The Ministry of Education and Research has submitted to its partners for comment a draft amendment to the Higher Education Act wherein the basis for the compensation of study costs will be clarified so as to prompt students to choose their specialisations wisely and to give more secondary school graduates access to higher education.
The fundamental principles of the Higher Education Act will remain unchanged and full-time studies in Estonian-language programmes will continue to be free of charge.
Deputy Secretary General with the Ministry of Education and Research Renno Veinthal says the amendments will provide institutions of higher education with immediate opportunities to garner extra funding, which will improve both access to higher education and the effectiveness of teaching. “It will place more responsibility on students’ shoulders, which should encourage them to make more informed choices,” Veinthal explained. “At the same time, pressure to boost government funding for higher education will not abate. To ensure good-quality higher education, the discussion around its funding must continue. Fundamental changes will require a mandate in the next parliamentary elections.”
Firstly, the draft law limits opportunities to recommence studies at the same level of higher education. At present, students can recommence studies at the same level free of charge once the time that has elapsed since they began studying is three times the nominal duration of studies. The draft proposes raising this to five times the nominal duration.
Secondly, the right to study in multiple free programmes at the same time will be abolished.
Thirdly, access to free programmes will be restricted after deferring studies, meaning that students will have to decide more quickly whether their chosen specialisation is the right one for them. The current system allows for an unlimited number of deferrals, with studies being recommenced free of charge before half the nominal study period has elapsed. This creates extra expense for the state and institutions of higher education and does not encourage responsibility in students. The draft law leaves students with two chances to change their minds, but after commencing studies at the same level for the third time, they will have to pay for their tuition themselves.
The draft law also includes an amendment making it possible to demand that study costs be compensated by students who participate in the majority of course work during a semester but break off their studies prior to the end of the semester. This is not possible at present.
The draft is linked to an action programme making it incumbent upon the government to develop a model for the funding of higher education which enables the raising of private funding. The government discussed the ministry’s analysis and proposals in January this year and approved the preparation of the draft law.
Institutions of higher education are already able to raise extra funding to some extent without the amendment: for example, they can collect fees from students enrolled in English-language programmes and offer more refresher training and micro-degrees. Education agreements allow institutions of higher education to organise solely part-time teaching more broadly, and they can also raise private funding by working with companies.
- The goal of the Higher Education Act reform which came into effect in the 2013/2014 academic year was to ensure that all motivated students have the opportunity to acquire higher education on equal terms. The reform restricted the right of institutions of higher education to collect tuition fees from students, and state subsidies were raised from 2013-2016 to compensate for reduced private funding. As a result of the reform, the nominal higher education costs of the state have increased, but funding as a percentage of GDP has decreased. According to the parties involved, funding is not sustainable and can affect the quality of teaching, for example scuppering opportunities to recruit and retain competent teaching staff.
- According to data from the Estonian Education Information System (EHIS), there are one third fewer students in Estonian institutions of higher education in 2022 than there were in 2012 (44,611 vs 64,806). At the same time, the number of institutions has also decreased by more than a third (18 vs 29). The performance indicators of institutions of higher education have improved: teaching is more centred on their areas of responsibility and the number of graduates has increased, including those graduating within the nominal study period.