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International Internet Magazine. Baltic States news & analytics Saturday, 30.05.2020, 13:43

Estonian rectors disappointed with govt abandoning promise to increase research funding

BC, Tallinn, 28.05.2019.Print version
The Estonian three-party government coalition's decision to postpone increasing research spending to the promised one percent of GDP came as an unpleasant surprise to head of Estonia's universities, according to the Postimees reports LETA/BNS.

In December 2018, all Estonian political parties signed a document pledging to increase research financing to one percent of GDP,  save for the Estonian Conservative People's Party (EKRE), which called the objective too unambitious and announced that it should be increased to two percent instead.

"I believe that giving our word and our signatures serves as a guarantee that if one gives their word, it must be kept," Prime Minister and chairman of the Center Party Juri Ratas told public broadcaster ERR back then.

Now that the new government has reached its first results in the deliberation of the state budget strategy, it has become clear that no additional funds are to be expected in the coming four years and research spending will remain on the current level of 0.71% of GDP. 

"This is regrettable and unexpected, and puts universities in a very difficult financial situation. Support in higher education has not increased for five years -- effectively, we have to do high-quality work with the same amount of money as five years ago," rector of Tallinn University Tiit Land said, adding that he was disappointed at the news.

Land added that Estonian universities are now faced with two possible options -- either to cut back on their activities or return to paid higher education.

The option of bringing back tuition fees was also mentioned by rector of the Estonian University of Life Sciences Mait Klaasen, who noted that the government's decision made him feel deceived.

Rector of the Estonian Academy of Arts Mart Kalm told Postimees that the news is truly regrettable and may impact Estonian-language instruction more broadly. 

"It is not just research spending that needs to be increased, but also the financing of higher education. I don't know how much teachers' salaries will increase, but if they will not be raised at all, we will definitely need to convene a crisis meeting at the Academy of Arts and discuss which English-language curricula we can start offering to raise even a little bit of money. State financing is not enough and it would be deeply depressing if we had to pay university lecturers the same salary as high school teachers. I deeply regret that we are thus forced to decrease the share of Estonian-language instruction, but this is what national education policy is pushing us to do," Kalm said.

Rector of the University of Tartu Toomas Asser said that such frustrating conduct is far from being statesmanly and has a strong impact on research teams as well as the new generation of researchers, not to mention the society more broadly.

Rector of Tallinn University of Technology Jaak Aaviksoo said that based on the promises made by the prime minister in December, the university's plans for the future have already been made, the implementation of which is now doubtful. 

"The biggest problem is when agreements are changed unilaterally and substantially without discussing it with the other party. It is not just a matter of money, but also of trust. All in all, it's very poor practice," Aaviksoo said.

Estonian Minister of Research and Education Mailis Reps, who was at a meeting in Sweden when the deliberations of the state budget strategy took place on Monday, said that she is as displeased with the decision as researchers, but nevertheless hopes to reach the 1% target.

"It is of some consolation that research was granted additional 143 mln euros to maintain the current level of financing, but I understand that our expectations and hopes were and still are bigger than that. Our ambition is still to reach one percent of GDP. We will hopefully be able to take a big step towards that in August when the state budget prognosis is finalized and the state's financial means for increasing research spending have been ascertained," Reps said.

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