I am very pleased to be with you here today and open the 25th Congress of the Student Union of Latvia. 25 years, a quarter of a century has passed since Student Union became an active advocate of change in the Latvian higher education. Change that also shapes the civic society in Latvia. Student voice is important for university, for the whole education system and the society of Latvia.
Students are the most active representatives of their age group. Historically speaking, students have always been agents of social change and betterment either as advocates or the source of such change. Starting from Young Latvians, who were still students at the time when they laid foundations of our nation. They are the ones we should be thanking for the Latvian nation we have today.
I have no doubt that right now I am looking at the future engineers, politicians, journalists and other who will form the future backbone of Latvian society and become its opinion leaders.
You are building your own future and also the future of the whole Latvia. Responsibility towards future does not come naturally – it comes to those who have strong and wise mind, and self-assurance. Sense of responsibility is a sign of wisdom. All of you here are, let us say, twice as wise – you study and also take shared responsibility for our society.
Nowadays, people can travel anywhere in the world. And it is wonderful that you have chosen to study in your own country, in our university. Debate about the on-going university reform has raised a lot of controversial issues, views are very polarised. However, we should not forget that the performance of our universities has been good so far and graduates have shown good results in their professional career, as well as in terms of self-realisation.
I would like to underline one thing. Higher education not only gives you an opportunity to learn professional knowledge and skills at the highest level, it is the personal growth process. For universities personal development has become just one of the many goals in the last 20 or 30 years. Not only in Latvia, in the whole of Europe. So, we need individual effort to make up for that. So, in our student years, we must use all opportunities to excel personally. Follow the latest developments outside our field, in other science disciplines, in the society as a whole. Interdisciplinarity is a crucial element of science. You need to be more than an expert of your own field who’s fully absorbed by specific problems. That is not enough. Interdisciplinarity should be practiced at individual level, during the studies, and universities should also integrate it more, which they do.
University reform is controversial and complex. We see only a vague shape of the new model; we still need to discuss all the details. And it is important to hear the voice of students, voice of the Student Union of Latvia. And we hear this voice – you are being heard. I can only hope that you are being heard more and more. Universities, university reforms, of course, would mean nothing without students. That is why your voice in this debate is very important. Important in finding the right university reform and modernisation path. Modern needs are constantly evolving. Times change. Systems that have been created years ago need improvements. And this is exactly the cycle we are in right now – the improvement phase.
I believe that all of us, including students who are a part of the civic society in Latvia, want a country that is modern, sustainable and lives in solidarity. Science and education are part of sustainable country. Latvianness is also a part of modern and sustainable country. Latvianness is not something from the past, Latvianness has always been contemporary. Latvianness of Young Latvians is not the same as Latvianness in the 21st century. Latvianness has both dimensions – the past and the future. Students are aware of the past, they respect it, they nurture our heritage, and they also shape the future of our country at the same time. Modern Latvia with its own national identity can be built only if we follow all of these principles.
It is important to ensure that Latvian politicians listen to young people. But it is even more important that young people are politically actives, as well. All generations must be politically active. It is not a monopoly held by only one generation. Each generation has its unique experience, and each generation has its beliefs. So, it is important to have politically active young generation, especially young people with university degrees. It is the advantage of democratic system, and Latvia has democracy for about three decades now, that anyone can be socially active and contribute to academic life. Students have all the necessary tools for that. Tools for contributing to university reform debate and also other national development discussions.
I wish you a successful congress, lots of inspiring discussions. I am certain that many of you will play an active role in the shaping of future Latvia both as professionals in your chosen field and drivers of innovation. Thank you!