Aaviksoo: Higher education needs substantive not merely financial solutions

Jaak Aaviksoo.
Jaak Aaviksoo. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

It is unlikely that increasing funding for higher education can solve the issues associated with it. Former Minister of Education and Rector Jaak Aaviksoo said that higher education needs more substantive evaluation and decisions based on this analysis.

Former Minister of Education and Research and Rector Jaak Aaviksoo told ERR that while more funding for higher education is necessary, there is also another side to the story.

"I believe that our higher education strategy should have a clearer focus, and even face a structural review to see whether all the things we are doing now are necessary and how they can be done more efficiently. There is surely room for thought here."

Concerns about curriculum duplication and the fact that far fewer students enroll in some disciplines than there are available places, Aaviksoo said, are among the urgent problems that should be addressed first.

"There are many difficulties, and a comprehensive national policy for higher education has been long overdue. Unfortunately, we do not have a developed document right now; instead, our education development plan is a lovely but vague discussion that does not deal in-depth with specific concerns."

Margus Haidak, the head of higher education, vocational education and training policy and lifelong learning department at the ministry of education and research, said that the Estonian higher education policy is under constant review. When signing upcoming administrative contracts the focus will shift to our specific aims for the the period.

"We are also debating the larger issues, such as whether there is a need to increase the number of studies where there is a clear lack of consistency with labor market needs; we also discuss the objectives for standardization of research and studies; and we evaluate student admission, drop-out and graduation dynamics, and duplication in detail. We believe that duplication could be accepted in areas with a high labor market demand."

There will be also areas with a smaller number of graduates, Haidak added, which deal with the preservation of the Estonian language and culture in a broader sense.

Aaviksoo pointed out that Gunnar Ok advised in his report that the teaching and research activities of Estonian universities and research and development institutions be centered in Tallinn and Tartu only, and that this suggestion deserves serious consideration.

"There are not enough teachers, not enough high-achieving students. We organize retakes to ensure that all of our programs are filled but we are still not managing and some courses start with only five students; it's all very overwhelming," Aaviksoo said.

"If the overall higher education reform is solely focused on merging institutions, we may be able to save money on the rector's and possibly a secretary's salaries, but there would be no meaningful change. As a result, I continue to urge the Ministry of Education and the education community in general to consider what content-related changes we would like to see in our higher education system."

Haidak said, however, that the institutional change is not currently on the table.

"After all, universities are established by independent laws, and laws are made by the Riigikogu, so there should be a wider general consensus that this is indeed the path we are taking."


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Editor: Kristina Kersa

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