Census: 20 percent of Estonian residents have a master's degree

Students at the University of Tartu.
Students at the University of Tartu. Source: Andres Tennus/Tartu ülikool

One in five people living in Estonia have a master's degree and the share of residents with higher education is increasing, newly released data from the 2021 population census shows.

Last year's population and housing census looked at the highest level of education attained by people living in Estonia.

Overall, the data shows the share of people with higher education in Estonia has risen and the share of people with basic education has fallen compared to the last census in 2011. Those with secondary education has remained stable.

Secondary education is the highest educational level for 43 percent of the population aged 15 and over, and higher education for 37 percent. Twenty percent of Estonia's population have basic education or less.

Triinu Aug, leading analyst at Statistics Estonia, said: "It makes sense that the highest educational attainment is related to age – older people have had more time to complete various levels of education. For instance, the share of people with basic education is lowest in the 55–59 age group. Then again, half of the people aged 90 and over have basic education or less because they simply did not have access to higher education when they were young."

Higher education is usually completed by around the age of 25. From then on, the share of the population with higher education remains around 40 percent up until the age group of 70 years, after which the proportion starts to decline.

Share of Educational attainment: 2000, 2011, 2021 Source: Statistics Estonia

A fifth of the population has a master's degree

The census data show that 21.4 percent of residents aged 25–64 have a master's degree, 17.4 percent have vocational secondary education and about the same number (17.2 percent) have general secondary education.

Thirteen percent of the population has a bachelor's degree and 10 percent have vocational education after secondary education.

In the 25–64 age group, the share of people with only primary education (1.1 percent, 7,752 people) is roughly the same as that of people with a doctorate (1 percent, 6,805 people).

More people with higher education in cities

The biggest share of persons with higher education live in city settlement regions, where 49 percent of the population aged 25–64 have higher education.

In town settlement regions, 47 percent of the population have higher education and 30 percent in rural settlement regions.

Comparing counties, as expected, the highest concentration of 25–64-year-olds with higher education is in Harju and Tartu counties, with 52.6 percent and 46.1 percent, respectively.

President Alar Karis hosted a reception for Estonia's top graduates of high schools, vocational schools and institutes of higher education. July 5, 2022. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

The lowest proportions of people with higher education were recorded in Järva county (25.5 percent) and Jõgeva county (27 percent).

Looking at the share of people with higher education across municipalities, Viimsi municipality stands out with 62.5 percent of the 25–64-year-olds having higher education.

"Viimsi municipality also has the highest proportion of people with a master's degree – 38 percent. However, when looking at the share of the population with a doctorate, Tartu city is the clear leader, with 4 percent of people having a doctoral level degree. The Estonian average is 1 percent," explained Aug.

Estonia is a valued destination for highly educated foreigners

On average, the educational attainment of native Russian speakers is slightly higher than that of native Estonian speakers, the data shows.

Compared with Estonian speakers, they have a smaller share of people with basic education and a somewhat higher proportion of persons with secondary education.

Among the population with some other mother tongue, the share of persons with basic or secondary education is much lower – 4.6 percent and 25.4 percent, respectively – while the majority (70.1 percent) have higher education.

Graduates' diplomas at the University of Tartu. Source: Andres Tennus/University of Tartu

"Compared with previous censuses, we have 35 percent more people with some other mother tongue and higher education than 20 years ago. This means that Estonia is increasingly a destination for highly educated immigrants," noted Aug.

This statistic does not include war refugees who arrived in Estonia after the Census ended on December 31, 2021.

 Lifelong learning is gaining popularity

Regular surveys conducted by Statistics Estonia have shown that in addition to formal education, people are increasingly active in lifelong learning. 

According to the Estonian Labour Force Survey, participation in lifelong learning has increased by 54 percent in 10 years and more than tripled in 20 years.

Participation in lifelong learning is higher among women and the more highly educated. Estonia's lifelong learning participation rate of 18.4 percent is significantly higher than the EU average of 10.8 percent.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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