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Education and science occupy a particular, and at times even a decisive, position in Lithuania's history. Members of the intelligentsia, scientists, writers, artists and individuals, who respect intelligence and knowledge, have always constituted the jewel of Lithuania. This enlightened society performed a most significant role during the rebirth of the country at the end of the 19th century. Such people played no less a role in regaining Lithuania's independence, a hundred years later, at the end of our century.
As far back as 1397, a Lithuanian college was established at the University of Prague, where the sons of the Lithuanian nobles were educated.
Education and science saw their beginnings in Lithuania itself, during the stormy 16th century. In 1539, Abraomas Kulvietis, a reformist, established the first school of higher education, with the support of Queen Bona. However, the religious confrontation between the Catholics and the Protestants ended in King Sigismund the Elder issuing a decree against Kulvietis, in 1542, and closing his school.
In 1570, a Jesuit college was established in Vilnius, on the basis of which the University of Vilnius, Alma Mater Vilnensis, was established in 1579 in accordance with the privilege granted by King Stephan Bathory.
In the 17th century famous scientist K. Siemienowicz has contibuted a lot to the theory of missiles.
The history of the University of Vilnius is intertwined with the fate of Lithuania. For the two-and-a-half centuries, until its closure in 1832, this institution of education was one of the most authoritative institutions of higher learning throughout East and Central Europe. It was the only source of science, not just for Lithuanians and the population of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania alone, but for its northern neighbours, as well. The nearest universities were located in Kraków and Prague, and the University at Dorpat (Tartu), which was established later. Several well-known European authorities (P. Skarga, M.K. Sarbiewski (Sarbievius), J.G.A. Forster, M. Poczobut, J. Gilibert, P. Smugliewicz (Smuglevicius) J.P. Frank and J. Frank, J. Sniadecki and A. Sniadecki, A. Mickievicz, J. Lelewel) are among those who have studied and taught at the University. The name of T. Grotthuss, an outstanding scientist of the 19th century, is connected with Lithuania. The founder of Esperanto language L. Zamenhof (1859-1917) had lived in Lithuania.
During the period between the two world wars, Lithuania's education and science were concentrated in Kaunas, where a university and several institutions of higher learning were established. Concurrently, in Polish-occupied Vilnius, the old university was revived and named after Stephan Bathory.
There are 15 institutions of higher education in Lithuania: 6 universities, 7 academies and 2 institutes. Philosopher Rolandas Pavilionis is the 81st rector of the current Alma Mater.
The number of university students reached a record of 17,000 in 1980. Currently, there are 10,000. The prestige of a university education, which declined somewhat in the course of the preceding five years, rose again in 1996: there were 3 applicants for each university place. Even under the conditions of such selection, approximately 40% of all secondary school graduates enter the universities each year.
The state budget subsidises 75% of university education.
The duration of secondary education is 12 years.
In 1994, Lithuania joined the UNESCO "Convention on the recognition of studies, diplomas and degrees concerning Higher Education in countries belonging to the European Region." University studies currently cover 200 specialities.
During the years of Soviet occupation, the exact sciences, semi-conductor physics and electronics were widely developed in Lithuania. Currently, a sizeable high-tech potential is reorienting itself towards the Western World.
In 1995, there were 29 state-supported research institutes and 19 other institutions in existence. The Lithuanian Academy of Science, established in 1940, is currently in existence and the Lithuanian Catholic Science Academy, established before the war, has renewed its activity. Approximately 7% of the State Budget is allocated for education (this amounts to nearly 1% of GDP).
Various scientific research centres, working on the basis of private initiative or Western foundations, exist in Lithuania. The Lithuanian Open Society Foundation, established by George Soros in 1990, is providing considerable support to Lithuanian education.
As if to underscore the importance of science and education, Lietuviu Enciklopedija, (Lithuanian Encyclopedia) has been published in Boston, USA. An encyclopaedia is the joint product of culture, education and science, and constitutes a vital book for any living nation. Lithuanian intellectuals began publishing their first encyclopaedia before World War II. The work was interrupted after 9 volumes. The new encyclopaedia was begun only in 1953, in the USA, under very difficult conditions. It was completed in 1969, and ran to 36 volumes. (An additional, 37th volume, was published in 1985). Thus Lithuanians have the distinction of having published their first complete encyclopaedia in exile.
Vilnius University, Central Building. Photo by S. Platukis.
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