Universities in Latvia have been moving away from the old post-Soviet educational techniques and scored popularity beyond the Baltic region over the past 30 years. And although local people often prefer to study in other countries, Latvia is actively investing in attracting foreign applicants. Three of the six major universities in the country entered the ranking of the best universities in the world QS ranking 2021. English-language programs, affordable tuition, a European diploma, medical and engineering departments with a century-old tradition — all this will be at the disposal of a student of a Latvian university.

List of the best universities in Latvia

Advantages of Latvian universities

  • Low tuition. Many applicants reject the idea of ​​studying at a European university due to high prices. In this case, Latvian universities can be an excellent choice due to affordable tuition. For example, a bachelor's program at the best state university of the country, Latvijas Universitāte, will cost 2,403 USD per year.
  • Studying in English. Latvian universities are actively working to create a comfortable educational environment for international students. Many popular specialties, even such as architecture and medicine, can be studied entirely in English. Moreover, the entry requirements for language proficiency are low and start at IELTS 5.5.
  • Focus on practice. In the curriculum of almost any Latvian university, you will find a large number of hours devoted to practical classes. These are not only ordinary seminars but also work in research centers. Large universities also collaborate with international corporations and send their students there for internships during their studies.

Disadvantages of Latvian universities

  • Concentration in one city. The vast majority of Latvian universities are located in Riga. Due to a lack of an alternative, almost all applicants from other towns come to the capital which sometimes results in high competition among applicants. In this case, the university administration has the right to redistribute quotas and reduce the numbers of foreigners in favor of local students.
  • Low rating. Despite the fact that three Latvian universities manage to consistently enter the world rankings of the best universities, their positions remain quite low, yet in many respects, they are by 200-300 positions ahead of universities in neighboring countries: Lithuania and Estonia.
  • The high cost of PhD programs. In general, the average tuition cost for a year of study in Latvia is very attractive. However, popular doctoral programs like physics and biology cost at least 13,108 USD, and most often 21,847 USD, which some might find quite expensive.
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Requirements for admission to universities in Latvia

Type of trainingAgeDurationMin.costAvg. costMin. language proficiency
Foundation17+1-2 years1,966 USD/year3,277 USD/yearIELTS 4.5 / TOEFL IBT 56
College16+2-3 years1,529 USD/year2,185 USD/yearVVPP B1
Bachelor's18+3-4 years1,639 USD/year3,277 USD/yearIELTS 5.5 / TOEFL IBT 72 / VVPP B1
Master's20+1-2 years2,185 USD/year2,731 USD/yearIELTS 6.0 / TOEFL IBT 80 / VVPP B2
MBA20+1-2 years3,277 USD/year7,646 USD/yearIELTS 6.0 / TOEFL IBT 80 / VVPP B2
Doctoral studies20+3-4 years2,294 USD/year4,369 USD/yearIELTS 6.0 / TOEFL IBT 80

Universities of Latvia do not have unified requirements for admission. Each university has the right to establish its own entrance tests: for example, a language or a specialized subject exam. Many educational institutions conduct such exams online if the applicant lives in another country. Somewhere you may also be asked to go through a video interview. Knowledge of the Latvian language is absolutely optional: especially for students from abroad, fully English-language training programs have been created. All necessary legalized documents can be uploaded to the electronic application form on the website of the selected university or sent by mail, which facilitates the process of admission for foreigners.

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Documents for admission to universities in Latvia

For admission to bachelor’s or master’s programs the following documents are required:

  • Application (can be found on the university website);
  • School certificate/bachelor’s degree of related specialty with an apostille and translation into English (in some specialties grades in relevant subjects are important);
  • Online test in specialized disciplines (a requirement for certain specialties of specific universities);
  • IELTS or TOEFL B1 / B2 (the university can conduct its own language exam);
  • A letter of recommendation from the teacher or employer;
  • Motivation letter;
  • Copy of ID;
  • Registration fee ~ 109 USD;
  • Photofluorography results;
  • Legalized police certificate no older than 6 months;
  • Bank statement proving the availability of funds for the whole duration of the study, approximately 470 USD/month.

Additional documents for admission to master’s:

  • CV in English;
  • Copies of publications (if any);
  • Confirmation of completing additional courses or participating in conferences (if any).

