The Latvian educational system comprises pre-school education, 9-year basic education, upper-secondary education and higher education. Formal post-secondary non-tertiary education in Latvia is classified within the secondary education level.
In Latvia there is a difference between academic and professional higher education, nevertheless, it is not institutionalised. Universities and other higher education institutions run both academic and professional programmes, e.g. lawyer, teacher, translator, marine mechanic etc. Bachelor's (bakalaurs) and master's (maģistrs) degrees are awarded in both academic and professional higher education programmes. A master's degree is awarded after the second stage of academic/professional education (post-graduate studies) and requires a total of at least 5 years of university studies. Graduates of both types of bachelor's degree have access to master's studies, graduates of the master's degree - to doctoral studies.
Latvia is using a national credit point system in higher education. One Latvian national credit point is defined as a one-week full-time study workload. The average full-time workload of an academic year in most higher education programmes is 40 credits. The Latvian credit point system is compatible with ECTS. The number of ECTS credits is found by multiplying the number of Latvian credit points by a factor of 1.5.
The objectives of academic higher education are to prepare graduates for independent research, as well as to provide theoretical background for professional activities. Academic education programmes are implemented according to the national standard of academic education.
The objectives of professional higher education are to provide in-depth knowledge in a particular field, preparing graduates for design or improvement of systems, products and technologies, as well as to prepare them for creative, research and teaching activities in this field.
There are two types of secondary education programmes: general secondary and vocational secondary education and training programmes. When admitting students to the secondary level education, schools are free to hold entrance examinations according to the basic education standard, except in those subjects for which students have already received a Certificate of the basic education.
The compulsory curriculum of 3-year general secondary schools (vidusskola, ģimnāzija) is determined by the National Standard in the following profiles: (1) general comprehensive, (2) humanitarian / social, (3) mathematics / natural science / technical, (4) vocational / professional (arts, music, business, sports). All educational programmes must contain 8 compulsory and 3-6 selected subjects according to the profile. Schools can offer some optional subjects that take no more than 10-15% of the total study time or major in any of the compulsory subjects instead. General secondary education programmes, irrespective of the profile, may be combined with a national minority educational programme by inclusion of the minority’s national language and subjects related to national identity and its integration into the Latvian society.
Upon graduation students have to take 4 centralized national examinations, the content and procedure of which are determined by the Ministry of Education and Science and approved by the Cabinet of Ministers. A Certificate of the secondary education (atestāts par vispārējo vidējo izglītību) is awarded to all students, who have received a positive assessment in all subjects according to the chosen profile and the national examinations and a certificate of the passed centralized exams and their scores, providing the right to continue education in any higher-level education programme. If the student has not received an evaluation in one or more subjects or national examination, he/she receives a school report (liecība).
Different vocational education and training programmes are developed and offered for all branches of the national economy of Latvia. The National Standard of the vocational education and the Occupational Standards determine the curriculum/content of vocational education programmes. Majority vocational education schools in Latvia provide 4 and 3 year vocational education and training programmes and only some programmes are designed for the basic vocational education and training purposes.
- 4-year vocational secondary education programmes are offered to those students who have successfully completed compulsory basic education in vocational secondary schools (named: arodvidusskola, amatniecības vidusskola, arodģimnāzija or tehnikums). Graduates of these programmes have an opportunity to combine acquisition of Level 3 of vocational qualification with completion of their secondary education.
- 2-3 year vocational education and training programmes are offered to students who have completed the basic education and provide the opportunity to acquire Level 2 of vocational qualification. Education can be continued in 2-year programmes leading to qualification Level 3 or 1-2 year programmes leading to a Certificate of the secondary education (atestāts par vidējo izglītību).
- 3 year vocational basic education and training programmes are provided in vocational schools for students without a certificate of the basic education (after completion of at least 7 grades of basic education, but not before the calendar year when they become 15 years old). Besides acquiring Level 1 or 2 of vocational qualification students also have the opportunity to accomplish the basic education.
