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University of Tartu not in support of government's foreign student decision

The main building at the University of Tartu (TÜ).
The main building at the University of Tartu (TÜ). Source: Andres Tennus/University of Tartu

Estonia needs foreign students and the government's decision to restrict their working hours while studying is not a reasonable decision, Vice-Rector of Studies of the University of Tartu (ÜT) Aune Valk explained.

Valk said on Vikerraadio's news show "Uudis+" on Thursday that money is not the reason universities are advocating for foreign students, considering students from third countries only make up 0.5 percent of the ÜT's yearly budget.

She considered foreign students' contribution to sectors where the Estonian workforce does not meet the demand of the sector more important. Valk used the IT sector as an example, as every fourth student who studies the subject is from a foreign country and of those students, 60-80 percent tend to remain in Estonia after completing their studies.

Valk said: "Our understanding has been that it is beneficial for the school, the Estonian workforce, the country and for Estonian society as a whole when they stay here for work and pay taxes."

Valk considers it important to provide opportunities for employment after studying to help Estonia remain an attractive destination for foreign students.

Valk does not agree with the government's decision to restrict foreign students' working hours and the need-based study allowances but said she does agree with restrictions when it comes to bachelors and masters students bringing their extended families along with them.

Maarja Punak, senior communications officer of the Police and Border Control Board (PPA), also agreed with the decision to limit the number of family members students are able to bring with them to Estonia.

She said that students bringing their families along with them could hinder integration. "A student has to deal with their studies on a daily basis and is always busy. But if they have brought along a life partner who has no goals - no job, no hobbies - they will inevitably look for social contacts and those are much easier to find in their own cultural space. That is one of the topics to worry about, the police finds."

She added the situation in Tartu is different than that of Tallinn, where culturally separated communities have already developed. Tartu is still a place where integration is naturally promoted.

ERR News wrote on July 6 that third country nationals in Estonia will be permitted to enter or remain in the country for work or study. The announcement came as the government had been facing pressure to solve labor issues, particularly in agriculture, as harvest season arrives. There had also been suggestions international students would not be allowed in when the new school year started.

Minister of Education and Research Mailis Reps (Center) said on July 7 the government has made three decisions regarding foreign students' future, but these will not play much of a role. The first and most influential decision is to limit students bringing their families with them.

Reps said: "Bringing or not bringing their families is one of the subjects of security that we, along with rectors and universities, have turned our attention to. It is known that some communities in Estonia have developed not through students, but instead their extended families."

The education minister explained that the problem is not students' husbands and wives, but rather their grandparents, uncles, and aunts.

Reps added that an automatic issuance of residence permits to families will be stopped, with there being an exception the government agreed to. A residence permit can be issued to an under-age child if they were born during a single parent's time in university or if they have a disability.

She added that the government's decision to limit issuing residence permits to foreign students and their families does not affect students currently studying in Estonian universities.


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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