VILNIUS, May 2 (Xinhua) -- A working group of specialists has proposed on Tuesday a reform of state universities which would see a number of universities shrinking from 14 to 8 in a bid to increase the quality of higher education.
The group of specialists formed by Lithuanian prime minister Saulius Skvernelis has proposed to reform the country's state universities' system by merging some of the universities into those covering wide range of study programs, technology universities and specialized academies.
"The network's reform process is complex, up to 200 million euros are o be invested, 150 million will be allocated from the EU programs," Agne Paliokate, the member of the working group, was quoted as saying by news website vz.lt in a press conference.
A number of study programs would be cut from 1,800 to 700 in a bid to "concentrate the potential of science and studies" and adjust it to the needs of the country's labor market.
The experts expect the reform would help improve higher education quality, while universities' consolidation would save administration costs. Efforts to reshuffle the network of state universities follows a decrease in number of students, pointed out Eugenijus Butkus, the adviser for the Lithuanian education minister.
"Numbers show that situation is barely controllable, bold moves are needed," Butkus spoke at the conference.
According to the plan, bachelor's studies should be shortened from 4 to 3 years, the most talented students would be granted with free study for their bachelor.
The reform which is still a subject to the approval of the parliament is to kick off later this year.
Prime Minister Skvernelis stated cutting the number of universities is not a goal itself.
"We change the funding for the universities, make agreements with the universities, promote academic research work, increase lecturers' qualification, optimize the management of the universities' and its' assets, set the threshold for the future students," Skvernelis told journalists on Tuesday.
"These changes will force the universities, which want to meet the requirements, to consolidate," he explained.
Gabrielius Landsbergis, the leader of the Homeland union-Lithuanian Christian democrats, the largest opposition party at the parliament, called the plan as "ambitious", though, lacking answers to all issues.
"However, we are ready to support the direction," Landsbergis told news agency BNS.
The announcement of the plan follows the most recent calls from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to the country to reform its higher education system "as soon as possible in order not to become an "outsider" in terms of higher education among the other countries".
"Due to the current number of universities in the country, Lithuania finds itself marginalized; the consolidation of universities must be implemented as soon as possible," Thomas Weko, a representative of OECD, has recently told Lithuanian government.
According to the report from 2016, quoted by Weko, 10,000 students in Lithuania share 2.9 educational institutions on average, while this indicator in Finland and Ireland amounts to respectively 1.2 and 1.1. Other countries which participated in the research host less than 1 educational institution for 10,000 students.
Lithuania currently has 14 state-governed universities.