IMAGE OF UNIVERSITY STUDIES: LITHUANIA BEFORE ITS INDEPENDENCE AND NOW
The historically meaningful limit in describing changes of university external environment in Lithuania is the fourteenth century when the writing culture had been implemented quite rapidly. In the fifteenth century, the number of students from Lithuania at foreign universities was growing; there were Lithuanian academics as well. In the reformation and counter-reformation collision in 1579, the first university, not only in Lithuania but also in Eastern Europe, was founded in Vilnius; it played an important mission of the cultural centre in the historical territory of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Unfortunately, the history of the Vilnius University was changing dramatically: in 1832 it was closed by Russian tsarist authorities, and the idea of the national university was materialized only in the twentieth century in Kaunas by opening the Vytautas Magnus University which increased quite significantly the access to university studies for interwar Lithuanians. Finally, a higher university degree guaranteed a greater chance to get a job and significantly higher revenues. The prestige of university studies increased significantly.
The Soviet system of higher education was relatively closed and centralized, and the authorities mostly took care not of the quality and attractiveness of studies, but rather of the political loyalty of academic structures. There was a mandatory employment system after graduation; therefore, young people needed not so much knowledge but a diploma.
After the restoration of Lithuania’s independence on 11 March 1990, the reform of the education system started sunder very difficult conditions of external pressure: the desire to create a new model of financing studies, that overcoming the former isolation of higher schools.
In 1991, the first law on studies and science was adopted. It enforced the unity of science and studies and higher school autonomy. The former five-year cycle of studies was divided into the undergraduate and graduate levels.
However, in parallel, the system of higher education, while maintaining the old concept of studies, began the universitisation of academies and institutes and the stage of creating new universities. This led to what is known as the massification of university studies: the quality of studies was delayed, and the image of university studies progressively declined.
The depression of university studies ended in the academic year 1995/96, and a consistent increase in the number of students began. Of course, there is no evidence that the image of university studies began to grow in parallel. It is clear only that upon surviving the shock, universities started a more active marketing policy. In around 1997, scientists began analyzing the country’s higher education problems and gradually expanding the research profile. In 2000, the Lithuanian Science Council developed the frameworks of the development concept of university studies. The systematic and innovative nature of the proposed concept should be noted; it constituted the initial stage of the higher education reform.
It so happened that the commitment of the fifteenth Government to perform a radical reform of higher education had to be materialized in the conditions of the economic crisis. We should mention two highlights of this reform: high-school administration and the so-called basket of studies.