The Conservative People's Party (EKRE) would like to boost higher education funding to 1.5 percent of GDP but alter the financing model by excluding from funding criteria the number of foreign student graduates and number of students graduating in nominal time.
EKRE is critical of the current situation in Estonian higher education. The party finds that the condition of high-quality education has not been met.
A letter sent to the Riigikogu Cultural Affairs Committee in the name of head of EKRE's parliamentary group Siim Pohlak finds that while the quality of higher education has not been measured as such, the success of universities is gauged looking at how many students graduate in standard time. EKRE finds that prioritizing the metric lowers the quality of higher education instead.
The party points out that Estonia is on top in Europe when it comes to the relative importance of overqualified people, while at the same time, it also has the most people who do not have the necessary qualification and skills for their work.
Similarly to proposals by the Isamaa party, EKRE points out that universities are switching to English under the aegis of internationalization. The conservatives give as the reason the fact that the current financing model causes universities to attract foreign students to complement their revenue base.
"To lure in foreign students, Estonian curricula are being dropped and replaced with programs in English."
EKRE note that both TalTech and the University of Tartu have created a system of specific purpose scholarships used to pay foreign students' tuition.
"Over one-third of bachelor's and master's level foreign students have been exempt from tuition – more than half if we count doctoral students."
"At the same time, English education is not motivating students to stay in Estonia after graduating. /…/ A lot of foreign students get a higher education on the Estonian taxpayer's dime only to leave the country. A survey carried out among foreign graduates of the University of Tartu found that 70 percent regret not learning enough Estonian to be able to stay in the country."
Based on the aforementioned, EKRE proposes five ways of boosting higher education funding and changing the funding model.
1. The size criterion in base funding should be abolished as it pushes universities to expand at the expense of quality.
2. Earmarked support for universities should consider whether and to what extent the university supports Estonian national culture and state.
3. Performance support criteria should not include percentage of students who have studied or completed in-practice training in a foreign country, foreign graduates and students who graduated in nominal time.
4. The three criteria for performance support could be: 1) relative importance of students (30 percent) admitted to curricula in the university's area of responsibility as stipulated in its management contract or performance support directive; 2) ratio between the university's income from education and its allocated performance support (30 percent); 3) relative importance of graduates moving to the next stage of study or heading to the labor market in all higher education graduates (40 percent). The principles of performance pay in the field of doctoral studies would not have to be altered.
5. In the case of compliance with the aforementioned proposals, the aim for higher education funding should be set at 1.5 percent of GDP that would put Estonia in the top five in OECD and ensure quality higher education fitting of the Estonian society and state provided it is used effectively.
Last year ERR News reported International students and graduates who work in Estonia paid more than €10 million in taxes in the 2018/2019 academic year, a study by Statistics Estonia for the Archimedes Foundation found.
Editor: Marcus Turovski