Depending on the type of vocational education programme, all students who have passed the final subject and qualification exams are awarded a diploma or certificate: a diploma of vocational secondary education (diploms par profesionālo vidējo izglītību),a certificate of vocational basic education and training (atestāts par arodizglītību), a certificate of vocational initial education and training (apliecība par profesionālo pamatizglītību) . Only holders of a diploma of the vocational secondary education are eligible for access to tertiary education.
Post-secondary non-tertiary vocational education
Vocational continuing or in-service training programmes can be acquired also after graduating general secondary or vocational education and training institutions (duration 1-2 years) or in vocational upgrading/ development programmes (duration not less than 160 study hours, which may be considered as a part of the qualification). These programmes are focused towards mastering purely professional skills and knowledge in line with the requirements of the respective qualification level. The study process, assessment of achievements are organized in a similar manner as it is done in vocational secondary education and training programmes.
The admission procedure is not centralised: each higher education institution has its own admissions board and criteria. From the year 2004 the entrance examinations are replaced by the results of the national centralised secondary education examinations.
The system of higher education in Latvia is binary since the Law on Education Establishments sets a difference between academic and professional higher education but it is not strictly institutionalised. Universities and other institutions of higher education mostly run both academic and professional programmes. There can be distinguished three groups of programmes: 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 the applied professional programmes oriented towards higher professional qualifications but not providing background for direct admission to further academic studies.
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 a Bachelor’s degree (Bakalaurs) and Master’s degree (Maģistrs). Duration of Bachelor’s programmes may be 3 or 4 years at different institutions. The 3-4-year Bachelor’s degree is considered as a complete academic qualification. Master’s degree is awarded after the second stage of academic education and requires at least 5 years of university studies.
The Law on Higher Education Institutions and the Law on Vocational Education and Training stipulate a two level professional higher education – the first level of professional higher education or college education (2-3 years) leading to professional qualification Level 4 (diploms par pirmā līmeņa profesionālo augstāko izglītību), and second level of professional higher education leading to qualification level 5 (2-3 years). Having mastered a programme of professional higher education, students are awarded a professional qualification or a professional Bachelor’s degree that can be followed by a further 1-2 years of professional Master’s studies. The Master’s degree (Magistrs) of higher professional education is awarded if the total duration of studies is at least five years.
There can be the so-called “short” second level professional higher education study programmes (1-2 years), where qualification is obtained on the basis of the previously acquired first level professional higher education or academic Bachelor’s degree. In total the duration of professional qualification Level 5 study programmes is not less than 4 years after secondary education and not less than 2 years after college education.
Master’s degree or the equivalent ( graduates of 5-6 year professional higher education programmes in Law and Medicine can continue education at postgraduate level directly) is required for admission to doctoral studies (Ph.D.). Doctoral studies last 3-4 full-time years. They include advanced studies of the subject in a relevant study programme (or an equivalent amount of independent research while working at a university, research institution, etc.) and a scientific research towards doctoral thesis. Publications in internationally quoted scientific journals are required before public defence of the doctoral thesis as an integral part of a study programme. The Council of Science appoints Promotion Council and sets the procedures for award of Doctor’s degrees.
The tuition at pre-school, basic and secondary education in a state or municipality founded educational establishments is funded from the national or municipal budget. Private educational institutions may set a tuition fee for providing education. In higher education programmes the state covers tuition fees for a certain number of students’ places, according to the State Procurement in the respective academic year. Each higher education institution may set a tuition fee for the rest of students’ places. All students are entitled to a state credit for their studies in any higher education programme.
Foreigners or non-citizens pay for their education in accordance with the agreement concluded with the respective educational establishment. In cases when foreign citizens study in Latvia under an exchange programme and an equivalent number of Latvian students study abroad, the foreigners' studies in Latvia are financed from the budget resources of the Republic of Latvia allocated to the respective institution of higher education. The tuition fee for the citizens of European Union countries shall be determined and covered according to the same procedure as for the citizens and permanent residents of the Republic of Latvia.