Universities should not expect taxpayer funding for those students who are not fulfilling the semester curriculum 100 percent. That would defeat the whole purpose of the higher education reform, Minister of Education and Research Jaak Aaviksoo wrote in a response to the Rectors' Conference memorandum on August 4.
The new regulation aims to ensure that only the really talented and successful students would be guaranteed state-subsidized slots in universities, said Aaviksoo. However, he said, since many partners in debate have addressed the need for some exceptions and flexibility to the rules, certain decisionmaking powers will be granted to the academic institutions themselves.
"I have no reason to doubt that universities can handle the situation and that they do not abuse their given powers," Aaviksoo said.
According to the amended law, only students who complete the full study load of 30 credit hours are eligible for free tuition. If that requirement is not met, universities can start charging tuition.
Rectors also expressed their concern over the combined effect on less financially secure students of the current model - under which college students receive state scholarships on the basis of academic results rather than actual financial situation - and the new funding principles which would tie free education exclusively to maintaining the 100 percent study load. In his letter, Aaviksoo said that he indeed endorses needs-based financial support measures and will be looking for possible budget solutions and a wider political consensus to implement them.
As for setting tuition fees on non-Estonian-language higher education courses, it would go clearly against the efforts made in internationalization of Estonian universities, wrote the rectors. "We believe that all students from the EU should be treated equally, regardless of the language in which they study," they said.
According to Aaviksoo, the purpose of offering free higher education is a constitutional one, namely ensuring the sustainability of Estonian language and culture. Therefore it will be offered to all, regardless of nationality, who fulfill the curriculum in Estonian. However, he did not rule out possible exceptions to that principle "in public interest," which the new law would also allow for.
Aaviksoo's letter proposed a meeting with the rectors on August 15 or 16.