Even though public universities are filling the national order for doctoral study places, according to the statistics, there is a growing issue with the percentage of students studying for a doctorate.
Every public university in Estonia has a number of doctoral study places agreed with the Ministry of Education, which the universities themselves share between different fields. In total, the state orders 300 doctoral study places per year, in addition to university project-based study places. For example, there are a total of 24 doctoral study places at the Estonian University of Life Sciences (Eesti Maaülikool) in Tartu, and 180 at the University of Tartu, with project-based study places.
The Head of the Department of Higher Education of the Ministry, Margus Haidak, and representatives of the universities are all saying that the number of foreign students coming to study for doctorates has grown in recent years but the number of local students decreased.
Head of the admissions office af the University of Tartu, Tuuli Kaldma: "Whereas five years ago, more than four-fifths from the accepted students were Estonians, then in 2019, the percentage was 60."
The amount of foreign doctoral students has increased in the IT faculty, production of machinery, business, administration, and law, however.
There are multiple reasons for this. Kaldma brought out as examples that on the one hand, the increase in the number of foreign doctoral students is the result of the master's degree programs in foreign languages in Estonian universities.
Head of the Department of Education at the University of Life Sciences, Ina Järve, thinks that the reasons can be looked for in Estonian society.
"Young people don´t want to come to the doctoral studies, because there is no such clear demand for a doctorate in the society," Järve said.
"Universities today are faced with a situation where doctoral students and those interested have to be chased after, for there to be any. But on the other hand, universities may at some point be faced with a situation where there is no 'offspring' of an Estonian professor in a certain field," Järve expressed her concern.
Kaldma is predicting the same. "The balance at the moment is really heading toward a situation where there may be problems with the offspring of Estonian-speaking professors. However, we have great examples of foreign people living here and learning the language."
Haidak thinks that one solution is to transform the entire doctoral studies field. In other words, doctoral students in the future will be mostly junior researchers, who are fully engaged in research and would receive a worthy reward for this. " This should still exceed the average salary in Estonia, and ideally in the future, it could be that all, or at least the vast majority of doctoral students, get an employment contract at a university or an employment contract with a company where they are guaranteed enough income to do 100 percent research. "
The prepared intention of a legal amendment had a positive result so far as discussing it in the ministry went, and Haidak said that when the needed financial resources are present, this amend could be in force from the beginning of 2022.
The current research and development strategy sets the goal that there should be 300 doctorates issued per year in Estonia. In Haidak's opinion, the reality in the best years, is that the number of doctoral graduates is somewhere around 250.
Outgoing Tallinn University of Technology (TalTech) rector Jaak Aaviksoo said recently that the dearth in those wanting to study for a doctorate will mean there won't be any local university professors in 20-30 years' time.
Editor: Roberta Vaino