New law permits one free higher education degree over ten years
A future revision to the Higher Education Act would make it more difficult to earn a second degree in higher education for free, and in some situations you would also be required to pay to change your field of study. It is believed that one of the positive outcomes of the legislative amendments is an improvement in the pupils' learning behavior.
The draft's explanatory memorandum pledges that the fundamental principles of the Higher Education Act will be preserved following its enactment: full-time study on any Estonian-language course will continue to be free for the first degree obtained.
The purpose of the amendment was to ensure that the state would not fund more than one course at each level of higher education.
"A degree awarded upon completion of a level of higher education does not expire and a second diploma or degree at the same level is usually unnecessary. If a person's college-acquired skills become outdated or they desire a job change, they could refresh those skills through continuing education or micro-credit training," the explanatory note states.
Those who have completed their previous degree more than ten years ago will continue to be eligible for free education.
The new measure also modifies the notion that professional higher education and bachelor's degree studies are distinct for tuition reimbursement reasons.
The payment of tuition fees will be henceforth based on the broader notion of higher education level, with no distinction drawn between bachelor's and professional higher education courses.
Thus, after a student earns a university bachelor's degree, he or she will no longer be eligible for a free professional higher education, and vice versa. One of the reasons for this is that a professional higher education already awards bachelor's degrees.
Student responsibility should be increased
The current law allows students to interrupt their higher education studies an unlimited number of times and to re-enter the same level of higher education for free if they do so before finishing fifty percent of the program.
This increases costs for higher education institutions and the state and is not discouraging students to take responsibility for their commitments.
The new bill stipulates that a student must decide on a degree change within first academic year if they intend to continue their study free of charge.
A student who has been admitted to the same level of higher education for free on two prior occasions can only be admitted to the same level of higher education on a paid place for the third time.
The amendment also restricts the right to study for free on multiple courses simultaneously. It makes no difference whether the degrees of education are the same or different. The purpose of this amendment is to encourage students to concentrate on finishing one program and graduating within the allotted time, and to ensure access to higher education for more people.
The draft's main goals, according to the explanatory memorandum, are to increase students' responsibility and sense of duty, guide them to make more informed and thoughtful choices, enable them to attract more money into higher education and use current funding more effectively.
At the same time, it is argued that the changes are not meant to bring additional funds for higher education but would allow for a slightly better use of resources while improving access to higher education and increasing efficiency and quality.
The amended Higher Education Act will become effective on September 1, 2023.
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Editor: Kristina Kersa