You were elected as the rector of Vidzeme University of Applied Sciences for the second term. What has changed over the four years you have been here and what prompted you to re-apply for this post?
There are quite a lot of changes. If four years ago the application of this post was a quick decision, which to a certain extent could be referred to as an adventure, this time it was fairly balanced and long – considered step. Why do I describe what happened four years ago as an adventure? The academic traditions of Latvia are rather conservative, and very rarely someone who has come from outside of the educational institution becomes its rector. I had no experience at Vidzeme University of Applied Sciences if we don’t include participation in the accreditation of a couple of the university’s study fields. Almost always the rector, especially at universities, is someone who has made up all his academic career at the same university and has held a post of a pro-rector beforehand. But in the ever-changing world, it is becoming more common for the person who gets to work as a rector to not have previously been associated with that institution. And I recognize this as a good practice because then they can take a critical view of its operations and better implement his intentions, especially if it is planned to introduce any significant changes.
What has changed at Vidzeme University of Applied Sciences since your arrival?
We quickly started to focus on science. More scientific activities have been kick-started. In fact, all of the reforms that we have been implementing have been aimed at ViA becoming an academic institution that equally prioritizes educating its students as well as carrying out various research projects. As a result, we have managed to enter in the international scientific circle, and if a few years ago any recognition the university received was due to certain individuals’ work, now the success is achieved by the university as a whole. We have become a scientific institution and we use all the opportunities that this status can provide. We are growing very fast, and some research areas now have all the preconditions for ViA getting into the elite of certain areas within a few years. And we bring this research knowledge into our study courses, which ensures the quality of the studies that we provide to our students. Undoubtedly, our advantage is the close cooperation with the industry. Industry collaboration has been one of the key operational principles of the university way before my arrival and was set up so even before the state policy started to suggest that universities should collaborate with the business community. We don’t talk about it here, we take action.
What are the priorities for the next few years?
If we talk about the university as a whole, then I think that we need to get to the point where Vidzeme University of Applied Science is largely financed by the funding schemes outside of Latvia and that at least three of our research and study areas become internationally competitive. Usually, the question I get asked is - how the competitiveness can be measured? My answer is – if you regularly run joint projects with some of the TOP 50 institutions in the world, then everything is fine with your quality. And then the international research and academic environment develops by itself. Most likely, all of our study programs at Master’s and Ph.D. levels will be offered in English in the coming years. This will be inevitable if we want good foreign academic forces, and students from other countries to come and study at ViA.
I am not among those who make sure that everyone who has come to us for academic work for a long time needs to know Latvian language. And I don’t think that in some way we will endanger our language because of that. We will endanger our scientific language if we won’t be active in the international scientific community. Then we won’t have an up-to-date scientific terminology in Latvian, because we won’t know what’s going on in the world. I have already said – if anyone wants to hide the results of their scientific discoveries, then it is best to publish them in Latvian. It is guaranteed that the international scientific community won’t know anything about your research.
Your job is not just at the university, you’re well known as a historian too.
Yes, the research in the field of history is an integral part of my life. This, however, extends my working day and reduces the number of holidays, but it is my choice. In the first year as a rector, I almost never did research, but then I realized, that I can’t go without it. I am very interested in history. It seems that the first reading that I did in my childhood when I learned how to read, was the Latvian conversion dictionary from 1920s till 1930s from my grandmother’s bookcase – I read all the volumes from cover to cover.
A very large part of the content was history and when I started to go to school, I was learning history and realized how vast the differences were from what I read and what was taught in school and told by relatives. All of their terrible Soviet ideology with socialist revolutions and happy life in the Soviet Union. Both my mother and father have come from a strong peasant family who got well –maintained farms by their hard work. The Soviets their farms away, but the love for work for those who survived the repressions couldn’t been taken away. Perhaps it’s in the genes, but the notion of “eight hour workday” has never existed in my schedule.
It’s not a secret that you live in the countryside. Why such a choice?
Yes, I guess, that it’s again the genes. As far back as the nineties, it was possible to retrieve the properties lost, I used this opportunity and I have to say that as a student at a times, I was already with one foot in the countryside. I have been living in Lēdurga for the whole of the 21st century, the closest neighbors are about a kilometer away.
I grew up and studied in Rīga, I lived in an apartment block in Purvciems. At the first opportunity, I visited one of my grandmothers in the countryside – both on weekends and holidays. It seems that I didn’t spend any of my summer holidays in Rīga. The city living simply pushed me down, in the countryside I feel much better and more relaxed.
I remember how skeptic my neighbors looked at me for when I showed up in Lēdurga for the first time: “What a musician there...” At that time I studied at the Latvian Academy of Music and nobody believed that I could do something to the destruction that was around – buildings with holes and intruded roofs nettles up to the windows. But I never had a moment where I would throw everything into shrubs, I didn’t even think about that. I learned various skills, I refurbished and rebuilt everything with my own hands and even built a couple of log homes on my farm. I haven’t ever regretted moving to the countryside even for a second since then.
Returning to research, what can you name as your greatest success?
In the research area, the best result undoubtedly is the publication of my book “History of the Economy of Latvia” which was released in May 2017. It was a project of almost four years and I am really pleased that this ambitious plan has succeeded.
In total, we were 10 authors, but I was also the head of the content part of this project – the scientific editor. We also involved many industry experts. And a result, we have this thick book of over 1000 pages and the discovery of many likeminded people. We are still working on two other intentions in a slightly different composition of the people – we will publish a book “History of Latvian Economy” in English, which will be aimed at international readers and we plan to publish “The Baltic Economic History” in four languages. As a result, my research work has largely been planned out up until 2020. In success, I also have to mention the use of modern technology. Now, in several of my printed editions, we have used what is offered by the AR/VR technologies. By scanning a certain page or a book cover on your phone or tablet, it is brought to life by showcasing a video or a moving photo. It is an incredible innovation, which offers very vast opportunities for presenting research results in the areas where until now it had to be confined to either print or digital (video) format only. We have found a way how to combine both things together.
Almost all of your projects, as well as the university management, are characterized as long-term jobs. What makes you think in the long-term?
This is a difficult question, but a certain explanation can be found. I have never studied the theory of management or planning, although I have read a lot about both of those things, also in the historical context. But I am also a supporter of big formats in literature and art, mostly in music. I like to read classics and listen to symphonies. These formats are radically different from those that are increasingly being consumed in today’s society. Short video and “best” reading in what you can “pull-through” very quickly before going to bed.
I have been asked a few times what to do to start thinking strategically in the long-term. I answer – learn to listen to classical music. When you can concentrate on Stravinsky "The Rite of Spring" or Beethoven’s symphony, you will have reached a certain level. People think I’m joking, but I’m quite serious. If you are able to perceive and consume things that take time, then you start thinking in the long-term. If you don’t like music then do the same thing with literature. But this training “program” can’t be approached formally. If you go to the concert, and will think all the time about what you are wearing – if anyone will notice that you have a new dress or suit, or will look at the crowd to see if you know anyone, you won't even hear the music, then from the point of personal growth it’s all a waste. The same is with books – if you buy it and put it on a shelf so that everyone sees that you have it, it is not enough. And good books have to be reviewed at least every ten years. Each time you will notice something new, just as listening to the same music.
What do you wish other people?
In my opinion, the most important thing is not to pretend to be someone else. Do what you like and can do, and let others accept you for who you are. It will make you and others happier.