Employees and students dismayed at Centre for Arts closure

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Viljandi Culture Academy. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Students and employees have been left dismayed by the closure of The Centre for Arts of the University of Tartu Viljandi Culture Academy.

The center, which opened in 2017, will close on August 31.

The coordinator of the center Kaire Maimets said the budget is balanced the center offers 40 courses per semester. Maimets said that everything was running smoothly until they were informed that there is no money left.

"Currently we have been told that the redundancy notices will arrive on April 15. The center will be eliminated, the employees will be let go. Considering it's the University of Tartu, it sounds incomprehensible and cruel. If it was a private company, these things happen. But the fact that the University of Tartu is the place for education - it amazes me," Maimets said.

There are seven employees in the center, two of them have been offered temporary roles.

The director of the academy Juko-Marti Kõlar said the decision to close the Centre for Arts was a difficult one, as the long-time employees of the centre have performed their work very well and with commitment.

The main reason for closing the centre lies in the long-lasting underfunding of higher education. In this situation, the university must continuously assess which activities it can keep up and which it cannot.

"My main task as the director of the academy is to ensure the sustainable development of Viljandi Culture Academy, but unfortunately, our financial situation did not allow that. Several central curricula have been underfunded and in the conditions of the rising salary pressure, it was more and more difficult to negotiate with teaching staff working under authorization agreements, who make up the majority of our teaching staff," said Kõlar.

Emma Pipi, a political science student at the University of Tartu, has taken several subjects from the center. Pipi is worried that future students will have trouble looking for similar courses in Tartu.

"For example, I was taking courses with medical students, theology students. I think it's an important place where students meet, exchange ideas," she said.

Chairman of the Student Council of the University of Tartu Karl Lembit Laane said students are disappointed and that the university has not involved students in the discussions.

"If we talk about the field of humanities and arts in general, which also includes the Viljandi Academy of Culture, then there should not be such a big problem with money. Last year, the balance of the field increased to €3.3 million. I think if we wanted to find a solution, it could have been found."

Dean of the Humanities and Arts at the University of Tartu Anti Selart said research funding is uneven, that the center had failed to achieve its goal and the initial optimistic funding plans did not continue.

"The closure of the unit does not mean that all the work done in the center will be lost," he said, adding many classes will be transferred to other courses.

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Editor: Roberta Vaino

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