The thorny path to knowledge: moving to Estonia for university studies (27)

Tallinn University (ERR)
Tatiana Vinichenko
3/9/2015 4:09 PM
Category: Opinion

Estonian institutions of higher education do their best to attract more international students from both the EU countries and outside its borders. Estonian government and universities offer a number of scholarship programs in order to support young minds eager to study in Estonia. But as you look closer, it becomes obvious that many serious obstacles still have to be crossed before a foreign student can enroll in a local university, and unfortunately, simply wanting to study in Estonia is often not enough.

It is a fact that Estonian institutes have been working hard over the last few years to improve their teaching quality and strengthen their positions among other world institutions of higher education. According to QS World University Rankings, University of Tartu got up to position #379 last year, while Tallinn University of Technology reached the top 500 list in 2013 for the first time.

A large portion of the under- and postgraduates at the top three Estonian institutes consist of students coming from abroad: for degree studies, exchange studies, short courses or doing research in Estonia. However, unlike in many other European countries - say Finland or Germany - one still has to pay quite a high tuition fee here for the majority of programs in English.

That is especially high compared to an average salary in this country, if a foreign student is working in Estonia to cover expenses. The payment per semester usually varies from 1,500 to 4,000 euros and peaks at a hefty 5,500 euros (for a degree program in medicine), which results in an unmanageable sum, when the semester fee is multiplied by the number of terms in the whole course of studies.

What if you are a foreign student who simply doesn't have all that money, but would still like to come here and get a degree at one of the universities? Well, Estonian government and universities offer a number of scholarship opportunities for foreign students, who are eager enough to gather a bunch of documents, certificates, signatures and recommendations.

What is often left unsaid is that the nature of the scholarships is rather competitive, which means that a large number of candidates apply for those grants and scholarships at the same time, and in reality the percentage of those who are lucky enough to win some kind of financial support to study in Estonia is pretty low.

For instance, DoRa, the scholarship for master's and doctoral degree students at Tallinn University, is awarded only to one student per program with the best entry exam score and for the first year of studies only. So, you either have to demonstrate that you are an outstanding student with the highest grades - or search for other ways to cover your expenses. Besides, all scholarship programs clearly state that "additional costs such as tuition fee, health insurance and other costs will not be compensated", which basically means that 200-350 euros per month, which you might get in the end if you win the scholarship, will not be sufficient to meet all your expenses on living and studying in this country.

The very process of applying to and getting enrolled in an Estonian university is quite an easy one. Plus, during the admission procedure the admission specialists at Estonian universities help potential new students, providing consultation to them on all sorts of questions, starting from visa to a place to live.

Institutes of higher education welcome foreign students with open arms and the numbers of incoming students from abroad are soaring year after year. For instance, Tallinn University had 348 foreign degree and exchange students in 2010/2011 academic year; by now the number has almost doubled, with 760 students from 54 countries studying at Tallinn University this academic year.

As for the origins of incoming foreign students from within the European Union, figures show that education in Estonia is most popular with Finns, followed by Latvians, Lithuanians, and Italians. The fact that about 40 percent of all foreign students come to Estonia from Finland is a flattering one, considering the acknowledged high quality of education in Finland.

Unfortunately, when it comes to people living in non-EU countries, time-consuming residence permit procedures stop many of them from realizing their intention to move to Estonia to study. Once all the necessary documents are in place and satisfy the demands of the consulate, the student is kept waiting for the official response for two months, or even longer if it turns out that some details have to be rewritten or some documents are missing.

The biggest problem for many potential students, though, is that Estonian consular services are simply not available in some countries. This makes the most determined non-EU students travel to other countries, where there is an Estonian embassy - a trip which on its own costs them hundreds of euros. As the Estonian website of Archimedes Foundation has pointed out, there has been a lot of enquiries, for instance, from Indian students interested in our master’s or doctoral programs in IT, but in the end they give up because of the bureaucratic difficulties.

Here is an example of what a current degree student from Cameroon had to go through to obtain the required temporary permit to study in Tallinn: "We don't have an Estonian embassy in my country, Cameroon, and I was supposed to travel to Egypt, Georgia or Turkey," she says. "I tried to obtain a visa from Turkey but failed, so it was really tough for me. I finally got to Georgia without a visa, I paid 1,200 euros for the return flight alone, and it took me three weeks to get the permit. All that time I had to stay in Georgia. One of my friends from Cameroon also got admitted to a university here but she couldn't afford all the travelling".

