Accreditation of study direction. Since 2012, the new external quality assurance model for higher education has been in place indicating the transition from accreditation of individual study programmes to accreditation of study directions. It is assessment with the purpose of determining the quality of the resources of a higher education institution or college and the ability to implement a study programme corresponding to a specific study direction in accordance with regulatory enactments. The accreditation of the study direction gives the higher education institution or college the right to issue a State-recognised diploma of higher education for successful acquisition of a study programme corresponding to the relevant study direction. Decision on the accreditation of study directions is taken by the SQC. Study directions can be accredited for two terms – 6 years (positive decision), 2 years (conditional decision, if substantial deficiency is detected but may be eliminated within the scope of the time period of accreditation of the study direction). In case of negative decision study direction is no accredited.
- Licensing of study programme – the assessment for granting rights to a higher education institution or its branches to implement a study programme. Each new study programme has to be licensed and only after that students could be enrolled. Decision on the licensing of study programmes is taken by the SQC.
Since July 2018 AIKA is full member of ENQA. The decision of ENQA to grant AIKA full membership for the next 5 years, assures that assessments of higher education organised by AIKA can be trusted both – locally and internationally, and AIKA has been received as trusted partner within European higher education area.
Since December 2018 AIKA has been included in EQAR.
For preparation of this section the following information sources have been used:
- Self-evaluation report of the Quality Agency for Higher Education
- Blese R., Kažoka A., Silka J., Zariņa I., Establishing a national quality assurance agency in the light of ESG 2015, “Education. Quality Assurance”, No. 2, Independent agency for accreditation and rating, 2017;
- Kažoka A., Silka J., Rauhvargers A., Moving Quality Assurance from Programme to Institutional Level, Internationalisation of Higher Education, issue 4, 2018