According to a social media post by Minister of Education and Research Tõnis Lukas, from 2023, funding for higher education will increase by 15 percent annually. However, university rectors say, that, in the current economic climate, it is difficult to know what the actual impact of these additional funds may be for higher education.
The university rectors said, that although the 15 percent increase in operating grants had not yet been officially confirmed, they were of the understanding, that higher education funding would increase by that amount from next year. Mart Kalm, rector of the Estonian Academy of Arts, said, that the priority would be to use the money to increase teachers' salaries.
"Absolutely, because they are terribly out of touch with the reality. Lecturers' salaries were already lagging behind, even before inflation went crazy," said Kalm.
However, at a time when energy costs continue to rise, and inflation is taking effect, it is hard to say how much of the 15 percent rise in funding will end up being used to boost teacher salaries.
"At this point, we also can't say to what extent it will address the developing situation. So, the honest is, that, at the moment, we don't know the degree to which it will still be able to offset our problem. 15 percent over four years is not the solution for (the lack of) funding in higher education," said Toomas Asser, rector of the University of Tartu.
Kalm also believes, that the planned increase will not, in the grand scheme of things, help to create a situation where higher education funding amounts to 1.5 percent of Estonia's annual GDP. However, at this stage, asking for an even bigger rise was not possible.
"After all, we came up with 15 percent based on calculations made before inflation went so crazy. Changing tack half way would have muddied our message and made us even more insecure. So, it was better to just stick to that one message, and if that is what we have now, then we succeeded," Kalm said.
Tallinn University of Technology (TalTech) Rector Tiit Land said, that the 15 percent increase provided a basis for further negotiations with the Ministry of Education regarding administrative contracts.
"We don't know the exact basis upon which the calculation of the 15 percent is made. But yes, the need for this 15 percent increase in funding for higher education was fundamental, so that we could raise our staff salaries, and that is certainly our number one priority."
Further to the 15 percent annual increase, this year, an additional €10 million in funding has also been promised to Estonian universities. Whether this could be used to increase teachers' salaries is also difficult to say, according to Asser.
"I don't know the exact methodology (being used) now, but I don't think I'm wrong in saying, that we need just over €10 million to cover universities' energy costs," said Asser. "And, as far as we know at the moment, we do not have enough cover that, meaning there will be a deficit of about €9 million. So, if you ask what is going to happen to that (additional) €10 million, it would largely be used to cover those energy costs," he explained.
Energy costs for the Academy of Arts are also on the rise, as lecturers are performing more of their professional activities on the premises due to a lack of time to maintain their own private studios away from the university. However, Kalm explained, that as they are required by the academy to carry out research or creative projects in top of their teaching load, this is completely understandable.
The university rectors are set to meet with Education Minister Tõnis Lukas on Tuesday evening, with the negotiation of management contracts and rising energy prices likely to be the main issues on the agenda.
Editor: Michael Cole