Another student, Tajik Ifrad, who moved to Estonia all the way from Bangladesh, says he also had to go abroad first, in order to access the nearest Estonian Consulate. "I came here as a full-time student, and the permit is not that hard to get, but the embassy was not there in Bangladesh so I had to go to India," he said.

But even for those young people who are lucky enough to be born in a country where there is an Estonian Consulate, it is often not that easy to obtain the permit to move here. Nilla Meri, a Tallinn University student from Turkey, admits that there were some bumps on the road for her as well. "The tricky part was that I had to go to Ankara from Istanbul to apply for it. I applied in Turkey but I got it here, in Estonia. So I had to additionally apply for a tourist visa, which means I had to spend some extra money."

Some countries, like Japan, have their own rules and agreements in issuing visas for studies in Estonia. "It was hard to get the permit," agrees an Open University student in Estonia, Fumiko Endo. "I only have a long-stay visa. Because I am a Japanese citizen, I can stay here for three months with a 'free visa' (as a tourist), then six months with an extended-stay visa, and three more months with a 'free visa' again."

Students who have already enrolled into an Estonian university must thus look for some alternative route to be allowed to stay here.

On top of that, young people from outside the European Union have to purchase local insurance coverage, which is a 400-euro document from one of the few Estonian insurance companies, approved by the consulate, with no cheaper alternatives available.

"It took me approximately two months to get a residence permit, but it was quite an exhausting process," says Rovshan Ugur, a degree student from Azerbaijan. "My insurance costs me even more, because I have a health issue." And it is not a happy ending yet, when the already-enrolled student has finally received the long-awaited Estonian residence permit. This document is only valid for a year and shall be applied for again next year, before the new academic period starts, which means more paperwork, another consulate fee and another couple of months to wait for the renewal of the permit.

The good thing is, once the student has successfully resolved all the document issues, Estonian universities support their foreign students in various ways. "For example, Tallinn University has tutors who help them in different matters," explains Doris Altin, the international marketing specialist at Tallinn University. "Additionally, foreign students can get advice and help from Tallinn University's Career and Counseling Centre, International Club that is part of Tallinn University's Student Union and from Erasmus Student Network Tallinn that unites all the exchange students from all the universities in Tallinn. Foreign students in Estonia also can work during their studies, so they can build their careers and develop their professional skills."

It goes without saying that as for the lack of Estonian consular services in certain countries and cities, it is too much to ask for, but what can at least be worked on in this respect, is making it easier, faster and less costly a routine for foreign students to get the necessary permit, and make its renewal for the following years of studies simple and devoid of extended paperwork.

On the part of the universities, it would make sense to lower the tuition fees in programs taught in English, considering the costly permit-related procedures potential students have to go through before arriving here. After all, attracting eager young minds from abroad helps maintain and raise the quality of the higher education in the country, and strengthens the positions of Estonia on the world educational arena.

The name field cannot be empty
No more than 50 characters
Comment field cannot be empty
No more than 50 characters
Comment field cannot be empty
No more than 1024 characters

Message forwarded to the editor

This Ip-address has limited access

See also

There are no comments yet. Be the first!

Reply to comment

Reply to comment

Laadi juurde ({{take2}})
The name field cannot be empty
No more than 50 characters
Comment field cannot be empty
No more than 1024 characters
Add new comment
  • foto
    Opinion digest: Estonia’s stagnating politics

    Estonia’s largest political parties had been going through the most serious crisis in their existence, and on top of that they had lost their most important function, namely to formulate a vision of the country’s future, daily Postimees wrote in its Friday editorial.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Putin exploiting power vacuum created by U.S. presidential elections

    According to director of Tallinn’s International Centre for Defence and Security and former ambassador to Russia, Jüri Luik, the increased tensions over the past few weeks between Russia and the West indicate Putin’s wish to exploit the ambiguous mood before the U.S. presidential elections as much as possible.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Time to return to discussing serious issues

    In a stinging opinion piece in published in the daily Eesti Päevaleht, member of the Riigikogu Eerik-Niiles Kross (Reform) condemned the Estonian media as well as the country’s elites for their obsession with what he sees as pointless topics, while disregarding the last few weeks’ unsettling developments concerning Russia.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Legally speaking, everything is proper

