Isamaa wants Estonian language higher education boost at expense of English ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

University of Tartu's main building at night. Source: Urmet Kook

Isamaa, one of three coalition government parties, is calling for a curbing of English-language higher education in Estonian institutions, and efforts to boost Estonian language and cultural studies for overseas students in the country.

Priit Sibul, chair of Isamaa's Riigikogu grouping, said that national strategy documents need to set an upper limit to the proportion of higher education instruction conducted in English, with the next round of university management contracts needing to increase the Estonian component.

Speaking in a Riigikogu debate on higher education funding on Friday, Sibul said that the current higher education funding model had no long-term sustainability.

"In order to ensure the quality of higher education, the contribution of public and private sector funding to it needs to be increased," Sibul said, according to ERR's online news in Estonian.

"The allocation of additional funds from the state budget must be linked to specific goals, such as reducing unjustified duplication within the higher education landscape," Sibul stated.

Sibul, who said he was speaking for his entire party, added that subsidized higher education should be in Estonian only.

"It should also be borne in mind that so-called free higher education is intended only for Estonian-language curricula. Therefore, restrictions should be introduced to stop subsidizing English-language curricula at the expense of the Estonian taxpayer," he said.

Growth of English follows growth of international students

The increase in English-language teaching in higher education had picked up pace since the reforms of 2013, with nearly a quarter of graduate students studying in English, rising to 70 percent on some social science courses.

Sibul also noted the duty of universities to maintain Estonian higher education, meaning regulations changes were needed.

"This is primarily about empowering universities to create bilingual curricula and opening up a curriculum in Estonian, even if English is already in place," he said.

Greater integration was needed for the growing number of foreign students studying in Estonia, Sibul added.

SDE would boost higher education funding to 1.5 percent of GDP

Taking part in the same debate, the Social Democratic Party (SDE) said that higher education funding should be increased to 1.5 percent of GDP; noting that it was inextricably linked to research funding.

The target of Research and Development funding of 1 percent of GDP per annum was set for 2022, by the previous administration, in late 2018.

SDE added that they were opposed to paid higher education and improved regional higher education and its part-financing from regional development funds.

While the 1.5 percent mark and free higher education shibboleths come from a Riigikogu document just filed, authored by the Estonian Studdents' Union (Eesti Üliõpilaskondade Liit), which also says that Estonian higher education should follow the Scandinavian model more closely, the situation has stagnated since 2013 due to inflationary pressures and rising wages.

Editor: Andrew Whyte

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