Toomas Asser, Jaak Vilo and Raul Eamets, candidates for the position of rector at the University of Tartu, agree that restructuring student loans is needed and that nationalizing student loans would be one alternative.
Asser said that good access to higher education is ensured not only by free education but also by a support network that considers a variety of factors.
"Providing student loans on favorable terms is one ingredient, and nationalizing student debts is one approach to do this," he told ERR.
Asser said that student loans cannot be regarded in isolation from the overall system of grants and scholarships: "Keeping in mind the larger context of higher education funding, the nation must devise distinct solutions. The parties' election platforms proposed linking student loan repayments to childbearing, but student loans must not become a tool of family policy," Asser emphasized.
Vilo said that he had consistently supported student loan reform in the media, noting his daily Postimees column in which he argued that the state should provide student loans without requiring the student's family to serve as guarantors.
"The cost of a loan should be assessed from the perspective of an individual student and then projected to the entire nation. If a student borrows between €6,000 and €10,000 annually, their debt at the conclusion of a five-year study program may reach €30,000 or even €50,000. Clearly, a loan balance and interest rate of this scope would have a substantial impact on the young person's ability to purchase a car or a house," Vilo told ERR.
Vilo said that the reduction of student loans could be linked to the income tax system: "Allocating an additional 5 percent of income tax revenue to reducing student loan debt should not be difficult. Incentives could also be offered to encourage prompt repayment." Vilo added that, where feasible, the state could reduce monthly or annual loan repayments from its own budget lines.
Professor of economics at the University of Tartu and rector candidate Raul Eamets told ERR that Estonia should establish a national loan fund to provide student loans. The nationalization of student loans, according to Eamets, would permit an increase in loan amounts and a reduction in interest rates.
Banks: a change in the law brought in more interested parties
LHV and Swedbank are the two Estonian commercial banks that presently offer student loans.
According to LHV Bank Communications Manager Priit Rum, the bank issued more than €1.5 million in student loans for the academic year 2022/23.
"The interest rate on student loans nearly doubled from the previous year following the amendment to the Student Loan Act," Rum said, adding that the most noticeable changes were triggered by the switch from two-guarantor to one-guarantor loans and a lower interest rate.
She stressed that LHV customers accurately repay their student loans.
Reinhold Mutli, head of small Loans at Swedbank, also said that interest in student loans has increased: "Swedbank has already issued 80 percent more student loans in 2022/2023 than it did in the entire 2021/2022 academic year," he said. "Compared to the previous academic year, the total amount of new student loans issued has more than doubled."
"High inflation and low student loan interest rates significantly increased student interest in student loans for the fall semester," he added.
This academic year, the average value of a Swedbank student loan is €2,829, while the maximum amount approved by the state is €3,000. Currently, 83 percent of Swedbank student loan applicants received the maximum amount, and the average repayment duration is six years.
Swedbank clients, Mutil said, repay student debts promptly, with only four student loan contracts being more than 90 days past due last year, he added.
Editor: Mari Peegel, Kristina Kersa