For admission to doctoral studies:

  • Master's degree in a related specialty with an apostille;
  • IELTS or TOEFL no lower than B2;
  • CV in English;
  • Research plan (3-5 pages in free form);
  • Video interview (if the program requires).

Types of universities in Latvia

  • Universities or higher schools of the university type (universitātes tipa augstskolas). Previously, the main difference between universities and other educational institutions in Latvia was the emphasis on academic programs. Now all educational institutions in the country can offer students both academic and professional bachelor's and master's programs. The uniqueness and prestige of universities lie in their right to award students a PhD. In universities, according to the Law on Higher Educational Institutions of the Republic of Latvia, at least half of the academic staff must have a doctorate. As a rule, university study programs cover one or more relevant areas of science (e.g. social sciences, art or medicine). By decision of the Latvian Council of Higher Education, only 6 educational institutions have university status, all of them are state-owned (valsts dibinātas):

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  • Academies and institutes are higher education institutions of a non-university type (neuniversitātes tipa augstskolas). They can be either state (valsts dibinātas) or private — established by independent legal entities (juridisko personu dibinātās). Traditionally, such universities have a large selection of professional education programs. Education here is primarily aimed at developing applied skills in narrower specialties (e.g. pedagogy, music, sports), and students receive not only a bachelor's or master's degree but also confirmation of professional qualifications. Under the law, universities of a non-university type cannot assign PhD degrees. However, if an academy or institute proves its compliance with certain criteria, the Higher Education Council of Latvia gives the right to such an educational institution to create doctoral programs. By 2020, the following universities have succeeded:

Colleges in Latvia

Colleges in Latvia allow students to receive secondary and higher vocational education of the first cycle (bachelor’s). Education in such institutions lasts 2-3 years. The college can be either an independent educational institution or a part of a university or academy.

There are 17 state and 8 private colleges in Latvia. Almost all of them were founded after the year 2000. College graduates have a wide range of practical skills in their specialization, and after graduation, the labor market is immediately open for them. However, they will not be as qualified as university graduates. For example, in a medical college you can get the profession of a nurse, massage therapist, or physiotherapist, but not a doctor of a narrow specialization. If desired, college graduates can continue their education at master’s programs in other higher education institutions. Moreover, if the training lasted 2 years, you will first have to finish a year of the bachelor's program and get a bachelor's degree.

The great advantage of colleges over large universities is their dispersal in Latvia. Of course, most of them are also located in Riga, but young people have access to secondary vocational education in such small towns as Rezekne (27,000 people), Jekabpils (22,000 people), Olaine (12,000 people) and Malnava (340 people) .

Studying at Latvian colleges is not popular among foreigners. Teaching is conducted in Latvian, and admission is based on the results of centralized exams (centralizētie eksāmeni). For those who did not attend secondary school in Latvia, preparation for exams can be long and laborious, therefore, applicants from abroad prefer English-language programs at large universities.

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State and private universities of Latvia

State universities. In Latvia, there are a total of 6 universities, and more specifically educational institutions of university type (universitātes tipa augstskolas). Only they have enough authority to implement doctoral programs and award PhD degrees. In addition, 3 out of 6 universities became the only representatives of Latvia in the ranking of the best universities in the world QS ranking: University of Latvia (Latvijas Universitāte), Riga University Stradins (Rīgas Stradiņa universitāte) and Riga Technical University (Rīgas Tehniskā universitāte). Another 12 academies and institutes are also state-owned.

Private universities in Latvia are traditionally considered adherents of an individual approach to students. Private academies and institutes are enrolling a smaller number of applicants, forming small groups. Therefore, teachers have the opportunity to communicate more closely with each student.

Another advantage of a private university is the ability to easily find an internship or get a job after graduation. Many academies have ongoing collaborations with large companies, including international corporations. But the cost of studying at the prestigious double diploma program can reach up to 16,385 USD per year.

In total, there are 11 private universities in Latvia. Among them, the University of Turiba (Biznesa augstskola Turība) stands out as the largest private university in the Baltic States, a prestigious business school, where the teaching is conducted entirely in English.

