In today’s morning briefing, Silvē Dušar, a spokeswoman for Chancellor Stendē, announced that the Ministry of Education was partnering with Geminus Provincial University (Central Campus), the New Riga Research Institute, the Kalrē School of Government and Public Affairs, and Central Merēta University to create a series of new Master’s (Meistrēta) degree programs that combine university courses with paid civil service jobs in order to “create a practical and sustainable entrance to graduate studies.”
The new program, entitled “DarbAp”(a portmanteau of the verbs for “to work” and “to learn”), would connect graduate students with entry-level, part-time government positions in analysis, research, media affairs, and other areas. These students would be able to gain some university credit from their practical experiences while earning enough to finance their studies. “For too long, students have been forced to put their careers on hold in order to go back to school. We hope to ease that burden however we can, and the DarbAp Program is a good first step forward.” Dušar said, before allowing a representative from the Ministry of Education to speak.
Despite the fact that Eirian undergraduate degrees (Baklōrēta) are relatively inexpensive, university graduate programs are often much more expensive, leading to graduate students taking on debt and fighting tooth and nail for every cent of scholarship money. In addition, many graduate students are left without much relevant experience by the time that they graduate, as they are forced to take other university jobs unrelated to their fields due to the notorious inflexibility of Eirian grad programs. Paid student internships for university credit are quite common in Eirian undergraduate education, however no such programs have existed for graduate education. The primary drawback to DarbAp is that these programs are estimated to take four to six semesters, which is significantly higher than the current average of three semesters for a Meistrēta degree.
The first round of qualifying DarbAp degrees will be M3-P, M3-E, M3-L, and M4-L degrees, covering fields such as International Relations, Public Policy/Administration, Law, Business, and Public Relations. Students will be able to gain positions at the Ministries of Diplomacy, the Economy, and Intelligence, as well as the working wing of the Chancellor’s Manor and a number of Senate committees and offices. Immediately after the announcement, several Senators and other public officials expressed their willingness to open positions in their offices to DarbAp students as well.
However, both the Chancellor’s staff and Minister of Education Daniel Ričardson have indicated that they intend to expand this program into the private sector, spanning all fields. “We can provide some students better opportunities, but we need help from the entrepreneurs in our communities to step up and provide these learning opportunities for the sake of our workforce.” Over the past few years, Ričardson’s ministry has been increasingly more focused on fixing the lasting gap between the holders of doctoral degrees and the holders of baccalaureate degrees, as the number of Master’s degree students has yet to recover after the Civil War.
This program announcement also comes as Chancellor Stendē and her campaign are increasingly attempting to win the hearts of undecided and apathetic members of younger demographics. The Stendē campaign is also attempting to portray itself as the campaign of stability and steady improvement in the lives of average workers. Their “Steps towards the Future” program epitomizes this sentiment, outlining various plans to both increase quality of life and rebalance the budget (which almost went into deficit after a sharp economic downturn earlier this year).
The DarbAp program has received generally positive responses from across the political spectrum, however there have been a few naysayers. Socialist (Radical Wing) Senator Aleks Zarinš labeled it “the commercialization of the sacred halls of learning,” while FMC commentator Marija Dravina called it “a return to the archaic age of apprenticeships.” Regardless, many professional educators across Eiria have been quick to praise the new program. However, only time will tell if this attempt to use educational policy to revamp Stendē’s economic image will pay off.