Ministry: Foreign student numbers fall slightly in pandemic year

Tram stop in front of Tallinn University, one of several higher education institutions which attracts significant numbers of foreign students.
Tram stop in front of Tallinn University, one of several higher education institutions which attracts significant numbers of foreign students. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The number of foreign students has fallen slightly compared with last year, the education ministry says. Most of the decline came among the numbers studying for bachelors' degrees, with those studying for masters' degrees remaining over 40 percent of the total student body.

There are 5,236 international students studying for degrees for the 2020-2021 academic year, 292 fewer than the previous year, the ministry says.

The proportion of international students has also fallen slightly, from 12.2 percent to 11.6 percent, over the same period.

Ministry spokesperson: Estonia still an attractive destination for study

Indrek Reimand, deputy secretary general at the Ministry of Education and Research, said via a press release that the minor decrease in the number of international degree students reflects the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. This is most clearly demonstrated by the number of students admitted in the fall, which fell by a quarter on year, though Estonia was still an attractive destination for study, he said.

Reimand said: "The fact that international students want to study in Estonia is proof of the competitive strength of the higher education we offer. Local teaching staff and students alike have said that an international learning environment boosts the quality of discussions and education in general."

Whether a tightening of residency requirements via amendments to the Aliens Act had also been behind the decline in numbers, the ministry did not say.

More masters' degree students than bachelors' degree students

This autumn, 1,450 international degree students began studies in formal education at Estonian universities, compared with 2,026 students the previous year.

Masters' degree student figures are higher, however.

The number of international students is highest in master's programs, 2,184, making up 41 percent of all international students currently enrolled at universities in Estonia, the ministry says.

The three most popular areas of studies for international students are business, administration and law, where international students number 1,803, arts and humanities (759) and information and communication technologies (669).

Students from over 100 nations

Estonia has prioritized diversity in the internationalization of higher education, the ministry went on, with international degree students enrolled at Estonian universities coming from a total of 120 countries.

By far the highest number come from two of Estonia's neighbors: Finland, at 1,140, followed by the Russian Federation with 447. In third place is Nigeria at 325, followed by Ukraine, with 254 students.

The ministry says Estonia considers it important for international students to complete their studies here as well.

In the 2019-2020 academic year, a total of 1,345 international students graduated in Estonia, accounting for 14.7 percent of all graduates.

Ministry: International students tend to drop out less than locals, contribute to skilled workforce

A survey from economy analysts OSKA, BNS reports, suggests that in the coming years, this shortage will be greatest in the field of information and communication technology - as noted a popular topic for study among international students.

The survey, entitled "Success on the Labor Market", indicates that a third of the international students who remained in Estonia after their studies are employed in the field of information and communications.

In 2018, the processing industry, education and financial and insurance activities made up the fields that employed the highest number of master's graduates who stayed on in Estonia after completing their course.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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