The Ministry of Education and Research is preparing a draft law that would change doctoral studies in Estonia drastically, including increasing the level of allowance paid to students to meet the average Estonian wage level.
There are a little more than 2,300 doctoral students in Estonia this academic year, nearly 1,000 fewer than nine years ago, when the number stood at its peak at more than 3,000.
According to education ministry strategies, 300 theses defenses could potentially take place next year, nearly two thirds less than the established goal, said Allan Padar, higher education expert at the ministry.
Padar said: "For example, 235 doctoral theses were defended in 2018/2019 and we do not see that indicator increasing the way we hoped in the near future. One of the issues has been a low allowance for students, which has forced students to undue occupation at work and has not allowed them to focus on their research."
For this reason, the draft law sees doctoral students receiving a higher income while in their studies. Currently, the base allowance for students is set at €660 monthly, but the ministry is hoping to increase that number to the Estonian average wage, which was €1,433 gross for the second quarter of 2020.
Padar noted: "It is difficult to speak on specific amounts just yet because the State Budget Act is still being discussed in government and we can not speak of concrete numbers. We are thinking of the scenarios and conditions of implementing the transition earlier."
He added that a financial boost would not carry the name of the student going forward, but instead be called a research fellow's wage. The ministry hopes to have students employed by their respective university, therefore allowing them to focus on their research.
Padar added: "They also have certain teaching obligations not directly connected with their research but that is still a part of doctoral studies. Their main activity would still be research."
Estonian University of Life Sciences (Eesti Maaülikool) rector Mait Klaassen said that in addition to the increase in student wages, necessary legislative amendments should also be made.
Klaassen said all higher education institutions are having issues with the lack of Estonian students. Graduates end up working in other sectors as the pay is better and it is easier to make than conducting research.
He said: "If the doctoral student allowance is increased and we have them all signed as research fellows, we can get drastically more - I would not say better - but a greater choice of our potential students. That is the key to our success."
Editor: Kristjan Kallaste