Low teacher salaries hindering IT specialties in universities

A computer class.
A computer class. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

There is a lot of interest for studying information technology specialties in Estonian universities, but there is a lack of teachers, which is likely caused by the low salary levels.

In 10 years, the number of Estonian university students has decreased, but the number of students in IT specialties has gone up some 33 percent. But now, Estonia is facing an issue with a lack of teachers, University of Tartu institute of computer science director Jaak Vilo said.

"The number of lecturers should increase concurrently with the number of students. Lecturers need to be trained, meaning the capacity of doctoral studies must also be increased. And we also need to have IT science to go along with IT companies," Vilo noted.

Estonian Association of Information Technology and Telecommunications board member Ivo Lasn said universities have done a nice job in admitting more students, but financing has not followed. This is reflected in the effectiveness of higher studies - only 60 percent of students actually graduate.

"Last year, the Estonian Qualifications Authority (Kutsekoda) conducted an OSKA study for the information technology sector and the results showed that only a third of dropouts make it to work in the IT sector. Universities just lack the people and resources to take students all the way to graduation. For example, students must write up their dissertation, but supervisors already have so many dissertations to supervise," Lasn said.

While information technology is thought to be a young person's sector, it turns out that teachers are aging and young people are not eager to teach on the salaries provided. Vilo pointed out that teachers' salaries tend to be around €1,200, while the IT sector's average wage is more than €3,000.

"A lecturer is a top specialist," he noted, adding that €2,000 per student is not sustainable financing for higher education.

Many have pointed out that Estonia will never be able to train as many IT-specialists as it needs and employees have to be hired from abroad. Both Vilo and Lasn still emphasize the importance of Estonian IT education, however.

Vilo said IT education is not expensive in Estonia. "It is cheaper than a kindergarten education. But since it is so cheap, it does not make it as sustainable," he said.

Lasn also said education is not too expensive a process and added that a graduate needs to work for around 18 months to pay back the state's investment in them. "Yes, most companies hire from abroad, but hiring from abroad takes time, it is not as simple as hiring locally and the political direction is also in trying to manage with locals more," he said.

Lasn added that there are plenty foreigners in IT sciences currently and 66 percent of the doctoral studies applicants are also not from Estonia. "Studies take place, but their not Estonia-centric. There would certainly be Estonians that would stay and develop science. And Estonia certainly needs information technology sciences," the Playtech director said.

The Ministry of Education and Research has called a roundtable to discuss the financing of information technology studies on Monday.


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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