The Government has approved and sent to Riigikogu a project to change the Study Allowance and Student Loan Act and the Higher Education Act, creating a framework for doctoral education reform. The goal of the project is to increase the attractiveness of doctoral education, make the educational process more effective and ensure an influx of scientists in the academic sector and Estonian society in general.
According to Minister of Education and Research Liina Kersna, we need more people with knowledge and experience gained through doctoral education to face the future challenges in Estonia and make the society more science-based. “The role of our doctoral students in a scientific career is becoming increasingly clear,” says Kersna. “Doctoral students are guaranteed the position of junior scientist in a university or in a scientific or development institution. The doctoral grant is replaced with a salary, and social protections are also expanded, such as paid annual leave and sick leave. When coming up with the changes, we wanted to diversify the options for completing a doctoral degree and make sure that said options take into consideration doctoral students’ backgrounds.”
The doctoral student can have a contract with another private company or public sector institution related to the field of their doctoral research. A doctoral degree completed in cooperation with partners outside the university is called a transfer of knowledge doctoral degree. In such a case, the doctoral research is conducted keeping in mind the needs of the company or the institution, and the doctoral student will continue working in the partner company or institution. The main goal of a transfer of knowledge doctoral degree is to prepare PhD specialists for the job market outside of academia and promote cooperation between universities and private companies.
Not signing a contract to conduct research remains an option for doctoral students. It is intended for those who pursue a doctoral degree outside their personal interest and for personal growth. They complete their doctoral degree alongside their main job and their doctoral research does not fit into a doctoral degree based on a university-company partnership or a young scientist programme or the doctoral student does not wish to sign such contract. In such a case, the doctoral candidate has the status of a university student, completing the curriculum based on an individual plan, but does not qualify for a doctoral student support grant.
The same project makes student loan applications easier. The loan agency and the applicant can agree on an interest rate no greater than six months Euribor + 3% a year. The maximum annual interest rate is 5%. Subject to agreement with the loan agency, it is possible to start repaying the loan 18 months after finishing studies. Now, it should be done 12 months after finishing the studies. Instead of two guarantors, one guarantor is now enough.
The project will also change the terms and conditions for needs-based support. Those arriving to study from third countries on a temporary residence permit will no longer be eligible to apply for funding.
According to the current plan, the changes will come into effect on 1 September 2022.