In response to an inquiry at Riigikogu, the Minister of Education and Research Liina Kersna said that additional funds are required in order to continue providing higher education in Estonian, maintain the quality of teaching and ensure a future generation of lecturers.
“Estonian higher education has been underfunded for years,” said Minister Kersna. “The salaries of many lecturers are lagging behind the salaries of school teachers and ensuring the next generation of lecturers is becoming an increasingly serious issue. It's not just a matter of funds, but also the content and quality of education.”
According to the analysis of the Ministry of Education and Research, there are three main options when it comes to covering the costs of higher education: free higher education, where the costs are borne by the state, predominantly free higher education, where the state contributes a large amount but students pay fees in the order of 300-1000 euros per year, or paid higher education, where students pay higher fees – more than 1000 euros per year. When changing the funding principles, the system of study grants and student loans also needs to be changed.
“Fundamental changes, such as forgoing free full-time study in Estonian, require a social agreement and should be given a mandate in the next Riigikogu elections,” said the Minister of Education.
Additional funding opportunities that could be introduced in the near future and without changing the Higher Education Act would be primarily aimed at working people. For example, universities have already started offering micro-degrees as training. Universities also have the right to request reimbursement of study expenses in part-time Estonian-language curricula. “At the same time, the number of free spots must not be significantly limited in order to offer part-time study and varying quality standards must not be applied in full-time and part-time study,” said the Minister.
The main source of funding for higher education are the operating grants allocated by the Ministry of Education and Research to higher education institutions every year. Over the last five years, operating grants have increased by 9%.
According to the government's plan of action, the Ministry of Education and Research will submit an analysis and proposals for introducing additional funding for higher education this November.
The issue of financing higher education is also being discussed by the Research and Development Council under the leadership of the Prime Minister.