UT rector: Universities want to continue free higher education

University of Tartu Rector Toomas Asser.
University of Tartu Rector Toomas Asser. Source: Karli Saul

The underfunding of higher education makes it more difficult to access for students. Toomas Asser, rector of the University of Tartu, which celebrated its 102nd anniversary on Wednesday, said small financial contributions from students could be a solution, to go with state aid.

On Tuesday, rectors of six Estonian universities - the University of Tartu, the Estonian University of Life Sciences, Tallinn University (TLÜ), the Tallinn University of Technology (TalTech), the Estonian Academy of Arts and the Estonian Academy of Music and Theater - met with Riigikogu speaker Jüri Ratas (Center).

University of Tartu rector Toomas Asser told ERR that the rectors and Ratas spoke about the underfunding of higher education, which has reached a critical point and something needs to be done.

The rector explained that while the universities have the same issues, it is not as bad for the University of Tartu, Tallinn University and the Tallinn University of Technology, since the schools also carry out research. "But if we take the Estonian Academy of Arts and the Estonian Academy of Music and Theater, the share of research funding there is very small or non-existent," Asser said.

"If we do not have sufficient funding, quality will certainly suffer. We are already in a situation, in which universities have had to limit access. At the same time, you must take into consideration that the number of high school graduates is increasing and those that cannot get into university, will go to acquire an education abroad, which will also affect the next generation of academic workers."

He pointed out that rectors have met with Riigikogu party groups and there is a consensus about the funding of higher education in Estonia being problematic.

Asser said the financial deficit over the years is in the range of €100 million. "A short-term action is to compensate or stop the financial deficit in the coming years, the long-term plan is to reassess the higher education funding model."

The rector said that although politicians understand the differences of research and higher education, linking the two with 1 percent of the GDP has not helped fund higher education. "As of our current experience, there is a partial understanding, but it certainly needs to be explained further. Research funding has its own very clear goals, much of that does not go to the university," Asser said.

"We have universities with different research volumes and universities, where research is rather modest. We must have some common approach and the universities' desire currently is to discuss if we are prepared to continue the existing so-called free higher education funding system or not."

Asser added that the universities want to continue with free higher education and hope to get considerable state support. He pointed out establishing the so-called Netherlands model in Estonia, where all students could pay €100-150 monthly, which could be covered with a study loan. The OSCE has recommended that model to Estonia for the last decade, but it has not been implemented.

At the same time, the rector does not consider it reasonable to return to the previous higher education organization, in which some students were able to study on state-funded positions and the rest had to pay tuition. "This would cause quality issues and access issues, since it is not affordable to some," he explained.

Tallinn University recently announced that it will be closing its information science bachelor's program in addition to three master's programs.


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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