The University of Tartu could stop free Estonian language-taught education, and introduce a tuition fee of €1,000 to counteract low government funding, daily newspaper Postimees reported on Friday. However, the Minister for Education believes savings should be found, while TalTech's rector believes fees should be higher.
Postimees quotes Vice-Rector for Studies Aune Valk saying there are three options on the table for the university: for the government to increase higher education funding, asking the private sector or students to pay, or thirdly, shrink the number of courses on offer meaning few students can study in Estonian in Estonia.
Valk said the only country in Europe which charges nothing for education besides Estonia is Greece, and believes asking students to pay €100 for their education each month would increase funding by 25 percent, making up for the funding the previous government promised to increase before the March election, which the current government then went back on.
TalTech rector Jaak Aaviksoo, who was education minister for Isamaa in 2013 when free higher education was introduced, said that fees should start at €3,000 a year as €1,000 would not even see the universities break even, he also said that if the model of free education is not working a new model needs to be introduced.
If Estonia's universities want to start asking for tuition fees this will require a change to legislation and will require political support but Minister for Education Mailis Reps (Centre) believes the universities need to look at ways to find more savings, while the head of the higher education at the Ministry for Education, Margus Haidak, believes introducing a tuition fee system could cost the government more than the additional funding the universities are asking for.
The newspaper's daily editorial says the first thing to look at is if students should contribute more in fees because in a globalised world graduates can work wherever they want when their studies have ended. It suggested maybe free education was only appropriate in an age where people continued to contributed to the development of the same society after graduation.
The editorial said the impact of introducing tuition fees would need to be carefully studied and said they could be made conditional on a student's grades, income after graduation, whether or not the state needs workers in a certain area, or whether they go on to work in the public or private sector.
It disagreed with the Ministry of Education who said universities should avoid duplication of subjects saying this would damage international competitiveness.
It names countries such as Sweden and Finland as examples of where university education is free for students but added these countries set higher education funding at 1.5 percent of GDP - Estonia's is currently 0.71 percent and will raise to 0.74 percent next year.
In May it was announced the coalition would not honor a promise agreed in 2018 by all coalition parties, except the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE), before the election to increase higher education spending to 1 percent of GDP. EKRE believed it should increase to 2 percent.
The agreement fixed public sector investment in Research & Development to at least 1 percent of Estonia's GDP within the next three years. It will now increase to 0.74 percent for next year from 0.71 percent.
The rectors of the University of Tartu and Tallinn University 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.
Currently, universities in Estonia can only charge fees for English language or part-time courses.
Yesterday ERR News included a summary of an opinion piece from students about their views on higher education fees which can be read here.
Editor: Helen Wright