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Vocational education

Vocational education serves the purpose of fostering the knowledge, skills and attitudes, occupational know-how and the social readiness required for working, participating in social life and participating in the lifelong learning process.

Vocational training is organised by vocational educational institutions and professional higher education institutions.

Vocational education system in Estonia is regulated by the Vocational Educational Institutions Act which provides the basis for the establishment, maintenance, transfer, reorganisation and closure of vocational educational institutions, the basis for the right to provide instruction, management, organisation of studies, state-commissioned education and financing, the rights and obligations of members of schools, and state supervision over the activities of schools.

In 2013, the parliament passed the Vocational Educational Institutions Act that fundamentally changed the regulation of the vocational education system. Among most notable aspects are the following:

  • defining new categories of vocational training directly linked to the Estonian Qualifications Framework
  • extensive use of outcome-based principles in the evaluation and establishing of qualification criteria for types of vocational training, curriculums and for personnel working in the teaching and pedagogical profession;
  • establishing the right to provide instruction;
  • defining and implementing the use of the new unit (Estonian vocational education credit points) for measuring study volumes.

Uniform requirements for vocational training are regulated by the Vocational Education Standard.

In order to speed up the implementation of reforms instigated by the Vocational Educational Institutions Act and the latest Vocational Education Standard, a reform of the vocational education curricula and administration was carried out on years 2013-2014.



The status of the curriculum at a given qualification level is determined by the positioning of the curricular professional standards within the Estonian Qualifications Framework Professional standards that serve as the benchmarks of vocational education are positioned between levels two to five in the qualification strata, meaning that vocational training stages are differentiated between levels two, three, four and five.

In cases where the curriculum is put together based on professional standards intended for the second level, the curriculum corresponds to level two. When the curriculum is founded on professional standards three, four and five, the curriculum equates to levels three, four and five correspondingly.

Vocational secondary education is equivalent to level 4 vocational training, meaning that besides vocational training the student also acquires upper secondary education. Vocational upper secondary education is conducted based on national curriculum.

Level 5 vocational training, also known as specialised vocational training was established in Estonia during the 2013/2014 academic year – there was no equivalent level of vocational training available previously.

The learning outcomes of all types of vocational training, meaning the knowledge, skills and attitudes mastered during the course of the studies, have been described in the Vocational Education Standard.

Table of levels 2-5 of vocational training



Formal vocational training curricula are divided between national and school curricula.

National curricula form the blueprints for providing upper secondary vocational training. National curricula is implemented by regulations signed by the Minister of Education and Research. National curricula is drafted in co-operation with social partners and by making allowances for pertinent professional standards, vocational education standards and the national curriculum for upper secondary schools.

School curricula are compiled for every individual vocation or profession that can be acquired at the school. The schools’ formal study curricula (excluding vocational secondary education curricula) are compiled based on vocational education standards and associated vocational standards. In cases where no vocational standards exist, the schools must apply for recognition of the curriculaby social partners. Vocational secondary education curricula will be formulated based on national curricula.

Vocational training curricula determine the following:

  • the goals and tasks of vocational, specialised and occupational studies;
  • attainable learning outcomes;
  • links to the Estonian Qualifications Framework;
  • requirements for commencing and concluding studies;
  • curricular modules and their volumes together with learning outcomes and evaluation criteria;
  • options and conditions for choosing modules;
  • specialisation opportunities;
  • specific qualifications acquired during studies.

As of 2013, the volumes of vocational training will be calculated using Estonian vocational education credit points. Estonian vocational education credit point is the unit of calculation of study volume which indicates the estimated volume of student´s work necessary for the achievement of the learning outcomes described in the curriculum. One credit point corresponds to 26 hours spent by a student on studies upon the acquisition of skills and knowledge. A single study year in vocational training is equivalent to 60 credit points.

Initial and continuing vocational training

Vocational training offers the opportunity to study according to initial and continuing curricula.

Commencing studies based on the initial training curriculum does not require existance of previous professional competence.

The prerequisite for beginning studies under continuing training curricula is the acquisition of profession corresponding to the previous or the same qualification level or the corresponding competencies and level of education. Continuing vocational training takes place only in level 4 and 5 of vocational training.

Workplace based studies

Workplace based studies constitute a specialised form of vocational education where the ratio of practical assignments undertaken in companies or institutions encompasses at least two thirds of the curriculum.

The student achieves the learning outcomes described in the curriculum by fulfilling working tasks at the company. The remainder of the studies will be undertaken at school.

Workplace based studies are conducted upon signing an intern contract between the school, student and employee, which stipulates the rights and obligations of parties as well as the exact details of the learning process. The employee has to recompense the student for tasks performed to the amount agreed upon in the intern contract. The agreed wages must not be less than the statutory minimum wage established by the government. In cases where the student and employee are already bound by a valid employment contract, no extra wages are paid.

The number of students is growing and in January of 2018 already 1700 students study in vocational education institutions under workplace study arrangements.

Expanding workplace based study form in Estonia is one of main goals for vocational education training system tilll 2020.


The Ministry of Education and Research compiles annually the state commissioned education request for formal vocational education, which is designed to ensure that vacancies are available for students wishing to enrol in vocational educational institutions. The state commissioned education requiest is compiled by factoring in the needs of the labour market, national strategic and subject-centric development plans, projections and studies pertaining to particular fields as well as the schools’ capacities and students’ individual preferences.


The number of vacancies formed to meet state commissioned education request is confirmed for a three-year period.

Analysis of social and economic needs will be carried out prior to formulating the state commissioned education request for vocational training. The analysis will consider the number of individuals in need of vocational training and their preferences with regard to specific subjects taught. Making forecasts with regard to societal needs will take into account demographic factors by measuring the size of youth groups, projecting the number of graduates (the division of basic school and upper secondary school graduates) and making allowances for regional distribution of populations and educational migration.

The assessment of economic needs is primarily on the labour force demand projections up to 2020, as compiled by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, together with data on the employment of vocational education graduates on the labour market.

In addition to taking societal and economic needs into account, the requirements will be formulated by making allowances for educational institutions’ capacities of fulfilling the requirement in full, which is gauged by looking at the number of student places the education institutions’ have applied for and comparing it with the record of fulfilling the requirements in the past. All vocational educational institutions can apply for state commissioned education requirements regardless of the educational institutions’ form of ownership.


Vocational education institutions

Vocational education can be acquired either in vocational education or professional higher education institutions. At least one vocational education institution operates in every Estonian county. In the 2018/2019 academic year, there are 32 vocational educational institutions and 6 profesional higher institutions active in Estonia that offer a range of 160 specialities.

Vocational education institutions are divided based on the ownership status into state, municipal and private institutions. Vocational education institutions operated by the Ministry of Education and Research are considered state schools, numbering a total of 26 institutions in the 2018/2019 academic year.

From 2008-2015, by using resources allocated by the European Regional Development Fund, an investment scheme titled “Modernising learning environments of vocational education institutions” has been implemented, as a result of which all state vocational education institutions are now provided with up to date studying and teaching environments.

Estonian is the primary language of instruction used in vocational training in Estonia. Russian is also used as langugage of instruction in some vocational education institutions. In the vocational education centre of Valgamaa one can also study in English.


Last updated: 3 July 2019