There are no unified approach in vocational education and training (VET) institutions to determining scholarships awarded to all learners. Also, they award scholarships even without setting minimum requirements as regards progress and attendance or other criteria.
In fact, anyone can obtain a scholarship, who has enrolled in a VET institution, even though learners are not attending or have unsatisfactory progress. The amount of scholarship for VET learners rather depends on the particular VET institution chosen and the available state budget funds. Such conclusions follow from the audit report of the State Audit Office, which seeks answers to the question, what affects the amount of scholarship for VET learners.
Scholarships serve as a tool to increase the number of learners in vocational education and training institutions. After the audit, the State Audit Office concluded that a number of uncertainties and deficiencies in the regulatory framework create conditions in which each educational institution determines the procedure for awarding and determining the amount of scholarships at its own discretion, thus creating differences in the amount of scholarships of different educational institutions. Therefore, equal treatment of learners in identical and comparable conditions is not ensured. Also, deficiencies in the control system create an environment for evasive action because the audit discovered assumedly fictitious learners.
Policy planning up to 2017 states that one must plan at least 50 euros per month for one learner, but there is no explanation why this amount precisely and whether it really contributes to the attractiveness and availability of vocational education and training. Thus, with the number of learners in vocational education and training increasing, the amount of scholarship on average per learner per month will decrease, as the total amount of funding is constant.
In reality, there are differences between policy planning documents and external statutory framework, because the Education Law and Cabinet Regulations do not set a target for awarding scholarships, but envisage to plan at least 14.23 euros per month on average per learner. Besides, VET institutions define the amount of ‘basic scholarship’ differently, which can vary up to six times. Consequently, the amount of higher scholarship is also different. Similarly, the amount of scholarship for summer holidays and to orphans in various educational institutions may vary by up to fifteen times.
None of the educational institutions included in the audit, that is, VET Competence Centre “Riga State Technical School, VET Competence Centre “Riga Design and Art Secondary School” until 2017, Riga Vocational School No 3, and Cēsis Technology and Design Secondary School, did fulfil the obligation to enter information into the National Education Information System (NEIS) on unjustified non-attendance of learners exceeding 20 hours per term. As a result, there is virtually no information available on the real situation of non-attendance and the data on an actual number of VET learners is also not true. However, the Ministry of Education and Science uses the information entered into the system for planning purposes.
Although the National Development Plan of Latvia for 2014-2020 sets the establishment of a competitive vocational education and training system as one of the objectives with the performance indicators 55/45 (general/ vocational education) being reached in 2017, while equalising the proportion to 50/50 in 2020, the planned indicators have not been achieved and have changed only by 0.02 percentage points in favour of VET institutions in 2017 compared to the same index in 2012.
The State Audit Office expresses the opinion after the audit that the Ministry of Education and Science should adjust the regulatory framework to define the objectives of awarding scholarships clearly and so that the state budget would serve for increasing the attractiveness of vocational education and training. At the same time, it should also ensure that the information on VET learners is complete and envisage the criteria for calculating and awarding scholarships.