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The plan to plug the holes in Lithuania's institutions of higher education with foreign students, it would seem, is turning into a fiasco and although they're managing to entice more students, it's getting more difficult to retain them.

Hardly 7 percent of foreign students who graduate from higher education institutions stay on to work in Lithuania according to a report by the Education Monitoring and Analysis Centre (EMAC).

It's not enough that we manage to keep only Russians, Belarusians and Ukrainians after their studies and they end up getting lower salaries than Lithuanians.

We're attracting more and more mostly from India, Belarus, Ukraine and Germany.

The EMAC report indicates that between 2012 and 2017, the number of foreign students enrolling in higher education institutions in Lithuania increased on average by 4%. In total over the last 6 years 10 246 foreign students enrolled in higher education institutions and this year 1 846 students have chosen Lithuania for their studies.

In 2012 it was mostly citizens of former or current member countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States who made up for the most part – 69% - of all foreign students enrolled. This number has decreased by half over the last five years however the number of students from Asia has increased 7-fold. The number of students coming from Europe also has seen a 50% increase. In 2017 most students came from India (355), Belarus (273), Ukraine (158), Germany (67) and Georgia (66). This year most foreign students studied at the Vilnius Gediminas Technical University (331), the Lithuanian University of Health Sciences (297) and Vilnius University (287).

Lagging 3,5 times behind the average

Between 2014 and 2016, 2 028 foreign students graduated from higher educational institutions however barely 7%, or a little less than 150 foreign graduates, stayed on to work in Lithuania. Of these, 10% stayed on after their first degree of study and after postgraduate studies only 3%.

By comparison, in 11 OECD countries, data for 2011 from the review "Education at a Glance", showed that after their studies on average 25% of foreign graduates stayed on to work. 30 to 35% of them were in Canada, France and the Czech Republic.

It's mostly students from the CIS countries who remain in Lithuania constituting almost 80% of those who stay on. Most of them are from citizens of Russia, Belarus or Ukraine.

We tend to pay foreigners less

Currently it's workers in the life sciences, technology, engineering, mathematics and computer science - shortened to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) - who come to Lithuania.

Over the past five years the number of foreign students enrolling for STEM studies has increased from 9% to 25 % and for health care from 11% to 21%.

Never the less, according to information on foreign students graduating between 2014 and 2016, only a small proportion of graduates from STEM and healthcare were working in Lithuania after they had graduated – 8% and 11% respectively (6% from other fields of study).

By comparing the salaries of graduates from different fields of study, one can see that the average salaries of foreigners in STEM and healthcare jobs were the same as those of Lithuanians or greater and in other professions lower.

State policy lacking

"Attracting foreign students is something very real for us for two main reasons. First, the funds foreign students bring can mitigate financial problems which nearly every higher education institution is faced with due to demographic trends. Secondly, the higher qualification that foreigners obtain can help solve the problem of shortage of specialists in the workplace" noted EMAC study policy analyst Gintautas Jakštas who presented the report.

Higher education institutions in Lithuania for more than a year it would seem have made no effort to attract foreign students; it's unclear whose responsibility it is for retaining them once they have completed their studies.

"In Lithuania there isn't a single higher education institution, both regionally or provincially even on a European scale, that can offer prospects for studying and competing to attract students. This is a pity and it must be admitted that state policy in this area moves slowly if at all. on a national scale we have neither a targeted strategy to attract foreign students nor a strategy to retain them after their studies" said Mr. Jakštas.

Poland has managed

As he sees it, Poland has created its international strategy and envisages that by 2020 it will double its number of foreign students. Almost 60 million euro were spent on this strategy

"These days Poland is glad to have increased the number of students from Ukraine and has nearly doubled the number of its foreign students" says Gintautas Jakštas.

Luxembourg has the highest proportion of foreign students in all degrees of study (44%) followed by the UK (18%) and Austria (16%).

The reason

Danas Arlauskas, head of the Lithuanian Employers Confederation told DELFI that the figures in the report do not surprise him.

"Firstly, the educational system of our country in no way matches the economic situation of the country. For example, we've conducted polls with around two thousand companies which showed that the situation is very paradoxical - for one higher education institution graduate eight vocational school graduates are needed. The reality is that for one vocational school graduate there are nine higher education institution graduates. Simply put, our economic system simply cannot absorb so many specialists" he said

Secondly, as Mr Arlauskas stated, Lithuania's economy is growing not because of increasing exports but due to domestic consumption and trade. That's why high-paid jobs are not being generated.

"If we were to take a look at the structure of the country's economy, the so-called "high-tech" was at 7% and that's where it still is. That means that added value isn't growing and so there are clearly not many prospects for those who stay. Furthermore, last year alone 1,5 thousand university graduates went to vocational schools. That's the reality – they see that salaries are higher there" said Mr Arlauskas.

