The House of Letters of the University of Latvia, which foundation stone will be laid on August 25, will be the largest investment in the infrastructure of humanities and social sciences since the restoration of independence. UL, in cooperation with the state and international financial institutions, successfully attracts funding for the development of the Academic Centre, providing the university with a high reputation in the international environment, emphasizes prof. Indriķis Muižnieks, rector of the University of Latvia.

The opening of the House of Letters is planned for fall 2023. Like the House of Science, it is part of the II stage of the development of the Academic Centre of the UL. The development plan of the UL foresees that almost all faculties will be located in the Academic Centre in Torņakalns. Six humanities and social sciences faculties of the UL will move to the House of Letters: Faculty of History and Philosophy, Faculty of Pedagogy, Psychology and Arts, Faculty of Social Sciences, Faculty of Humanities, Faculty of Business, Management and Economics and Faculty of Theology.

It is planned that three institutes will also be located in the new building - the Institute of Latvian History, the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology and the Institute of the Latvian Language. The UL Student Business Incubator, the UL Interdisciplinary Education Innovation Centre and the UL Library will also move to the building.

The largest of the Academic Centre buildings

The House of Letters will be the largest and busiest of the Academic Centre buildings. The planned area is 26,000 square meters, and it will house the most faculties and institutes compared to the previous buildings, the House of Nature and the House of Science. The House of Letters will also have two atriums around which the social life of the university's students, staff and visitors will take place.

Along with the construction of the House of Letters, significant changes are also planned in the courtyard of the Academic Centre: a fountain will be installed, plants will be planted, and two circular amphitheatres will be created in a landscape. The stones of the Faculty of Humanities will also be moved to the House of Letters. The purpose of the improvement plan is to combine two existing buildings and the House of Letters into one complex, keeping in mind that in half a year there will be a new concept not only for half of the territory but in the future for another three or four buildings.

House of Letters - carefully thought out and comfortable

The House of Letters will be precisely thought out, practical and comfortable; the premises will be maximally ergonomic to meet the needs of students and staff. The major faculties will be located on their own floors. For example, the Faculty of Pedagogy, Psychology and Art will have a large exhibition hall. On the other hand, the House of Letters will have an auditorium with 500 seats and the possibility of dividing it into two parts. It is planned that the UL theatre will also move to the House of Letters.

A 200-square-meter training room for dancers will be located overlooking the central courtyard. A circular meditation room is provided in the Faculty of Theology. An open-access library will also be located in the House of Letters.

The importance of the humanitarian field in science will be strengthened

"Science, education and research are critically important for the development of Latvia's human capital and the growth of the national economy in the country, therefore the investments of international financial institutions in these sectors play an important role. The financing of the European Investment Bank and the Council of Europe Development Bank for the modernization of the UL Academic Centre will help promote the development of science and research in Latvia, providing an innovative environment for students and researchers and promoting the country's international competitiveness," said Finance Minister Jānis Reirs.

According to Jānis Reirs, the new UL House of Letters will help mark Latvia on the European map in the field of humanities and social sciences research. Thanks to the successful cooperation of the University of Latvia, the Ministry of Finance and international financial institutions over several years, it has been possible to develop the modernization project of the UL Academic Centre, which will both provide an invaluable contribution to society and the university, and is also interesting for financiers. It is also important that the new UL House of Letters will be accessible to people with disabilities, which until now was problematic in the old buildings of several faculties. In addition, combining six faculties and several institutions under one roof will reduce administrative and maintenance expenses.

"Being located in the same building will definitely improve the cooperation between structural units not only in the House of Letters but also in the House of Nature and the House of Science, thus the UL will develop more and more as a compact unit, where much more productive symbiosis and cooperation is possible," acknowledged rector of the University of Latvia Indriķis Muižnieks.

The auditoriums, which will be located in all three buildings, will be used for the needs of various faculties, and the auditoriums of the House of Nature and the House of Science will also be available to the students of the House of Letters. “Given that it is only a two-minute walk, all resources and assets will be optimised. We will ensure that the premises that will be built will be used to the maximum extent possible," emphasized Indriķis Muižnieks.

A benefit to the rest of society

Collections that will be stored by institutes, such as the Institute of Latvian History with its own collection of materials, will be placed in the House of Letters. Likewise, a part of the House of Letters will be publicly accessible just like the existing buildings, and a large part of Latvia's national heritage, which is the possession of the UL, will be found in the House of Letters. This resource is an important material not only for studies but also for other interested parties.

