The Council of Rectors is slated to discuss next month under what conditions and exceptions universities in Estonia could be given the opportunity to charge for acquiring higher education in Estonian-language degree programs — in cases where a student wants to earn their second or further bachelor's, master's or doctoral degree.
Speaking at the Opinion Festival that took place in Paide over the weekend, coalition Eesti 200 chair Lauri Hussar said that implementing paid higher education tuition would be linked to specific conditions, involving those who want to earn a second degree.
"If someone wants to pursue additional higher education, then at some point a paid [tuition] perspective will come up as well," Hussar said. "This is to a great extent related to the fact that higher education needs more money, and as stated, one's first higher education will still be free here."
In response, Lauri Läänemets, chair of the coalition Social Democratic Party (SDE), said there are no plans to start charging for higher education.
"Those volumes involving studying for the first, second, third time will remain," Läänemets said. "Some other kind of exceptions will be introduced, so there won't be any paid tuition."
According to Minister of Education and Research Kristina Kallas (Eesti 200), it was agreed in coalition negotiations that free higher education would remain at current volumes. However, it was also agreed that the blanket ban on charging for Estonian-language higher education is to be scrapped.
"Right now, the case is that after ten years, one can acquire higher education at the same level for free again, but our deal was that we'll no longer even set this time limit," Kallas explained. "If you already have a master's degree and want to earn a new master's degree, then the university may have the right to charge you for it."
This wouldn't be the case for all majors or students, however. Exceptions would apply to those changing careers, giving them the opportunity to earn a second master's if they choose to study to become a teacher, for example.
"There is also an exception for doctoral studies," the minister highlighted.
"Currently, Estonian-language doctoral [degree programs] are all free, and English-language studies are also free as a rule, but [the plan would be] to grant universities the opportunity to charge at the doctoral level as well in certain instances," she explained. "We have a meeting with the Council of Rectors on September 4 where we'll be initiating talks regarding under what exceptions, in what kind of cases universities could be permitted to charge for Estonian-language education, but these are restricted by the examples I cited."
Estonian University of Life Sciences (EMÜ) rector and professor Ülle Jaakma said that the possibility of charging tuition in certain cases is not a solution to the financing issue higher education is facing.
"Rather, it's additional revenue for universities in order to better ensure high-quality higher education; this is not something that could replace the public funding of higher education as a whole," Jaakma said.
"What they're really talking about here is that when someone is earning a second [degree], under certain conditions they would be charged tuition," she continued. "Such as one-year master's programs, for example, that are aimed at boosting the professional qualifications of working specialists, or part-time [degree] programs, where someone isn't studying full time, and their studies are spread out over a longer period."
Editor: Aili Vahtla