A diploma of higher education from state and private educational institutions in Latvia is regarded equally, but public universities are often more popular due to the lower cost of training. For applicants, this is a matter of principle, because for Latvians there are few state-funded places in universities, and among foreigners, there is very high competition in the struggle for scholarships. At the same time, the price of a year of study for students from abroad (non-EU) can still be 2-3 times higher.

Groups and associations of educational institutions of Latvia

  1. The Academy of Sciences (Latvijas Zinātņu akadēmija or LZA) is the highest scientific institution uniting more than 300 scientists of the Republic of Latvia and other countries in the field of natural, engineering, social sciences and humanities .
  2. The Association of Private Higher Education Institutions of Latvia (Latvijas Privāto Augstskolu Asociācija or LPAA) is an association of 11 private Latvian higher education institutions that work towards the development and promotion of private higher education in the country.
  3. The Association of Artistic Higher Education Institutions (Mākslas augstskolu asociācija) is an organization within which the three main art academies of Latvia (Latvijas Mākslas akadēmija, Latvijas Kultūras akadēmija and Jāzepa Vītola Latvijas Mūzikas akadēmija) carry out joint research programs and work on the development of art and design studies.
  4. The Latvian Association of Education Leaders (Latvijas izglītības vadītāju asociācija or LIVA) is an independent trade union organization, whose members represent and protect the rights of secondary and higher education institutions in Latvia in dialogue with local and state authorities.
  5. The Association of Latvian Colleges (Latvijas Koledžu asociācija) is an organization whose goal is to promote the development and improvement of colleges and universities, where programs of professional secondary and higher education of the first cycle are implemented.
  6. The Baltic Sea Region University Network (BSRUN) is an international association of universities located in the Baltic Sea Region, the activities of which are aimed at mutually beneficial cooperation of member universities and their development. It includes the University of Latvia and Riga Technical University.

Free universities in Latvia

Latvian universities have state-funded places, but they are few and only for citizens of the country. All education for foreigners in the country is paid, although relatively inexpensive: the average cost of studying for bachelor’s and master’s programs ranges from 2,185-3,277 USD/year. Nevertheless, the prices of some prestigious English-language programs (doctoral studies in medicine or an MBA in a renowned business school) can reach up to 10,923-16,385 USD per year for citizens of countries outside the EU or EEA. During studies, students can apply for financial support from their university. Many universities encourage excellent grades and active participation in scientific activities with monthly payments or discounts on studies of up to 20%. Payment in installments is also quite common.

Scholarships in Latvia are not as available, as in other European countries. The Latvian state scholarship is usually the main one for foreign students. It was established by the State Agency for the Development of Education (Valsts izglītības attīstības aģentūra). According to the selection criteria, only citizens of 25 countries officially cooperating with Latvia in the fields of education and science can receive financial support. A full list of countries can be found here.

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Grading system in Latvian universities

All higher education institutions in Latvia use a 10-point grading system: 4 is a passing grade, 8 is the highest "good" grade, grades 9–10 are given only for particularly outstanding academic success, for completing additional, difficult tasks in exams. Some universities use 5 or 6 as passing grades, and 9 or 10 as normal good grades. All Latvian grades have approximate equivalents in ECTS.

Exceptional (izcili)10A +
Excellent (teicami)9A
Very good (ļoti labi)8B
Good (labi)7C
Almost good (gandrīz labi)6D
Satisfactory (viduvēji)5E
Almost Satisfactory (gandrīz viduvēji)4E / F
Poor (vāji)1-3Fail

Interesting facts about universities in Latvia

  • The Academic Library of the University of Latvia (Bibliotheca Rigensis) was founded in 1524. This is the oldest academic institution in Riga and the Baltic, as well as the seventh oldest library in Europe.
  • Not all higher education institutions in Latvia are subordinate to the Ministry of Education. Depending on the specialization, they fall into the area of ​​responsibility of various state bodies. RSU is under the supervision of the Ministry of Health, LLU — the Ministry of Agriculture, LKA, LMA, JVLMA — the Ministry of Culture. This allows educational institutions to have a higher degree of autonomy and choose their own development paths.
  • The oldest university in Latvia, Riga Technical University (Rīgas Tehniskā universitāte), was founded in 1524 by knights from the Jesuit Order.
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