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Foreign students dropping out but not on a mass scale

TalTech. Source: Martin Dremljuga/ERR

Estonia attracts thousands of foreign students from so-called third countries. While the Estonian Internal Security Service (ISS) has described universities as "immigration pumps" where foreign students quickly drop out, statistics collected by ERR suggests a dropout rate of fewer than 10 percent in major universities.

Margo Palloson, director general of the ISS, said in an interview to Postimees that Estonia's Muslim community is growing, having gone from 1,500 members a decade ago to 10,000 today. "A few years ago, universities served as major 'pumps,' while labor and family-related migration are setting the fashion today," Palloson told the newspaper.

"Many come to Estonia legally to study but then drop out of school. It is widespread," the ISS chief remarked.

ERR asked four Estonian universities how many citizens of so-called third countries (from outside the EU and the EEA) have come to study in Estonia and how many have dropped out inside or after just one year. Universities do not keep statistics on students' religious views.

The graphs attached to the article only reflect foreign students from third countries.

Tallinn University does not keep tabs on dropouts' citizenship

Over the last five years, 948 citizens of so-called third countries have started studies at Tallinn University.

"It is possible that a citizen of a third country got their bachelor's degree and enrolled in a master's program inside five years in which case the same person might be counted twice as statistics is based solely on the number of enrolled students and the data is not personalized," said Monika Maljukov, communication specialist for Tallinn University.

The university has 74 students from non-EU or EEA countries, including Nigeria, Ukraine, Pakistan, Russia, India, Brazil, Turkey, Bangladesh, the U.S., China, Colombia, Georgia, Cameroon, Japan, Iran, Mexico, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Vietnam and Afghanistan, Maljukov said.

Tallinn University does not collect dropout statistics based on citizenship, she added.

TalTech alters admissions policy

The Tallinn University of Technology (TalTech) said that 1,691 students from third countries have enrolled in 2018-2022.

This came to 508 in 2018, 477 in 2019, 147 in 2020, 349 in 2021 and 219 in 2022. A year later, 9 percent of students had dropped out on average.

"The drop in admissions in 2020 was tied to the coronavirus pandemic, while in 2022 the university decided to stop offering free education to students from third countries. The admissions threshold was also raised around that time. The university's priorities have shifted to working with major technical universities in Europe, such as the Technical University of Denmark, Eindhoven University of Technology, Technical University of Munich, École Polytechnique, Czech Technical University in Prague," said Hendrik Volli, TalTech's deputy rector for studies.

EMTA has catered to fewer than 200 third country students

The Estonian Academy of Music and Theater (EMTA) has welcomed 159 foreign students in 2019-2023, 52 of them from China, 30 from Ukraine, 16 from South Korea, 12 from Russia and six from the U.S.

Up to four students have come from such countries as Japan, Mexico, Australia, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Colombia, Georgia, Turkey and Russia/Estonia (Estonia in this case standing for students who had a residence permit before they enrolled).

The university also has a single student from Costa Rica, Iran, Morocco, Singapore, Belarus/Estonia, Brazil/Estonia, the U.K., Norway, Armenia, Chile and a few other countries.

The number of dropouts varied from one (in 2020) to 14 (in 2022). The number for 2022 was higher because five Ukrainian students decided to quit in 2022 on account of not being allowed to leave the country, while two foreign students decided to move to another country. The most frequent reason for dropping out was lack of academic progress and students not having started studies in the first place.

University of Tartu has admitted the most students from Ukraine

Over the last six years (2018-2023), the University of Tartu has admitted 2,916 students from third countries, Ülle Tensing, advisor for internationalization at the university, said.

Students from Ukraine (402) and Russia (357) have been the most numerous, followed by Azerbaijan (282), Nigeria (194), India (154) and the U.S. (146).

In 2018-2022, 2,584 students from third countries were admitted of whom 211 have dropped out. This puts the relative importance of students from third countries who do not conclude their studies at 8 percent.

The three main reasons for dropping out in the group were failing to graduate before the end of the nominal study period, (41 percent), voluntarily leaving the university (27 percent) and lack of academic progress (11 percent).

Interior ministry: university must notify of dropouts

"If a foreigner fails to progress in their studies enough to meet the requirements of their residence permit or drops out of university, the educational institution is obligated to notify the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) inside two weeks," Killu Christine Vantsi, adviser for the PPA's migration department, told ERR.

According to the Foreigners Act, a foreign student's residence permit expires 30 days from the moment the student has failed to cover enough of their curriculum or has dropped out. If a foreign student has a visa, the PPA can move for its revocation. A foreigner with no legal grounds for being in Estonia must leave the country.

"To stay in Estonia, a foreign student needs to file for new legal grounds for stay. For example, if a foreign student finds work in Estonia, they will have to request a work-based residence permit, register their short-term stay and apply for a new visa if applicable," Vantsi explained.

The new application needs to be filed inside the foreign student's previous legal stay period.


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Editor: Mari Peegel, Marcus Turovski

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