University of Tartu starts new academic year with student demonstration
The new academic year at the University of Tartu began on Monday, with a student demonstration, which aimed, once again, to draw attention to the need for increased funding to support higher education in Estonia.
In a pre-planned action, organized by the university's student union, students rattled jars of coins, demonstrating that, under current conditions, both they, and the universities where they study are like "beggars."
"Under these conditions, the leaders of the future are not born. Under these conditions, both the university and the students are beggars," said Katariina Sofia Päts, president of the Student Union of the University of Tartu, in a speech outside the university's main building.
Päts called on students to rattle coins to show that, "free, quality higher education and a well-functioning student grant system are not luxuries, but the very foundation for the sustainability of our country and our society."
Päts said that, in light of recent increases in housing and other living costs, the poor quality of the student support system had become particularly noticeable, with the standard of academic study programs also suffering due to the lack of funding.
"Your seminar groups are bigger than they should be. Your lecturers don't have enough time to give personal feedback. You get lost amongst the masses and don't come away with all the necessary skills that society expects a student to have," said Päts.
Päts advocated for the introduction of a study grant system, which would allow students to concentrate fully on their studies, rather than forcing them to work on the side in order to support themselves. The Student Union President also called for lecturers' salaries to be raised.
According to Minister of Education and Research Tõnis Lukas, who also speak at the opening ceremony on Monday, the state is planning to increase university funding.
"Currently, the plan is to add €10 million this year and to increase the total funding by 15 percent in each of the following years," said Lukas. "At the moment, there seems to be an agreement between Estonia's political parties that free higher education will remain in place. Individual changes, the number of times someone can go to university for free, and funds for microcredits are also possible," Lukas said.
However, Päts said, that the current plan only accounts for universities' most urgent needs, and is not a sufficient longer-term solution. Universities have argued that funding for higher education should be raised from its current rate of approximately one percent of the country's GDP back to previous levels of 1.5 per cent. Lukas was unable to say when this might be achieved.
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Editor: Michael Cole