Why are Indians more useful than Belarusians?

He's also not surprised that it's just people from Ukraine, Belarus and Russia who stay on in Lithuania - it's easier for them to integrate. "In Lithuania there's still no diaspora from these countries it gets complicated when it comes to families and children. Let's suppose that in America, France or Germany they create actual enclaves for themselves just as Lithuanians have done in Great Britain where you don't even need to learn English because 60% of the job market is made up of Lithuanians" says Mr Arlauskas.

At the same time in the progressive Silicon Valley, 60% of the productive people of a company are from South Asian countries like India and Malaysia, he noted

"We need to start attracting more people from these countries because they are English-speaking and have contacts everywhere. We'd be more better off with them than with Belarussians" acknowledged Mr Arlauskas who represents employers.

Denmark is also an example

Danas Arlauskas remembers a recent trip to Copenhagen and the information he saw at the airport to the effect that Denmark is the number 1 EU country looking at exports to China.

"I started getting interested in what's happening and why. 10 years ago they started a program when China's economic indicators started rising. Firstly, they introduced grants for Chinese students in Denmark and Danish students in China. An exchange program started and in this way, they tried to form a cross-movement to check if there'd be a connection. Secondly, in the Chinese embassy there are 60 people responsible for economics alone. We have 2. Denmark started activities wherever possible - in education, the embassy, public relations and economics. We have such a plain view which I must admit it is lacking" said Mr Arlauskas.

In his opinion, when Denmark's Labour Law was being written the Confederation proposed creating a fund which would cover expenses incurred by higher education institution graduates when looking for employment.

"The fact however that we are going the Danish way and not making severance payments to those who lose their jobs at the employer's expense but rather out of an independent fund is already welcome. If we do what the Danes are doing, we'll use the educational system and create an integrated system. I believe in 5 years-time we can hope for results in that there will be more workers from these prospective countries." Says Mr Alsauskas.

As head of the Employers Confederation, Mr Arlauskas says that without graduates with higher qualifications from other countries, the Lithuanian economy will be faced with very serious challenges. "There's something very simple and important to be aware of – there's profession and there is education. We are very much oriented toward profession but employers think that a person must get a good education. It starts already in the family – diligence, responsibility, attitude to work and a way of thinking to the effect that it's you who creates your worth and not someone else. Employers employ workers not because they know a multiplication table but basically because of their attitude to work" says Mr Arlauskas.

The main things are working conditions and salary

Minister of the Economy Virginijus Sinkevičius shared his thoughts on this matter with DELFI.

"You know, retention doesn't start from GDP, it starts from absolute figures – euros that feed and clothe people" he says.

He states that attention must be paid to what it is that higher education prepares for – can specialists who graduate from a higher education institute be employed successfully and immediately?

"It seems that the business need in this case is different from the number of students trained in higher education institutions. The state therefore needs very serious higher education reform. If it prepares specialists that fulfil the need I think we'll have no retention problem in the country" explains Mr Sinkevičius.

Attractive not only to Lithuania but to other countries

It must therefore not be forgotten that foreign students will always favour their own country and recruitment options there.

"Furthermore these specialists that we have a shortage of are very sought after in other countries. If a person makes a drastic decision to study overseas, let's be frank, not in a TOP country in the world but in Lithuania, he can actually decide to move on elsewhere with better prospects in mind. The STEM programs are very good as is the increasing number of students but is the economy of the country geared towards that? Is it a priority in terms of resources and goals? Today probably everyone says no" says the minister.

Mr. Sinkevičius believes that Denmark is a very good example of Lithuania's fight for talent, a country taking its first steps in this regard.

"We must start where the talent retention system starts. First, we must create a strategy on how our ecosystem will be, how can we be competitive; we have to compete first of all regionally. Secondly, there must be someone responsible, an owner of this project. I think "Invest in Lithuania" is a good start however there should be a separate institution operating along with it. I am not talking about going overboard and creating a structure but if that is important for the country then that's what must be" he says.

Aim - attract foreign corporate capital

Virginijus Sinkevičius said that this year the focus is on attracting foreign corporate capital to Lithuania.

"Foreign corporates pay big salaries. Of course, the priority is to attract direct foreign investment in Lithuania. News like the arrival of "Continental", "Booking.com" and "Hollister" in Lithuania is a sign that investors trust Lithuania and that it is a reliable country. And the huge amounts of money that they are preparing to invest, everyone realises, are for the long term. That is very good news for foreign students too who can see that progressive foreign corporate capital is being created here" he says.

Virginijus Sinkevičius says that if a company like this is looking for around 200 employees then around 30 to 40 of the specialists will be engineers.

"Taking a look at the companies, one quarter or one fifth of the employees are engineers. I think that education must place itself so that it prepares specialists who we can employ successfully and immediately" advises Mr Sinkevičius.