    After Toomas Hendrik Ilves’ decade in office, and after he promoted Estonia like no other president did before him, his legacy is now tainted by the fact that he seems to have gone for a substantial state grant in 2006 that he never put to use — and of which he will now pay back just a tenth.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Closer to Warsaw, farther away from Estonia

    In a recent opinion piece in daily Postimees, columnist Ahto Lobjakas wrote that one way to look at Rail Baltic was as a step towards the level other countries had already reached in terms of speed and comfort of their railway connections. The main weakness of this point of view was the fact that in Estonia, it lacked the necessary social context.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Leadership change in Reform needed for potential coalition with Center Party

    For a potential future coalition with the Center Party, the Reform Party needed to change its leader as well, Social Democratic MP and chairman of the Riigikogu’s Foreign Affairs Committee Sven Mikser wrote in a comment on social media on Friday.

  • foto
    Matthew Crandall: President Ilves’ global impact

    The greatest accomplishment of President Toomas Hendrik Ilves is that he branded Estonia as a modern and innovative 21st century country, and brought it out of post-Soviet obscurity, writes Tallinn University’s Matthew Crandall.

  • foto
    The shackles of history and modern life in the fast lane: Estonia's experience in the migration crisis

    The uncertain public performances of Estonian politicians and poor explanatory work were to blame for a considerable increase in public distrust during the migration crisis, found ERR journalist Greete Palmiste, working in Bremen on an international journalists' exchange, in an opinion piece written for German publication taz.die Tageszeitung.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Kersti Kaljulaid on the concepts of ethical nationalism and confident Estonians

    On Friday, Aug. 12, Estonian representative to the European Court of Auditors Kersti Kaljulaid delivered a patriotic speech on the Postimees Stage at the 2016 Opinion Festival in Paide in which she expanded on two words and two respective ideas she found important for her country that were represented by the two letter Es in its native-language name Eesti: eetiline (ethical) and enesekindel (confident).

  • foto
    This mess we're in: Picking up the pieces after Saturday's elections

    From Saturday’s election fiasco to Tuesday’s sudden emergence of a likely cross-party candidate: ERR News editor Dario Cavegn makes an attempt at explaining Estonia’s seemingly chaotic quest to find its next president.

  • foto
    Opinion: The decline of Estonian as a language of science starts abroad

    The Estonian language as a language of science is only sustainable in those subject areas that offer undergraduate courses in Estonian, and with which students begin their university education, finds ERR science portal editor Marju Himma.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Current approach to reform won't help municipalities

    The Center Party’s presidential candidate, Mailis Reps, wrote in an opinion piece published in daily Postimees on Sunday that the Administrative Reform Act was a disappointment to Estonia’s municipalities, and that relations between local and central government were in a crisis.

  • foto
    Opinion: Jüri Nikolajev in response to the Ida-Viru secret memo

    Describing himself as "wearily spiteful" instead of angry, ERR's Narva correspondent Jüri Nikolajev responded to the top secret memo on Ida-Viru County that leaked recently, calling Estonians to figuratively not leave their property laying around if they did not want anyone else to take it for themselves.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Sulev Vedler on the secret memo on Ida-Viru County

    In 2015, the Government Security Committee received a secret memo containing a dark assessment of the future of Ida-Viru County, Estonia's most northeastern and predominantly Russian-speaking county, which was compiled by Ilmar Raag, who worked as a strategic communicatins advisor at the Stenbock House at the time. Estonian journalist Sulev Vedler responded to the memo by compiling various reactions to issues it addressed.

  • foto
    Opinion: Alo Lõhmus on the definition of Estonian citizen by blood

    Journalist Alo Lõhmus explored the right to Estonian citizenship by "jus sanguinis," Latin for right of blood, as it relates to one's eligibility to run for president — an issue which has had particular attention drawn to it recently after members of a competing political party attempted to cast doubt on the status of presidential candidate Marina Kaljurand's Estonian citizenship.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Erkki Bahovski on Finland and the alleged Baltic scheming

    Columnist Erkki Bahovski commented on the curious, decidedly defensive turn that seemed to be taken by Finland's Social Democrats following the release of a lengthy report by the Finnish Institute of International Affairs (UPI) which suggested that Russia, in its own self-interest, is attempting to hamper Finland's total integration with the West.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Siim Kallas thinks real estate tax effective way to finance local government

    The Reform Party’s presidential candidate, Siim Kallas, said in an opinion piece published in daily Postimees that an estate tax, more precisely a tax levied on real estate, could be considered to finance local government.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Siret Kotka on the support, or lack thereof, for Estonia's farmers

    Vice-Chairman of the Riigikogu’s Rural Affairs Committee MP Siret Kotka (Center) found that while Estonia's farmers have recently suffered one blow after another, the current Estonian government owes them more support than they have been paid, and likewise found that it is precisely domestically grown food that should make up the backbone of Estonian security.

