Estonian Supreme Court ruling ends unequal teaching scholarship payments

Tallinn University.
Tallinn University. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The Estonian Supreme Court has declared, that a regulation, which meant students studying to become teachers of science and technology gained preferential treatment in the awarding of scholarships, over those specializing in other subjects, is unconstitutional and invalid.

On Thursday, the Estonian Supreme Court ruled that a point in a 2019 Ministry of Education and Research regulation, which allowed students in certain disciplines to receive higher teacher training scholarships than others, is unlawful.

The problem was first brought to light four years ago. At that time, a Tallinn University student contacted Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise requesting an assessment of the lawfulness of universities preferring students with master's degrees in science and technology, over those specializing in other subjects.

The reason why the university had treated students differently came down to the aforementioned disputed point in the Ministry of Education's 2019 regulation.

Following the student's letter, Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise assessed the constitutionality of the part of regulation. On December 13, 2021, Madise issued an order to the Ministry of Education and Research to amend the fifth point of the first paragraph of the second section of the regulation in order to bring it into line with the law.

In January 2022, a representative of the Ministry of Education and Research informed the Chancellor of Justice, that the ministry agreed with the criticism and promised to authorize the amendment by the beginning of the 2022/23 academic year at the latest.

However, as the ministry did not follow through on its promise, on 1 November 1, 2022, the Chancellor of Justice appealed to the Supreme Court to declare the provision invalid, on the grounds that it contradicts the provisions of both the Higher Education Act and the Estonian Constitution.

Later in the proceedings, a representative of the Estonian Ministry of Education and Research stated, that the preparation of the promised amendments had taken longer than expected.

A representative of the Estonian Ministry of Justice also considered the point in the regulation to be unconstitutional.

"Although the law does not provide the right for every student to receive a scholarship, decisions regarding to whom and under what conditions scholarships are paid may affect (people's) access to education, continuation of studies and choice of specialization, thereby restricting the fundamental right to a fair and equal education and equal treatment. It is up to the lawmakers to make decisions regarding the restriction of fundamental rights," the ministry's representative wrote in the accompanying explanatory memorandum.

Last week, the Review Chamber of the Estonian Supreme Court granted the Chancellor of Justice's application on the basis of the Constitutional Review Court Procedure Act and declared the section of the regulation in question unconstitutional and invalid.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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