Rector Aigars Pētersons: Growth During the Pandemic – RSU’s Achievements in the Past Year
Even though there were hopes that 2021 might be different, this past year was also be marked by COVID-19, which raised the bar for Rīga Stradiņš University (RSU) in key areas: higher education and healthcare research. While we spent 2020 adapting to pandemic life, this year we have been able to help others. Our researchers joined the national research programme to mitigate the effects of COVID-19, our staff dynamically adapted to working remotely, and our students and residents mobilised to work with patients affected by COVID-19.
At the end of the year, I can say with certainty that the university has reasons to be proud of the work that has been done by our students, lecturers, researchers, and the university’s administration. Our common success is best reflected by RSU entering the prestigious Times Higher Education (THE) ranking – in the summer, we celebrated the fact that we are among the 600 most powerful universities in the world, we are rated as the best university in Latvia and the second best in the Baltic States. This was soon followed by THE Emerging Economies Ranking highlighting a new achievement – thanks to the quality of the scientific activity and successful international activities at RSU, we are now 115th best university in this ranking. This success is the fruit of our strategic efforts to ensure the international competitiveness of our study programmes, science, and research. It is very gratifying that this success has been noticed outside the university. As former President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga noted at the opening of the auditorium named after the philanthropist Boris Teterev this autumn,
RSU has succeeded in attracting students to the university not only from Latvia, but from all over the world: ‘Being the only Latvian university to be so highly assessed internationally is a very significant achievement. I commend and admire all those who have contributed to this.’
The Times Higher Education is considered one of the most influential university rankings in the world, and THE WORLD University Rankings 2022 included approximately 1,600 higher education institutions from around the world. RSU's achievement once again confirms that we are a high-quality science university not only in Latvia, but also in the world. RSU achieved the highest result in the category related to citation of scientific publications, obtaining 82.1 points and ranking 252nd in the world in this specific category. The analysis of scientific publications is based on data from the Elsevier bibliographic and citation information database Scopus.
This year, our scientific capacity and quality has also received other recognitions. The international experts who evaluated 37 Latvian scientific institutions from 2019 to the beginning of 2021 on behalf of the Ministry of Education and Science, gave RSU a high assessment for its medical, public health and social science platforms. The medical platform has been highly rated by international experts, with particular emphasis on the quality of research, the environment, infrastructure and social impact. Compared to the results of the previous evaluation in 2013, the result of the RSU medical platform has grown and scored a "4" (with 5 being the highest score).
This means that RSU is recognised as a strong, international research organisation with very high quality standards.
In the classification of higher education institutions, RSU is defined as one of the four science universities in Latvia.
Investing in research
We have worked strategically in this direction, so we are glad that international experts have also noticed the investments that RSU has made in developing research infrastructure and strengthening research management and administrative support systems. The experts also valued the motivation system that has been established, which promotes the involvement of researchers in the development and implementation of grants and project applications. As stated in the assessment, 'such changes have contributed to a significant improvement in the quality of research and the impact thereof', and we cannot disagree with it, as we experience it on a daily basis.’
RSU also received very good evaluation for research on the public health platform. The criteria “quality of science”, “social impact” and “development potential” have each been awarded four points. The experts point out that the researchers of this platform, although there are relatively few of them, are “strong players” on a national level. They also see high potential for further development based on the researchers' ability to work on complex issues and to coordinate multidisciplinary teams to address important public health issues. The social sciences platform, which has the highest assessment in economic impact and development potential, also received recognition.
This positive assessment was published even before RSU Research Week 2021, the most ambitious event in the Latvian scientific community, in which scientists and other researchers of the above-mentioned medical, public health and social sciences platforms demonstrated their achievements. This is the second time we have held this international event, and Research Week 2021 was like a marathon of five international conferences with more than 1,300 presentations by scientists from 45 countries. It was attended by prospective bachelor’s and master’s graduates, as well as residents, doctoral students, and experienced professionals, as well as representatives of various industries. The focus was on interdisciplinary topics as we see that today's challenges often require solutions that can be found in the interaction between different sectors. The following conferences were held as part of Research Week 2021: the 7th International Student Conference, the international conference on medical and health sciences Knowledge for Use in Practice, the conference Society. Health. Welfare, the 2nd International Interdisciplinary Conference PLACES, the research conference on simulation technologies University Teaching and Learning, as well as the section Innovation in Medicine and Healthcare and other events.
Despite the effects of COVID-19, the university managed to provide a grand, international event online, which was, moreover, available free of charge to everyone interested in cooperation with its partners.
A promising new beginning
One of the universal truths about science is that results requires investment. In line with Latvia's smart specialisation strategy, we are strengthening our pharmaceutical branch. In 2021, we celebrated a topping out ceremony for the future RSU Pharmaceutical Study and Science Complex – one of the largest and most technically complex buildings in the university's 70-year history. The multi-storey building has a total area of 7,151 m2 and it will house modern study facilities and a world-class science centre. The project is co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). By investing funds from both the ERDF and RSU in the construction of the new complex, we are strengthening the university's research and study capacity in industrial pharmacy, which has a high potential for creating innovative and high value-added products.
RSU’s Pharmaceutical Study and Science Complex
The complex will include the Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, the Department of Pharmacology and the Department of Applied Pharmacy, study facilities and laboratories for students, as well as a research laboratory for finished dosage forms, which is very important for the development of science. The pharmaceutical sector at RSU is currently experiencing a very rapid upswing. We have an excellent staff of Latvian and foreign lecturers, the number of doctoral students has increased, our scientists work in promising directions (such as ethnobotany), development of biomaterials and new dosage forms, as well as in pharmacokinetics, pharmacogenetics and others. Moving to the new complex will focus all our resources in one place and help increase our study and research capacity. Both students and scientists are scheduled to move next year.
