Reform Party MPs speak up against plans to cut higher education funding

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Margit Sutrop.
Margit Sutrop. Source: Kairit Leibold / ERR

It is impossible to support a version of the state budget where additional higher education funding is capped at 10 or 13 percent in a situation where we have an existing agreement for 15-percent growth over four consecutive years, Reform Party politician Margit Sutrop said.

Margit Sutrop (Reform MP) said she hardly believed her ears when news reached her that it was proposed during state budget talks at the Vihula Manor on Friday to prune growth of higher education funding from the previously agreed-upon 15 percent annually over four years to 10 or 13 percent. The proposal also included cutting R&D funding from 1 percent of GDP to 0.9 percent.

"I understand that the situation of public finances is disastrous, but going after education and research funding would cut the legs from under everything. Higher education is the foundation for the longevity of the Estonian language, culture and statehood. Cuts would come back to bite us as all walks of life rely on higher education for qualified specialists. We would be sabotaging our own future and the state's ability to boost its competitive ability and achieve growth through which we can improve prosperity, support culture, the environment, security etc.," Sutrop wrote on social media.

"What is more, going back on previously made pledges is morally reprehensible. Failure to keep promises will destroy what little trust society still has for politicians. Rectors, students, scientists and employers all believe that the promise they were made of 15 percent additional funding will be kept," she added.

"No, we cannot in good conscience vote for a budget where the growth of higher education funding would be dialed back," Sutrop remarked.

The MP and head of the University of Tartu's Ethics Center wrote that it would be just as bad if not worse were Estonia to also go back on its pledge of R&D funding of 1 percent of GDP.

"Dear education minister, dear finance minister, dear prime minister and all members of the government, let us please keep our promises of boosting higher education funding by 15 percent annually and maintaining an R&D funding of 1 percent of GDP."

The government failed on Friday to agree on next year's state budget during talks held at the Vihula Manor on Friday. The deliberations will continue Monday.

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) said after the talks on Friday that the possibility of providing higher education with fewer additional funds than previously promised is also under consideration.

"We are certainly not going to take any money away from higher education. There's just a currently agreed increase for higher education that others don't have. The question is whether it's possible to go with a lower increase," Kallas said.

Mario Kadastik. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Reform MP Mario Kadastik agrees with Sutrop's criticism of the plan.

"The pledge to increase higher education funding by 15 percent, which was included in the state budget strategy and was what eventually convinced rectors to sign their contracts under public law, is a clear and absolutely necessary first step on the road to delivering Estonian higher education from its current crisis. This calculation was made before inflation skyrocketed, which is why it is even more important the promise is kept. I was also under the impression that this is a fundamental promise and one not subject to reconsideration," Kadastik, who also comes from an academic background, wrote on social media.

"I was all the more shocked to hear that cutting additional higher education funding from 15 percent to 10 percent and, worse still, coming down to 0.9 percent of GDP for research and development where discussed as realistic options in Vihula."

The ruling party's MP added that he will find it impossible to support the state budget bill in the parliament should it include these changes.

While ERR Russian news wanted Sutrop to offer further comments on Sunday, the MP said the party told her not to talk to the press until Monday. Kadastik also refused to comment further.

Margit Sutrop also told Delfi that she has been ordered not to talk to the press. "I was told I cannot go to the media and comment there," she said.

The reason was that the negotiators need to be given a chance and trusted to find solutions.

"It's understandable that public debate makes it more difficult to find avenues of cost-cutting because these all difficult and painful decisions," Sutrop remarked.

The article was updated to add that the Reform Party urged Sutrop and Kadastik not to comment on the topic further.


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Editor: Marko Tooming, Aleksander Krjukov, Marcus Turovski

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