Estonian Minister of Education and Research Kristina Kallas (Eesti 200) said that the coalition had agreed that the government would not cut funds for higher education in next year's state budget. However, Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) said that nothing has been agreed yet.
"We've taken another step forward, so I think we're pretty close to an agreement on the 2024 budget. We still need to agree on the final few details. We've almost covered the deficit. And now we have the concern of covering the additional costs. We need to knock off a few tens of millions of euros," Kristina Kallas told ERR.
According to the education minister, €200 million will be covered via a combination of additional revenues and cuts.
"This is what we agreed on, that we will not cut higher education [funding]," said the education minister.
On the topic of research funding however, Kristina Kallas said that no final decisions have been agreed on. "Our position is that we will not cut it. But I will leave it open for now."
Speaking on ETV current affairs show "Ringvaade," Kristina Kallas said that the funding for science would be reviewed more closely to identify more specifically how the money is to be used.
"The challenge we have in the use of research funding is that on the one hand we have the Ministry of Education and Research, which directly distributes research funding to researchers, and there is a shortage of money. However, we then have a lot of research funding that goes through the Ministry of Economic Affairs and other sectoral ministries, which goes round in circles to get to the researchers. And often it does not even reach the researchers, it disappears somewhere along the process into other activities. The result is that research does not end up getting one percent of GDP," Kallas explained.
"The question now is whether we should take this allocation of money and agree things in another way, so that it actually reaches the researchers. And that is what we agreed today, that we will make better arrangements for how this money will eventually reach researchers," the minister added.
"One percent [of GDP] for research funding will remain. The question is how we use that money," she said.
ERR reporter Madis Hindre pointed out that when it comes to education, the additional needs are €27 million to pay for the transition to Estonian-language education, as well as funds to enable pay raises for teachers.
"The €27 million for Estonian-language education is a common concern amongst our government, because it is a commitment made by previous governments and one we will definitely honor," Kallas said.
On the additional pay rise for teachers, Kallas said a decision is still yet to me made.
Kristina Kallas told "Ringvaade" that a pay cut for civil servants is also a possible option. "We are probably going to take some decisions there too. I'm not talking about all civil servants, but senior civil servants. However, only the Riigikogu can cut the salaries of civil servants or members of the Riigikogu. So, the government can't include a pay cut for the members of the Riigikogu into the state budget, even though it would like to," the minister added.
Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) said that until everything is agreed, nothing is agreed.
The prime minister also said that nothing had been agreed regarding cuts in funding for higher education and research.
"The situation with research funding is that we actually have money left over every year and so things are invented to spend it on. Perhaps the minister of education and research will also have a concrete reform proposal regarding how this money could be better channeled into research, but in this regard, to reduce it temporarily," the prime minister said.
On Monday at 1 p.m., the coalition council met to discuss next year's state budget. Although the desire to reach an agreement on the budget last week was not fulfilled, on Monday, Kaja Kallas was optimistic that a consensus would soon be reached.
Editor: Michael Cole