By investing in infrastructure, several RSU structural units are moving to new, modern premises.
Although the construction was complete in 2020 already, the RSU Anatomy Museum only opened its doors to the first visitors last summer. The new museum, in which RSU has invested 2.7 million EUR from its own funds, is accessible to both residents and guests of the Latvian capital. It is designed as an educational, unusual cultural space combining a historical collection with a modern approach. The museum is based on the first anatomical collection in Latvia, which was created in the Anatomicum in the 1920s and 1930s to educate prospective doctors. The museum's collection includes several thousand anatomical preparations – organs, body parts and even whole bodies. Thanks to skilled anatomical work, these have remained unchanged for 100 years and have become a part of the historical legacy included in the National Museum Collection. The museum’s collection is contemporary and has gained international attention – the Anatomy Museum is considered unique not only in Riga and Latvia, but also in Northern Europe. Although it only opened recently, it has already provided significant added value. For example, in August, Riga became the capital of global medical history for a week by hosting the 47th Congress of the International Society for the History of Medicine in the new museum. Medical historians from 36 countries presented about 220 scientific papers both in person and remotely.
RSU Anatomy Museum
RSU on the world map
The internationality mentioned so often did not go unnoticed by the creators of THE university ranking – RSU achieved its second best result this summer. THE assesses both the ability of universities to attract international students and teaching staff and calculates the proportion of scientific publications that have at least one international co-author. RSU received 73.9 points and ranked 267th in the world in this category. Although according to international standards RSU is considered a small university, we have managed to place ourselves firmly on the world map and attract students from over 65 countries.
This year, the number of international students reached 26%.
Most of them come from Germany, Sweden, Finland, Norway and Italy, but we also have students from such distant countries as New Zealand, South Korea and Canada. In addition, thanks to a well-developed partner network, we are able offer these students the opportunity to practice in their countries of origin. And even the virus was not an obstacle – in the 2021 spring semester our students practiced in 13 countries, and in 12 countries in the autumn semester. Such steps will help them integrate into the labour market better after graduating from RSU. Attracting international lecturers has been just as successful –
every fifth lecturer at RSU comes from abroad.
It seemed that the past year could slow down the growth in this regard, but the 2021 admissions results once again confirmed that the number of international students who choose RSU as their academic destination is not getting smaller even during the pandemic. This autumn, for example, more than 400 students from 38 countries joined the RSU student community, so we hope for further growth in the future. According to CERTUS estimates, RSU international students increased Latvia's GDP by 96.2 million EUR in 2020, which is a significant number. In the next four years, RSU's contribution to the Latvian economy will be almost half a billion EUR.
More and more knowledgeable applicants
Local students are our country’s intellectual capital. I am pleased to note that
over the past four years, we have become increasingly in demand among local students. The number of applicants during this period has increased by 40%, making the competition for one study place increasingly fierce.
Looking at applications per scholarship position, the largest competition was in the Nutrition, Physiotherapy, Midwifery, Dentistry and Medicine programmes this year. The Psychology, Law, International Marketing and Advertising and Multimedia Communication programmes stood out among the social science programmes in terms of popularity this year.
It is also gratifying that we are attracting well-prepared students.
In Latvia the average grade in the centralised exams was 35%, meanwhile the average grade of new RSU students was 78%.
The increase in the number of students during the pandemic was achieved thanks to our excellent digital platforms, modern e-learning environment, and our responsive and modern lecturers, and our base of high-quality study programmes. Looking at Latvian higher education in general, local youth sees growth even during COVID-19 based on the reputation survey conducted by the company Kantar in 2021. Kantar has been carrying out this study on Latvian institutions of higher education for five years, and RSU has been recognised as having the best throughout this period. Leading in this field for five consecutive years is not an accident.
The fact that we can retain first place in the reputation rankings in Latvia in the long-term proves the high quality of studies and research at RSU.
We are very pleased that young people have also noticed our strongest asset – that a diploma from RSU is valued highly in the labour market.
This is also confirmed through graduate monitorings that the Ministry of Education and Science carries out.
92% of RSU graduates enter the labour market successfully, while the average employment rate of Latvian university graduates is 80%.
The high employment rates of RSU graduates confirm that our study programmes are relevant for the labour market. In each study programme, we have clearly defined the knowledge, competencies and skills that are to be acquired, something that both students and employers value highly. Intensive practices and a well-developed network of clinical bases in Riga and in the countryside, as well as outside Latvia attest to RSU's close connection with the labour market. An important part of preparing young specialists for the labour market is that RSU supports studies in simulation technologies, which allow students to learn in a safe environment. This doesn’t only apply to prospective doctors and healthcare professionals, but also future communication experts, lawyers, political scientists and entrepreneurs.
We are excited that the Ministry of Education and Science finally decided to allocate scholarship positions in the social sciences at RSU as well.
For more than 20 years, RSU has raised its quality bar in the field of social sciences, and now it has finally been appreciated.
Our students not only show excellent academic results, but also act as socially responsible citizens by helping to treat COVID-19 patients as much as they can. Both students and residents from different years have helped and continue to help medical institutions in Riga and outside the capital. In order to promote this socially responsible work, RSU equates students’ work to study placements and supports them with a scholarship.
The university has established a scholarship fund for medical and healthcare students, redirecting 140,000 EUR to the scholarship fund from its own funds.
Out of the 483 RSU students who have decided to support and help medical institutions, the majority are from the Faculty of Medicine, the Faculty of Rehabilitation, and the Faculty of Public Health and Social Welfare. I am very proud of our students and their sense of responsibility when the country is in difficulties!
The article was published in the 2021 December edition of the journal Latvijas Ārsts (p.7–9).