If a second wave of the coronavirus returns in the autumn, students from third countries may not be able to study in Estonia at the start of the new school year which will create challenges both financially and in terms of organizing studies. Last year, more than 12 per cent of all Estonian students were foreign students, 62 percent of them from third countries.
Last academic year, 5,528 foreign students studied in Estonia, which accounted for 12.2 percent of all students.
The majority of foreign students are studying for master's degrees (2,445), followed by bachelor's studies (1,777) and doctoral studies (591).
The most popular specializations among international students are in the fields of business, administration and law, social sciences and information and communication technology.
The largest share of foreign students is at the Estonian Business School (EBS), where more than 36 percent of all students come from abroad. The Theological Seminary of the Estonian Methodist Church and the Mainor School of Entrepreneurship also have high levels of foreign students.
Tallinn University of Technology has the largest number of foreign students at 1,612, which makes up 16 percent of the students. The University of Tartu follows with 1,526 students and Tallinn University with 900 foreign students.
There were more than 3,400 students from third countries in Estonia last academic year, which was 62 percent of all international students.
Most students from abroad studying in Estonia come from Finland, which saw more than 1,250 Finns studying in Estonia during the last academic year. This is followed by students from Russia who numbered 432.
There are also many foreign students studying in Estonia from countries such as Nigeria (347), India (241), Bangladesh (223) and Pakistan (149). These countries were single out by the Ministry of Interior earlier this week of being risk countries.
Aire Koig, a consultant at the Ministry of Education and Research, said the number of foreign students has grown every year and the trend is continuing. Over the last four years, the number of international students has increased by four percent of all students.
In a letter to the Ministry of Education and Research, Ruth Annus, head of the interior ministry's citizenship and migration policy department, said higher education institutions in Estonia could not count on third-country citizens being able to come to study in Estonia in the fall, due to the risk of a coronavirus second wave.
Annus told ERR on experts predict a COVID-19 second wave in the autumn. "In any case, the state's obligation to protect the Estonian people must be taken into account," Annus said.
"If there is no reliable data on the situation in a third country, then, in any event, the situation has simply changed - the world has changed. We can no longer take into account rules that were in place three months ago," she said.
Annus said the countries of origin of around half the students with residence permits coming to Estonia included India, Nigeria, Iran, Pakistan and Bangladesh, which she said were of a high immigration risk.
The ministry also wants to introduce restrictions on how many hours a student can work while studying, a minimum salary requirement of €1,400 for graduates and limit their right to bring family members with them. These planned changes predate the coronavirus crisis.
Editor: Helen Wright