Auditor General Alar Karis spoke in the Riigikogu on Monday and found rather clear words to describe the Justice Ministry’s continuing push for a complete move of the Estonian Academy of Security Sciences to Narva. In a quick interview with ERR News, he explains why.
Pointless, too expensive, irresponsible: Speaking in the Riigikogu on Monday, Auditor General Alar Karis was very clear about his assessment of the proposed move of the academy to Ida Viru County.
A former rector of both the Estonian University of Life Sciences and the University of Tartu, molecular geneticist and developental biologist Karis approaches the issue from more than just the point of view of the state’s auditor.
ERR News: When you spoke in the Riigikogu, you said that the quality of instruction at the academy would suffer. Can you specify?
Alar Karis: Based on the data as well as my previous experience as a rector of two universities, the problem with moving the institution to Narva, which is 200 km away, is first of all that the staff won’t want to move from Tallinn to the northeastern part of Estonia. The second question is how to get students. Now the students come to study in Tallinn.
And it’s not just the staff. There are also other members of different other institutions that come over to the Academy of Security Sciences in Tallinn to give lectures and so on, the percentage of them is actually 25 percent. Professors and lecturers from different universities and state institutions are mostly in Tallinn, and it’s understandable that it’s going to be difficult to force these people to give their lectures 200 km away.
Finding people for the academy in Narva is also going to be extremely difficult, as specific staff is needed to teach in this kind of institution.
So you are saying that the difficulties connected with finding the right people locally, and the problem of getting people to come to Narva is going to seriously affect the quality of instruction at the academy?
Exactly. We had a college in the Central Estonian town of Türi, and we had to close it down because of the same reasons. Its staff had to come from different institutions in Tartu, and the quality of instruction fell [because of the distance].
The main question is, why should we move the academy? We want to maintain the quality, we want to make the quality better. But it takes around ten years to see whether or not the move was a good idea. And if after ten years we realize that it was not a good idea, then we have to take steps to move the academy back, or move it to another place.
If we started from scratch, if we started a new institution, then it would be understandable. But we’re talking about an institution that’s already working, so what’s the point?
You mentioned Türi College. The University of Tartu as well as the Tallinn University of Technology have colleges in Ida-Viru County. What are they doing better? Why do they work?
We should give money to these two colleges to put work and effort into new courses, and to get them to collaborate. These institutions really have study programs that are oriented towards this part of Estonia. The Academy of Security Sciences is not oriented towards Ida-Virumaa, it’s not for the northeastern part of Estonia, it’s for all of Estonia, not a local college like the other two.
What, in your opinion, would the steps of the state have to be to make sensible development in Ida-Virumaa possible?
There are other options of course that I also mentioned in parliament yesterday. We should create jobs by developing infrastructure, and so on. The same applies for the two colleges there. If we get study programs, even for IT, these can be closer to the local industry and business, and they would develop the region much better than just one state institution moved from one place to another.
What is your opinion on moving state institutions away from the capital?
It’s possible, of course, but you have to look at what’s available. There are requirements of course if you do a state job in a certain place. If the people [you need] are there, and we have examples for this in Estonia as well, [then you can do it].
But that’s different from the academy. The academy is huge, in a way. You can’t move it step by step. Thinking about state institutions in general, you can move one person, two people, five people, and you start developing a state institution in a certain region. But that’s not possible in the case of the Academy of Security Sciences. You can’t move, say, two lecturers and ten students, and then after a year another ten lecturers and twenty students. That’s impossible. That’s the difference.
On the other hand, you have said you think it is sensible to establish part of the academy in Narva, like its practical base.
Absolutely. The options given by the Ministry of the Interior, three of them, included this one option. And I think this is the best we can make out of this idea. This works, and this is not very costly, less than €200,000 in extra costs per year. This is completely different from the €2.5 million a year [that moving the whole academy would cost].
Moving the academy to Narva is part of the government's coalition agreement. There are two feasibility studies, one of which is in favor of the move, the other against. What is your take on politicizing of a decision like this?
Nothing is written in stone as far as a coalition is concerned. If they have certain data, and they are convinced that this is not the best idea, they could also change the coalition agreement. Of course this is a political question, and it is political will. If certain members of certain parties have this obsession to make this move, then certain feasibility studies with a certain result can be made. In a way this is understandable. Then again, why should the minister of justice do this? This is not his job. I could understand it if the minister of education and research did this, but the minister of justice? Who’s next, the minister of culture? Instead of concentrating on their job, they are doing completely different things, and that’s a waste of money and time.
Editor: Dario Cavegn