EKRE calls for making principles of higher education financing more Estonia-centered

University of Tartu.

PHOTO: Margus Ansu

The Estonian Conservative People’s Party (EKRE) wishes to change the principles of financing of Estonian universities to make them more centered on the Estonian people and raise the level of higher education funding to 1.5 percent of GDP.

According to the junior government coalition member, higher education must meet five criteria: ensure that gifted Estonian young people are not barred from education due to lack of money; ensure quality education; ensure the preparation of specialists first and foremost in the specialties and scope necessary for the Estonian society and the state; ensure that higher education supports Estonia’s national culture and national state; and provide education in an effective manner, spokespeople for the party said on Monday.

“The criterion of quality education is at present not met or is met insufficiently. The quality of Estonian higher education has not been measured directly from the viewpoint of the education acquired,” said EKRE MP Jaak Valge, member of the parliament’s cultural affairs committee.

“According to data from the OECD, the pay of an employee with higher education in Estonia differs from the pay of an employee with secondary education only by 24 percent, whereas in Finland the respective indicator is 37, in Latvia 44 and in Lithuania 79 percent. Among OECD member states, this is good enough for last or second to last place,” Valge said.

Valge pointed out that the current system is failing to produce the required numbers of specialists specifically in the areas and on the scope necessary for the Estonian society and the state. This is confirmed by data from the National Audit Office, according to which the ratio of people overqualified for their job is 20 percent in Estonia, and higher than that among young people, where it ranks among the highest such ratios in the EU, whereas also the ratio of people not sufficiently qualified for their job is the highest in Estonia, measuring 15 percent.

Nor is the requirement being observed, according to Valge, that higher education in Estonia must support the Estonian nation state.

“Universities are becoming English-language under the slogan of internationalization. The valid financing model directs universities towards raising their income base through increasing the number of foreign students, and the study programs of the first and second level can only have a single language of instruction. Of foreign students in bachelor’s and master’s programs, 94 percent studied in the English language, 2.5 percent in the Russian language and 3.5 percent in the Estonian language. To attract foreign students, Estonian-language study programs are being closed and English-language ones opened in their place,” the MP said.

Tallinn University of Technology and the University of Tartu have considered it necessary to create a system of targeted grants used to pay the study fees of some foreign students.

“This means that for these universities teaching of foreign students is beneficial despite their not paying a study fee. In total, more than one-third of foreign students in bachelor’s and master’s programs have been exempted from tuition fees. In addition, some foreign students are receiving a necessity-based study benefit, which in the last academic year totaled €1.2 million. In such way, the Estonian taxpayer is financing English-language studies for foreign students, which has led to a situation where the majority of the foreign students who graduate from a university do not remain in Estonia because they have not become fluent in Estonian,” Valge said.

EKRE has listed five proposals for increasing the financing of higher education and changing its financing model.

First, it argues that the criterion of a university’s size in base financing should be eliminated as it directs universities to expanding at the expense of quality. Also, in the assignment of targeted support to universities it should be taken into account how much the specific university supports the Estonian national culture and nation state, and from the criterion of performance-based funding the share of students who have studied or performed internship in a foreign country, the share of foreign students who have graduated from the university, and the share of students who have completed the curriculum within the established period of time should be eliminated. 

The latter should be replaced with criteria such as the ratio of students enrolled in said university to all students enrolled in universities, the ratio of the university's income from education related activities to activity support assigned to the university, and the ratio of students continuing their studies in the next level of education or participating in employment to all graduates of the university, which should make up respectively 30 percent, 30 percent and 40 percent of the total criterion value.     

It is not necessary to change the principles of doctoral studies' performance funding, according to EKRE.

When these conditions are met, the target of higher education funding in Estonia should be set at 1.5 percent of GDP, which would put Estonia among the top five among OECD member states and ensure quality higher education appropriate for the Estonian society and the state, EKRE argues.