The government plans to make full tuition compulsory for all third-country students from the next academic year. However, this change has not been discussed with universities and the Rectors' Council believes the abolition of free study places would reduce the access of talented specialists to the Estonian labor market.
Amendments to the Higher Education Act have been proposed by the Ministry of the Interior's cluster bill but have not been passed by the Riigikogu. While universities were consulted about restricting foreign students' employment possibilities, they were not consulted about tuition fees.
This year, 162 foreign students are studying for free at the University of Tartu and TalTech has offered 163 scholarships covering tuition. However, under the new law third-country students would have to pay for their studies in Estonia themselves, on average €1,500 per semester, reported ETV's "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) on Monday.
The Estonian University of Life Sciences (Eesti maaülikool) rector Mait Klaassen told AK: "This one-size-fits-all question and denial of scholarships is not quite acceptable to universities, because we are much better able to regulate this same fee and the possible payment of scholarships through administrative agreements. The rest of the world uses this system to get the most talented students either with a lower tuition fee or scholarship or similar."
Universities fear the compulsory tuition fee will deter talented students from Estonia. It would also mean a shortage of specialists in sectors where foreigners currently play a significant role.
Rector of the University of Tartu Toomas Asser said: "For example, in the field of ICT, where we have also made a commitment to increase these places by around 30 percent over the next three years. I think that, if the obligation to charge these fees applies, we will probably not be able to meet the requirements that are required of us."
The Ministry of Education said there was no change in tuition fees in the original draft, and there were probably concerns during the discussions that free places for foreign students have a bad effect on the provision of education in Estonian.
Undersecretary at the Ministry of Education Indrek Reimand said he does not think making tuition fees compulsory for third-country students is a good idea.
"Such a change could be discussed, but there could also be mechanisms where there are exceptions in certain cases. For example, where we still want to have foreign specialists who stay here," said Reimand.
Editor: Helen Wright