Estonian universities reducing free places on English language courses

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

The University of Tartu and TalTech are planning to reduce the number of free study places and tuition scholarships on offer to students on non-Estonian taught courses to 100 each in the coming years.

In 2018, there were 220 students studying for free at the University of Tartu from outside of the European Union on courses mostly taught in English. There were 162 students this year and in the coming years, the university plans to further reduce the number of free places to approximately 100.

Vice-Rector for Studies Aune Valk told ERR the number of study places will be reduced for various reasons.

"Mainly because funding for higher education has not grown in proportion to GDP growth and the cost of living. That is why we need to look at what we can afford to offer for free. There is simply not enough money," she said.

The vice-rector said the number of study places is also being reduced because the university has achieved a small breakthrough in internationalization. Students now want to come and study in Estonia so there is less need for incentives.

"We no longer have to support it to such an extent. The main goal of internationalization has been to increase the quality of education throughout, including by recruiting very good students," Valk said.

Valk explained the reduction of places will not have a big economic impact. She said the 60 free places currently offered were to be eliminated but the same places could not be expected to be filled by paid education.

"If they are fulfilled, it means, rounded up, about €300,000 per year. For two years of master's studies, €600,000. That's less than 1 percent of the university's study budget, so we won't make big money. In addition, we now have to spend part of this money on additional marketing activities," said Valk.

She said it is more difficult to assess the impact on teaching because if there were no free places at all then some smaller curricula could collapse.

"Another feared side effect is the decline in the number of good students. We offer free places so that we can get talented candidates who have the opportunity to choose between different universities. If free places cannot be offered at all, we will lose an important argument for recruiting capable people. However, it also affects those who cannot attend for free," Valk said.

Speaking about which faculties would be most affected, Valk said: "We have differentiated EU and non-EU scholarships in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, and Faculty of Science and Technology. In the Faculty of Social Sciences, there is no difference and therefore the number is the biggest there. However, the effect may be largest in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities where the curricula are small. There are not any scholarships in the Faculty of Medicine."

She said EU students would still have the opportunity to apply for scholarships "but it is also limited".

Taltech will reduce scholarship places

Vice-Rector for Studies at Tallinn University of Technology (TalTech) Hendrik Voll told ERR that students pay to attend English-language curricula but more capable students are offered scholarships that essentially cover tuition fees.

"Whether we can grant targeted scholarships for the 2021/2022 academic year depends on the decision of the Riigikogu whether the Higher Education Act will be amended. If the Riigikogu decides that targeted scholarships may no longer be awarded to students from third countries, we will not offer them to new students from the next academic year," he said.

Voll pointed out that in recent years, the university has reduced the number of targeted scholarships by 15 percent annually.

"The goal is to go so far as to offer 100 targeted scholarships to motivated and talented students from third countries every year," said the vice-rector. There were 212 targeted scholarships last academic year, 185 this academic year and 163 planned for the next academic year.

Voll said the changes will mostly TalTech's School of Information Technologies and School of Engineering as these faculties have until now offered the largest number of tuition fee waiver scholarships.

"The number of tuition fee waiver scholarships at the School of Science and School of Business and Governance is already at an optimum," he said.

No free places at Tallinn University

Head of Communication at Tallinn University Sulev Oll told ERR there are no free study places on foreign language courses, but students can apply for a scholarship from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Oll said this year five foreign students received scholarships from the ministry.

"The opportunity to study for free arises for students who have /.../ received a discount in case of good academic performance. Usually, in this case, the entire study is not free, but a discount is made on some part of the tuition fee. The amount of benefits depends on the budgetary possibilities of the academic unit," Oll said.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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