Dean: International students are the driving force of RSU
On 18 September, at the ceremonial Senate meeting of Rīga Stradiņš University (RSU) dedicated to its 65th anniversary, Certificates of Recognition and Gratitude of the Ministry of Education and Science and the Ministry of Health were presented to RSU academic staff and administration representatives.
Dean of RSU International Student Department Smuidra Žermanos received the Certificate of Recognition of the Ministry of Education and Science for significant achievements in attracting international students (pictured below).
From right: Minister for Education and Science Mārīte Seile presents the Certificate of Recognition to head of the RSU International Student Department Smuidra Žermanos.
Which are the most important accomplishments in your position so far, raising the visibility and achievements of RSU?
The International Student Department started working 25 years ago with 50 students from two countries, and now there are 1,500 students representing 43 countries. A certain stability and development has been achieved during those years.
The most important achievement in the meantime is that by attracting international students and due to the quality of studies, Rīga Stradiņš University has gained a solid reputation for the level of internationalisation. In terms of attracting international students we are the leader in Latvia and the Baltic States. We are consolidating our reputation within the European Union and in the third world countries.
Initially, the majority of international students came from Asia. Within the first years, a great deal of work had to be put in to make our university diploma valid in third world countries. Now we belong to the European Union's single educational space, and most of our international students are EU citizens, therefore, this issue is no longer as important. At that time, each student's diploma had to be accredited in their home country.
Of course, it is good to see how the study programmes have improved over time – they have been consolidated. Our programmes are highly appreciated in the European Union countries, and this opens up great career possibilities in Europe for our graduates.
A great challenge today, of course, is to integrate this large number of international students into the RSU community. Therefore, for the second year, we have been forming mixed groups at the Faculty of Medicine, where students can volunteer to study in groups consisting of a half of local and a half of international students. For the local students, this helps to understand the international dimension of education and improve their English language proficiency, while international students can get a better understanding of the local culture and mentality, and improve their Latvian language skills.
What are your plans for the nearest future in order to foster the development of RSU?
In the nearest future we have to work towards the modernisation of the study process. The issue of study quality is always high on the agenda. International students are like the university's driving force, since about 30% of them already have a higher education or university experience, and very often they compare their experience abroad with that at RSU. They have plenty of rational suggestions – each comes with their own experience and "baggage", their understanding of what studies at the university should be like. Students wish for more technologies in the study process, various improvements in the e-studies environment, in the presentation of lectures and in the course of practical work. A lot has already been done. A major contribution has been made by the IT Department, while the lecturers have contributed to the development of video lectures and interactive workshops. Of course, there will be always room for more work and improvement in this area, so that we could say we are a very modern university.
Since the number of international students has increased significantly, we are actively thinking about the occupancy and availability of the premises in terms of both planning of the study process and clinics. We keep in mind that the highest demand for more space and teaching staff resources might appear starting from 2017. An active planning process for the coming years is on-going already now. In cooperation with our colleagues, we are modelling future situations and looking for options.
Since the international community has grown considerably and more and more new lecturers with little pedagogical experience are getting involved in the study process, the activities of the RSU Centre of Educational Growth, offering various educational courses on lecturing in a cross-cultural environment, are very commendable. We strive to support the lecturers in this cross-cultural environment. It is in our interests for the lecturers to feel confident of themselves and about their courses and act professionally in contact with students from various countries with a different mentality and cultural experience.
What is your involvement in the promotion of RSU and in the attraction of international students in particular?
The best way to promote RSU as a whole is to create an environment where the students and alumni are satisfied. International students graduating from the university are RSU ambassadors in their home countries. If the graduate is satisfied with the choice of the university and the study programme, is able to start a career that develops successfully, this is a certain guarantee that RSU will continue to attract new international students.
We follow up our students' further careers and lives by organising surveys and alumni reunions through which we learn where they work and how they succeed. The first international students graduated from RSU in 1995. It's been 20 years. These first alumni already have careers, success and families, and a huge work experience. The best thing they say when introducing us with their families is that they would definitely send their sons and daughters to study at RSU. In my mind, it is the best thing you can hear about your university.
Survey results show that the majority of RSU alumni commend both the University and the choice of the study programme. This means that we are on the right track.
I am proud that our alumni take high positions in various countries, one of them, for example, is a researcher at Harvard Medical School, another one is the chief renal transplant specialist in Sri Lanka.
It is also important that our alumni are able to pass medical licensing exams abroad. This makes me proud, since it means testing of RSU knowledge in the world.
In your opinion, why is Rīga Stradiņš University the best university in Latvia?
We are the best, because the university is rapidly developing, it offers an international environment, has stable growth, and is open to new ideas. Moreover, we are not afraid of taking unpopular decisions and setting challenging targets.
RSU is a strong team; there are many capable colleagues who enhance the university's fame. We are patriots of our university.
Definitely, it is not only the lecturers who make the university popular, but also the inquiring young people willing to study, and the alumni who have successfully and professionally integrated into the labour market.