A meeting of the working group for diaspora policy issues took place in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 10 May. There, representatives of the diaspora, institutions and various organisations of Latvia discussed the question of attracting students from the diaspora to studies in the higher education institutions of Latvia, as well as the participation of the diaspora in the exchange programmes for elementary and secondary school students.
During the meeting, Pēteris Kārlis Elferts, Ambassador-at-Large for the Diaspora of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, emphasised “the large and yet untapped potential for attracting youth of the diaspora as students to study in the universities and technical schools of Latvia. This is an area of activity, he said, which needs more attention and where I would like to urge the educational institutions of Latvia to direct even more effort.” The Ambassador noted that such directions of work should be included in the remigration policy to strengthen the Latvian identity of the diaspora, its link to Latvia and to promote the return of young people to Latvia.
There are several institutions of higher education institutions working in this direction already. Representatives from the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga introduced the participants of the meeting to the Heritage Programme which offers studies in English, for a fee, in Latvia for either a semester or an entire academic year, thus enabling an increase in language fluency through performing research and getting on-the-job experience in Latvian companies parallel to regular studies.
Last year, during the West Coast Latvian Song Festival in San Jose, California, the University of Latvia had a stand with information on the study programmes at the university and significant interest was shown. Associate Professor Arvils Šalme, a representative of the University of Latvia Foundation (LU fonds), confirmed at the meeting that the University of Latvia is indeed increasingly trying to expand the possibilities for the diaspora. He noted that one should think about attracting young people from the diaspora not only to academic education, but also to extracurricular activities and studies as well as distance learning.
Ambassador Pēteris Kārlis Elferts reminded participants that young people with Latvian origins, when studying in Latvia, have the opportunity to use the advantages of their dual citizenship by studying here as a citizen of Latvia. In comparison to the costs of studies in America for example, they would be considerably lower in Latvia. Moreover, the study by the researcher Dr. Ieva Birka about Latvians from America and Canada confirms that the majority considering the possibility of moving to Latvia are in fact young people aged 18 to 25.
On the subject of involving students from elementary and secondary schools in the exchange programmes in Latvia, Kristaps Grasis, Chairman of the Executive Board of the European Latvian Association noted that diaspora families are demonstrating an interest in such opportunities and he emphasised that young people of the diaspora are an important target group. The possibilities of studying in a Latvian school would provide the opportunity to be in a Latvian environment, strengthening Latvian fluency and ties with Latvia, thus fostering the possibility for studying or working in Latvia in the future.
The international non-governmental organisation AFS Latvija informed participants about the inter-cultural student exchange programme for teenagers from 15 to 18, which offers, for a membership fee, the possibility for Latvian children to study at a school and live in a host family in another country, and for children from the diaspora to do the same in Latvia. The organisation demonstrated an interest in attracting children from the diaspora to this programme.
The working group meeting also discussed the proposal that such school exchange programmes could be oriented toward children from the diaspora and adjusted to their particular needs, and that such programmes could receive state support. In the meantime, organisations can be encouraged to address members of the diaspora as well as the residents of Latvia in the course of implementing the existing programmes.
The diaspora working group meeting was also attended by representatives from the World Union of Free Latvians, Ministry of Culture, Ministry of economics, Ministry of Education and Science, the Society Integration Foundation, the Latvian National Cultural Centre, Latvian Association of Local and Regional Governments, the National Centre for Education, and the international youth organisation – AIESEC.
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