Increased utility costs cause schools to look for cuts

Students in a classroom.
Students in a classroom. Source: HARNO

Although electricity and heating costs in educational establishments have caused local municipality governments to re-allocate funds, they do not want to make cuts at the expense of education. The electricity bills of universities alone will cause the state millions of additional costs.

Tartu city finance department manager Külli Lust told ERR that electricity and heating inflation is a serious issue. This is made even more complicated by the factor that it is hard to draw up estimations for schools. Any estimates lack a reference point, since institutions were on remote learning in the spring and costs are lower.

Lust said the city is currently drawing up next year's budget and is trying to consider higher costs. Tartu is hoping to cover costs at the expense of increased income tax receipts, but a situation might arise, in which some important investments will be left undone.

"We hope we can still manage," Lust said optimistically.

Tartu education department Riho Raave said the city has a principle, where schools do not have to worry about utilities, but they are expected to be frugal, because the major cost is teachers' salaries and funds are common throughout the municipality.

"No one will attack anyone's wages, but the city might not be able to complete some other things," Raave said.

Tallinn Education Department communication chief specialist Pirgit Pedaja said the increased utilities this year will be covered at the expense of spring savings, when schools were on remote learning. The city will also use reserves, if necessary.

Pedaja said the city is also aided by the state aid measure to cover half of the network prices. "In any case, education establishments will not have to save at the expense of allocated funds to cover utilities," the Tallinn education official said.

Tallinn also cannot predict next year's costs. Their situation is made more complicated by the fact that heating costs will also increase in addition to natural gas inflation. If necessary, the Tallinn Education Department will present a supplemental budget to the city to cover utilities.

Increased electricity prices will cost universities millions

Estonia has six public universities who are allocated most of their resources directly by the Ministry of Education and Research.

Data from the University of Tartu and Tallinn University shows that the two schools will have to consider nearly a million in increased costs, which includes electricity price inflation.

University of Tartu chancellor Kstina Vallimäe said the question also links to the issue of higher education underfunding, which has been brought to the attention of state on multiple occasions. "We expect the state to increase operating benefits by at least what is promised in the administrative agreements, meaning an increase in consumer prices and an increase in average wage," Vallimäe noted.

"Unfortunately, we are looking at quite a sad picture in the initial 2022 state budget," the university chancellor added.

Vallimäe said the University of Tartu does not see a major increase in terms of heating costs for next year, but the school expects electricity to cost €700,000 more. "All university units have had to find sources to cover for increased electricity costs at the expense of other costs."

"Energy efficiency for the construction of new buildings and renovating old ones is a very important goal for the university, but the options of achieving efficiency for older buildings are limited than in developing new buildings," Vallimäe said of potential cost-saving sources.

Tallinn University spokesperson Rein Olesk estimates an electricity and network price increase of 24 percent, which means hundreds of thousands in additional costs. The spokesperson said the school does not have an exact sum, but he added that it will be achieved with cost redistribution.

Minister of Finance Keit Pentus-Rosimannus (Reform) could not say how much more resources the energy price inflation will require, but she noted that budget lines have to be checked to see where things can be reorganized.

"It is like that for everyone, no institution is at an advantage," the finance minister said.

Pentus-Rosimannus agreed, however, that if the issue is as great as it is for the University of Tartu, a solution must be found since it is not conceivable that students have to go to school without being able to turn the lights on.

The University of Tartu main building. Source: Vladislava Snurnikova/ERR


Follow ERR News on Facebook and Twitter and never miss an update!

Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

Hea lugeja, näeme et kasutate vanemat brauseri versiooni või vähelevinud brauserit.

Parema ja terviklikuma kasutajakogemuse tagamiseks soovitame alla laadida uusim versioon mõnest meie toetatud brauserist: