Politicians speaking to Aktuaalne kaamera (AK) on Sunday were split on the idea of introducing tuition fees for university courses taught in Estonian, saying there are other problems in higher education that need to be addressed first.
Social Democrat MP Katri Raik and Estonia Conservative People's Party (EKRE) MP Jaak Valge, both spoke with the current affairs TV show.
Last week the University of Tartu said it was thinking about introducing a fee of €1,000 per year for students to off-set a lack of government funding. Currently causes taught in the Estonian language are free and have been so since 2013. Universities can only charge for part-time courses or those that are taught in English.
However, in order to introduce a tuition fee there will have to be a change in the law, which will require political support.
Social Democrat Katri Raik, a member of the Cultural Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu, told AK the proposal from the University of Tartu is dangerous.
"I do not exactly understand whether this is a proposal for discussion or whether it is blackmail," Raik said.
She said is dangerous because it has been agreed in society that the state is responsible for free higher education. Once a tuition fee is introduced, it could be very easy for the state to recommend that universities increase the fees.
"Higher education has two very important dimensions - one is quality and the other is equal access. Equal access in the sense that even the children of the poorest families must have access to a very good education," Raik added.
Raik said the Minister of Education Mailis Reps can also impose obligations on universities, for example, to reduce the duplication of teaching in certain specialities across universities. This has been floated by Reps as a way universities can save money.
Jaak Valge (EKRE) did not say whether he was for or against tuition fees, but said there could be some positive aspects to introducing tuition fees. He said one good thing about tuition fees could be that students think more about what they are going to study.
Valge said that in addition to access and quality, higher education should provide the training that Estonia needs.
He said: "Then there should be additional compensation mechanisms there. That means improving the student loan system - raising student loans, definitely lowering student loan interest. In addition, establishing a scholarship system for those specialities that the state definitely needs."
Editor: Helen Wright