  • foto
    Dario Cavegn: The intellectual crisis and editors’ internal conflict

    Iivi Anna Masso’s piece published on Sept. 6 is unfit for publication. ERR News editor Dario Cavegn explains this verdict, and why it ended up getting published anyway.

  • foto
    Iivi Anna Masso: The migration crisis and liberals' internal conflict

    Columnist Iivi Anna Masso asks why people with a liberal world view couldn't support freedom of movement for work, studies, marriage, and genuine political asylum while at the same time support more effective protection of European cultural values.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Hanneli Rudi makes case for starting school a year younger

    Prompted by the arrival of September 1, the first day of school for children across Estonia, Hanneli Rudi reflected on how kindergarten is simply a good way for schools to make money in light of the fact that it has been deemed unnecessary for most children's development, and that perhaps the country should instead consider having children start first grade one year younger, at age six.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Mikk Salu on the open secret of Estonia’s emergency underpreparedness

    Journalist Mikk Salu recently addressed an issue about which it seems like many in the country are whispering but no one will come out and say — that despite appearances to the contrary, Estonia's military, law enforcement agencies, hospitals and other such critical support agencies are woefully understaffed, underequipped and underprepared for the event of a true emergency.

  • foto
    Dario Cavegn: Kaljurand, the reluctant candidate

    Over the past months, there have been several occasions when the Estonian media assumed that Marina Kaljurand, much like everybody else in the country’s government and legislature, was working on some political scheme, aiming to move up in the long term. This is nonsense, writes Dario Cavegn.

  • foto
    Letter from a reader: In favor of paper ballots in e-Estonia

    Reader Virgo Kruve submitted a letter to ERR on Monday evening, following the first round of presidential elections in the Riigikogu, defending the continued use of seemingly relatively antiquated paper ballots in the presidential elections of a country famous precisely for its well-established use of electronic voting in local and parliamentary elections.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Evelyn Sepp on the election cycle and the importance of the president

    Just days before the Estonia’s 2016 presidential elections, which kicked off with the first round of balloting in the Riigikogu on Monday, former politician and MP Evelyn Sepp reflected on how positively this year’s presidential campaign has been handled and why exactly Estonia needs a president in the first place, expounding upon the respective roles of the Riigikogu, the government and the president for context as well.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Two takes on Angela Merkel’s political personality

    Just in time for Merkel’s visit on Wednesday and Thursday this week, two takes on her character and political convictions have appeared in the Estonian press. In Päevaleht, director Katrin Laur writes about a politically bland, but nevertheless successful woman, and in Ekspress, journalist Külli-Riin Tigasson lists six ethics rules that Merkel has followed.

  • foto
    Marko Mihkelson: A common Europe’s struggle for existence

    Despite both recent and ongoing events which have served to cast doubt in many Europeans on the future of the EU, Estonian MP Marko Mihkelson found that Europe is nonetheless stronger when it stands together, and that in the face of external threats that it cannot prevent, the union must continue to build stronger ties upon the shared desire for peace and stability which serves as its foundation.

  • foto
    Center Party could raise its profile explaining NATO to local Russians

    While 88% of Estonians support increasing NATO’s military presence, most local Russians are against it. That’s 25% of the country’s population. The Center Party could explain to them what caused the increased allied presence, reduce opposition to Estonia’s defense policy, and gain a lot in the process, Erik Gamzejev writes.

  • foto
    Uber is in Estonia for Taxify

    Uber is in Estonia for two reasons: For PR, and to kill Taxify. But the price war it has kicked off just in time for the weekend rush isn't how they're hoping to get the Estonian start-up. It's part of Uber's typical strategy in every market it enters. It will blow over, eventually resulting in higher prices.

  • foto
    Why is anyone surprised? Look to the unilateral decisions of Obama and Merkel for the passage of Brexit

    University of Tartu guest history lecturer Joseph Enge thinks that the UK's vote to leave the European Union is both reasonable and rational, and that it should not come as a surprise. Even more, the current criticism of the voters shows that they are right to leave.