Gallery: Researchers protest government-announced funding freeze

Researchers in Estonia began convening in the square in front of the Riigikogu at 11 a.m. on Thursday, and are set to move toward the Stenbock House, the seat of the Estonian government, together to protest the Estonian government's recent decision not to increase research funding as had been agreed by politicians, researchers and entrepreneurs late last year.

More than 500 people have listed themselves as attending and another more than 1,500 as interested in attending the Facebook event made for the protest, where the description reads, "This decision means that we are in mourning. We are calling on you, too, to join the funeral march of a knowledge-based Estonia."

According to the description, protesters are being asked to convene in the square in front of Riigikogu between 11-11:30 a.m., after which the procession will move toward Stenbock House by 11:45 a.m. Thursday's government press conference is scheduled to begin at 12 p.m.

Protesters are being asked to bring along grave candles and flowers, which can also be left by the Ministry of Education and Research in Tartu at around the same time.

The protest was sparked by a decision announced by the Estonian government on Monday according to which research funding will remain frozen at the current level of 0.71 percent of the GDP for the next four years.

Last December, however, researchers, politicians, and entrepreneurs had signed an agreement before the president according to which all parties would contribute to ensuring that research funding in Estonia would be increased to 1 percent of the GDP within the next three years.

This would mean an additional €47 million per year, or €282 million over the next three years, and approximately €470 million over the next four.

New government walks back promised increase

Politicians have pledged an additional €153 million in research funding over the next four years, but in relative to the GDP and after taking inflation into consideration, this would only amount to maintaining current funding levels.

Explaining the results of the recent state budget strategy negotiations, Minister of Education and Research Mailis Reps (Centre) said that the current cut-filled budget could have led to an overall decrease in research funding as well.

"In a situation where the government has been forced to discuss cuts as part of budget strategy negotiations, it is of some consolation that research was allocated a supplementary €143 million in order to maintain its funding at a stable level," Reps said, adding that expectations were and still are nevertheless higher than that.

The rectors of the University of Tartu (TÜ) and Tallinn University (TLÜ) have warned that if research funding isn't increased, this will first and foremost affect stagnating wages for junior researchers, which in turn means that Estonia is at risk of losing out on an entire generation of researchers.

First warning strike planned for June 5

The Academic Trade Union Council held a meeting on Tuesday, at which it discussed the organization of strikes. It was decided that they would begin with shorter warning strikes, with which researchers will begin by striking for an hour or two at a time, as often as every day.

A general strike will not be held unless and until funding talks reach a deadlock, however the first warning strike has already been planned for next Wednesday, June 5, when researchers have promised not to do any work. The strike is scheduled to take place from 11 a.m. through 1 p.m. that day, which at several universities coincides with scheduled thesis defenses.

University rectors have nonetheless stressed that their universities are obligated to ensure that thesis defenses can take place, adding that graduation ceremonies likewise will not be canceled as a result of any warning strikes.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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