"The next UL Academic Centre project is also successfully progressing step by step towards the set goal. The existing buildings – the House of Nature and the House of Science - with a comfortable and pleasant environment for studies and scientific work, are one of the most attractive higher education institutions in the Baltic region, and its potential will increase with each implemented project. With the opening of the House of Letters, the majority of UL faculties will be located in one place, which will provide an opportunity to work and develop in cooperation and synergy, and will allow Latvia's biggest university to become even more attractive and competitive both locally and internationally," Indriķis Muižnieks outlines the future goals.

Return on investment - socio-economic development

About 70 million euros have already been invested in the first two buildings in terms of construction, furnishings, and equipment, the third, the House of Letters, will need about 48 million euros. Further, for the III stage, the House of Technologies, the House of Health, the House of Sports, and the House of Students and Guests - about 110 million more euros will be needed.

According to Indriķis Muižnieks, the return from ambitious investments can be measured in indicators of socio-economic benefits for society as a whole. "The number of new students, including foreigners, is increasing at the university; new interdisciplinary research projects are underway; more high-quality scientific publications are produced; new cooperation projects with industry and start-ups arise in the process of formation, where the technologies created at the university are used. For those faculties, which are already mostly located in Torņakalns, the total revenue level in 2021 was 11 million euros higher than in 2017, including project funding increased by almost 6 million euros.

With education - against crises

Indriķis Muižnieks is convinced that the resilience of society and the entire country against financial, economic, epidemiological and political crises is closely related to the quality of education, especially higher education, critical thinking, creativity, cooperation and knowledge.

“Investments in higher education pay off for the country faster than investments in any other sector and are universally applicable. Different rankings of universities reflect different aspects of university activity, but there is no doubt that the development of the Academic Centre will contribute to our competitiveness in this ranking. Let's not forget that our colleagues and competitors are not sleeping either.

A scope structure similar to the House of Letters - the Delta Centre at the University of Tartu was opened a couple of years ago. Not to mention the leaders of the university rankings - the leading British universities annually invest more in strengthening the technology transfer potential of each of them than we have invested so far in the entire development of the Academic Centre.

The European Investment Bank focuses on education

The development of the new campus was supported by a European Investment Bank (EIB) loan signed in 2017. It was the first time that an EU bank granted a loan directly to a higher education institution in the Baltic States, using the support of the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI), the so-called Juncker Plan.

Investing in innovation, digital and human capital in line with EU priorities is one of the EIB's main lines of action to help highly qualified people and research contribute to economic growth and employment. "We are pleased to have provided advisory and financial support to the University of Latvia for some of its investment programs," said Marina Ismaila, EIB's senior specialist in public sector loans in the Baltic States.

The EIB has financed many higher education institutions across Europe and beyond, focusing on energy efficiency, climate action, as well as highly specialized research and the digital economy. As the EU's climate bank, the EIB is the largest multilateral financial institution in the world and one of the largest providers of climate finance. Last year, 51% of all EIB projects were environmentally friendly.

"We will gladly support the further implementation of the development vision of the University of Latvia, as it is in line with the EIB's climate action priorities," said Marina Ismaila. "We still see many potential areas of cooperation with the University of Latvia and hope that we will work together on all the above-mentioned priorities.

It is very important that the European workforce, including in Latvia, has the necessary skills and educational qualifications to ensure that Europe maintains a leadership position in the field of innovation, research and development, thus creating economic benefits for its citizens. Innovation, research and education can also provide an answer to the current climate and energy crisis, as well as being the basis of national security. Since 2000, the EIB has supported innovation and skills by investing more than €220 billion.

In 2021 alone, the EIB committed €20.7 billion to support innovation and skills. This support took several forms: supporting the development and commercialization of new products, processes and business models, encouraging investment in research and development, education, skills development and training, improving connectivity and access by investing in broadband and mobile networks, as well as digital and other new technologies implementation and distribution.

The ceremony of laying the foundation stone of the House of Letters will take place on August 25 at 12:00 in the Academic Centre of the UL, while the opening ceremony will happen in the House of Science. The event will be attended by UL rector Indriķis Muižnieks, Minister of Finance Jānis Reirs, Minister of Education and Science Anita Muižniece, Head of the European Commission Representation in Latvia Zane Petre, President of the Latvian Academy of Sciences Professor Ivars Kalviņš, European Investment Bank representative Marina Ismaila and CEB Baltic States project manager Diana Bertje.