The Parliament passed two law amendments on Wednesday, which aim to improve the financial situation of Estonian university students.
The first bill gives better social guarantees to doctoral students. The changes regarding parental benefits and the pension insurance will take effect on September 1 next year.
"Providing better social guarantees to doctoral students is the country's way of saying that we recognize doctoral studies as a valid career choice," said Minister of Education and Research Jevgeni Ossinovski. "No PhD student should suffer income loss because they have a baby."
The current law only provides doctoral students with health insurance; the allowance does not contribute towards pension funds or parental benefits.
"As the doctoral allowance comes with not enough social guarantees, many students are forced to keep side jobs, some outside of academia. This takes focus away from their studies," Ossinovski said. The law changes should allow more people to lessen their workload..
Moreover, PhD scholarship do not count towards the total income, on the basis of which parental benefits are calculated. Once the amendments come in force in 2015, this is set to change.
In the 2013-2014 academic year, about 10 percent of all doctoral students, or around 300 people, are on parental leave.
The national PhD allowance is currently 383 euros per month. The number is set to increase by 10 percent - for the first time in 10 years - in January 2015, rising to 422 euros.
Another bill passed on Wednesday increases the number of students eligible for need-based financial aid.
"The need-based study allowance system will change next semester in two very important aspects. First, there is a new type of aid: the need-based special allowance. And secondly, the application terms for the basic allowance will be relaxed," Ossinovski said.
At present, only those students, who have completed their study load 100 percent, can apply for the grant of basic allowance. "This means that the students, who fail to secure even one credit point, lose their allowance for the next semester. Once the changes take effect, all those full time students who complete at least 75 percent of their study load will qualify for the basic allowance."
The new need-based special allowance is meant for those student, whose families are experiencing sudden financial hardship and who lost out on the basic allowance because their income surpassed the margin at the time of applying.
"As the name says, the new allowance is for special cases only. The automatic application system that we use leaves very little room for personal approach and does not take into account special circumstances," he said. As it currently stands, the eligibility of a student for the standard need-based allowance is determined by the student's household tax return data from the previous year.
The special need-based allowance is 135 euros per month. The basic allowance grants are between 75-220 euros, depending on the household income of the student.
A student has a right to receive the need-based study allowance if he or she is an Estonian citizen or is staying in Estonia on the basis of a long-term or temporary residence permit, or on the basis of a permanent or temporary right of residence.
However, those students who receive a study allowance from the government of another country, an international or intergovernmental organization, or a representation of a cooperation program, are not eligible for the allowance.