Seafarers do not agree with the reorganization of the academy
To explain why seafarers need their own higher education institution you can use an analogy from the home affairs industry. In order to save money, the Police Academy was abolished in 2010, and since then the quality of education and work has significantly decreased. Back this summer, the President and Prime Minister concluded that the liquidation of the Police Academy was a major mistake that needed to be corrected, as internal security was increasingly lagging behind the country's overall development and the home affairs sector was in a critical state. Also due to the low quality of education. And now the Ministry of Education and Science is urging the government to make an identical mistake in the maritime sector. To close the Latvian Maritime Academy by adding it to Riga Technical University. To make one faculty of secondary importance from an autonomous higher education institution that provides both higher and secondary professional education in the maritime sector.
Muižniece resuscitates Ķīlis' idea
In fact, the idea of reorganizing the Latvian Maritime Academy is nothing new. This was first discussed in the government corridors soon after the liquidation of the Police Academy. The idea to add the Maritime Academy to Riga Technical University was discussed based on the opinion of the then Minister of Education and Science Roberts Ķīlis that two-thirds of Latvian universities should be closed or merged. But "Seafarers want to keep their academy". This article was written by Neatkarīgā in 2012, and the same can be written now: “The Academy is internationally recognized. Prospective and current naval officers appreciate that the document issued by it paves the way for a prestigious job, a great career and an impressive salary.” However, for some reason, the Ministry of Education and Science does not value it highly enough and plans to jeopardize the stability of maritime education. The current situation is as follows. In order to protect against a similar fate and situation to the Police Academy as in 2012, the industry intends to include the guarantees of maritime education autonomy in the Transport Development Guidelines 2021-2027 developed by the Ministry of Transport as a separate line of action: "Maintain an autonomous network of maritime education institutions and ensure an optimal range of maritime education programs." However, the Ministry of Education and Science refuses to approve such a version of the document, because "in the Ministry's view, maintaining the existing network of single-field institutions in the context of common reforms in the higher education sector threatens, rather than promotes, the future of a high-quality and sustainable maritime education system in Latvia". Translation: educational institutions that provide education in a particular field are no good, they all have to teach everything.
And this is a straight path to get to where the single-field institution called the Police Academy ended up.
Seafarers call for keeping their autonomy
Several seafarers' associations - the Latvian Shipmasters' Association, the Latvian Maritime Union, the Latvian Merchant Navy Seamen's Trade Union and the Latvian Crewing Companies Association - have addressed a joint letter to policymakers of both their industry and the national education to maintain an autonomous network of maritime education institutions.
"Our industry understands the term 'autonomy' as an independent, internally consolidated network of maritime educational institutions, consisting of the Latvian Maritime Academy, both maritime colleges and maritime schools within the structure of higher education institutions, which specialize in training ship officers in internationally regulated maritime professions. Unfortunately, for reasons incomprehensible to us, the Ministry of Education and Science does not want to listen and go into the opinion of the maritime community in the training of specialists in such a specific profession.” The full letter from the seafarers' organizations can be read here.
MoES wants to get the last word
At the end of September, the Minister of Education Anita Muižniece replied to the letter, and it does not contain any evidence that the opinion of the seafarers could be taken into account. Education policy is a function of the Ministry of Education and not the Ministry of Transport: "Accordingly, there is no reason to strengthen the principle in a sector-specific planning document regarding the issue that falls within the competence of the Ministry of Education and Science." Even if the document is approved in the current wording, "it cannot be an obstacle to the implementation of the planned higher education reforms". The Ministry of Education is now preparing its informative report on the institutional development and consolidation plan of state higher education institutions and will submit it to the Cabinet of Ministers by March 31, 2022. So, the Ministry of Education intends to get the last word, but the industry does not want to allow this.
The university must produce seafarers
Why are seafarers so reluctant to add their academy to Riga Technical University? Neatkarīgā asked Jāzeps Spridzāns, President of the Latvian Shipmasters' Association, and the short answer was because Riga Technical University does not have the understanding and knowledge base about maritime affairs. The same goes for politicians. And because RTU Transport Institute is just terrible. Like the National Defense Academy, the Latvian Maritime Academy cannot be attached to a higher education institution in such a way that the quality of education does not suffer. It just doesn't fit anywhere else. And uniforms are worn by sailors not because they are beautiful or comfortable. This is a regulated profession - closer to the army than to the civilian world. It is not for nothing that seafarers for the NATO fleet are trained at the Latvian Maritime Academy.
In the opinion of Captain Spridzāns, the Ministry's accusations about the lacking scientific achievements are completely inappropriate. At least for the time being, Latvia does not produce ships where science is truly needed. The Academy and its maritime school must first and foremost produce ship officers, seafarers. About 95% of graduates go to work at sea - in their field, and such indicators are rare in any industry. The reason is also not difficult to find. The first salary of graduates is about 3000 euros per month.
The golden goose is starved of money
Maritime education is indeed a goose that lays golden eggs, so it must be handled with great care. "Incorporating seafaring into a traditional university will destroy the well-established, result-oriented training system for seafarers in Latvia," seafarers believe. Moreover, it is not just about getting an education. This diploma and the existing supervision system are inextricably linked to international requirements and, ultimately, the certification of Latvian seafarers. The right to work on large ships. The issue that the Ministry of Education should really address is another. Maritime education, which lays these golden eggs, has been starving for money for years. State funding for the provision of education in such a specific niche is completely inadequate. Unfortunately, the ministry is still choosing blackmail. If you do not agree to the reorganization, there will be no money. And as long as there is no money, it is not possible to raise the quality of science to the level requested by the ministry. This is destructive.
On January 1 of this year, 11,760 seafarers were employed in Latvia. About 11,000 of them work in the merchant navy - 52% as captains and officers, 48% as ordinary seafarers. Latvia has the largest proportion of seafarers per capita in the world.
Contribution to the economy
During the year, working in the world fleet, merchant seafarers earn and import about 345 million euros into the country, which is actually an investment in the Latvian economy. A study conducted by the Latvian Maritime Administration's Register of Seafarers in 2019 shows that 4/5 of this money is earned by captains and officers and only 1/5 by ordinary seafarers. The average adjusted net salary of captains and senior officers for 12 months of the year was 6 times higher than the average in Latvia. The net monthly salary of other officers exceeded the national average 3.64 times.