The Ministry of Education and Research is to increase operational support allocated from the state budget to institutes of higher education by €5 million next year, but this additional money is expected to go toward increasing salaries, not supporting schools' regional colleges.
"Public universities are free and independent in their decisions, and they can decide for themselves whether to use this additional money for salary increases or for something else," Ministry of Education spokesperson Tarmu Kurm told ERR, noting that this additional funding would allow for a 5 percent salary increase on average.
"As universities have cited as their primary concern the competitiveness of academic staff salaries, we have no reason to believe that the universities won't use these funds to increase salaries," said Margus Haidak, head of the Higher Education Department of the Ministry of Education. "Universities have likewise repeatedly cited the need for increased funding for their regional colleges, but this should occur via a discrete measure supporting regional policy goals, not at the expense of the general funding of higher education."
Educating university students at regional colleges is more expensive than at the schools' main campuses; local resources would help offset the relative expense of teaching students at these colleges, the ministry representative said. Local governments have previously also supported these colleges. Regional colleges' contributions and missions are not limited strictly to providing and developing higher education, but also expand to include a broader roll and significant value in the local environment.
By harnessing universities' research potential, developing local cooperation and developing international ties, colleges help to improve the local region's socio-ecnomic quality of living, he continued. Additional funding is just not earmarked specifically for regional colleges in the state budget, as expected by the universities, he added.
At a recent meeting with the Cultural Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu, Estonian university rectors said that their regional colleges are not sustainable under the current funding model, and if the state needs them to use as regional policy tool, they should be supporting them financially as well.
According to the rectors, the only regional colleges that are currently sustainable are those receiving additional support from local powers or businesses.
Editor: Aili Vahtla