Lithuania provides higher education through its state-run, private universities and nonuniversity establishments. The completion of secondary education is a prerequisite for enrollment in one of these institutions of higher learning. Lithuania is home to six independent universities; three are general universities, and the other three are specialized. Additionally, there are 29 research institutions conducting fundamental research on university campuses. Applied research is predominantly conducted in nonuniversity institutions. The Supreme Council of the Republic of Lithuania established the Law on Science and Studies in February of 1991. This law set the tone for the reformation of the higher education system. It moved to define the guidelines for a transition towards a more western approach to higher education (EuroEducation Net 1996).
There are various stages of higher education studies administered through several organizational facilities. Higher vocational and technical studies schools train skilled workers (technical, agricultural, commercial, and trade) at several levels of proficiency. Courses taken at the Aukstesnioji moykla (postsecondary vocational schools) last two years.
There are different levels of university study. Level one is referred to as the Bakalauras stage, with a bachelor's degree program that lasts up to four years. This includes general theory, specialty theory, and practical subject modules, which can lead to a professional qualification. The second stage is referred to as the Magistras. This master's program entails a more in-depth theory and special subject module, as well as interdisciplinary courses. These studies can last up to three years with a submission of a thesis required. The third stage, Daktaras, is a doctoral program that is generally completed in five years, the first three being reserved for course-work. The final stage, Habilituotas Daktaras, is considered the highest of academic research qualifications and is awarded to holders of doctoral degrees by institutes of science and research (EuroEducation Net 1996).
Lithuania's leading institute of higher learning is Vilnius University. Other Lithuanian universities include Vytautas Magnus in Kaunas and the new university in Klaipeda. These establishments were founded based on the American model by Lithuanians in the United States. Lithuanian universities differ from their Soviet counterparts in that they are completely self-governing and are guaranteed their independence by law (U.S. Department of State 1998).
Higher education has maintained a significant role in Lithuania's history. The scientists, intelligencia, writers, and authors have always been considered the jewel of Lithuania. The first school of higher education was established in Lithuania in 1539 with help from reformist Abraomas Kulvietis and the approval of Queen Bona. However, religious differences between the Catholics and the Protestants resulted in King Sigismund the Elder closing the doors of the school in 1542.
A Jesuit college was established in the capital city of Vilnius in 1570. The success of this university led to the creation of the University of Vilnius, Alma Mater Vilnensis, in 1579. The history of the University of Vilnius coincides with the history of Lithuania. Until the closing of the university in 1832, the institution was one of the most authoritative institutions of higher learning throughout eastern and central Europe. It was the only source of science education for not only Lithuania but its northern neighbors as well. Lithuania's education and science were concentrated in Kaunas between the two world wars. Many institutions of higher learning were established there; whereas in Polish-occupied Vilnius, the old university was revived and named after King Stephan Bathroy.
Lithuania maintains 15 establishments of higher learning: 6 universities, 7 academies, and 2 institutes. The number of enrolled students reached a record high in 1980, with 17,000 students, although as of 1996 that number decreased to 10,000 students. The prestige of a university degree began to decline when Lithuania declared its independence in 1991. However, in 1996 that idea was reversed and Lithuania witnessed three applicants for each university spot. Despite the difficulties one can face upon acceptance to an institute of higher learning, approximately 40 percent of all secondary graduates continue on to university.
Lithuania joined UNESCO (convention on the recognition of studies, diplomas, and degrees concerning higher education in countries belonging to the European region) in 1994. University studies now cover over 200 specialties. Approximately 7 percent of the state budget is dedicated to education, which enables 75 percent of university education to be subsidized by the government. Lithuania also has educational support through the Lithuanian Open Society founded by American philanthropist, George Soros in 1990. Several scientific research centers now work on the basis of private initiative or Western foundations (Education in Lithuania 2000).
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