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International Internet Magazine. Baltic States news & analytics Friday, 14.08.2020, 16:59

Estonian universities mulling universal tuition fee

BC, Tallinn, 27.09.2019.Print version
The University of Tartu is testing the waters and lobbying for an idea to charge all students a fixed tuition fee. Other universities are pondering similar solutions and agree that the current situation in higher education funding cannot go on, according to the Postimees information reported LETA/BNS.

Proponents of the idea say an OECD assessment from 2007 found that a universal tuition fee would be the best fit for Estonia.

University of Tartu Prorector Aune Valk said the ball is in the state's court and that there are three options, broadly speaking. The government could either allocate more funding for universities based on growth of average salary and the consumer price index, reintroduce tuition fees, or cut back the system by shutting down curricula and admitting fewer students. Valk said that by charging every student 100 euros a month or around 1,000 a year, universities could boost their income by 25%, good for half of what is needed.

TalTech Rector Jaak Aaviksoo meanwhile said that 1,000 euros would get lost in the system and a functional solution would be an annual tuition fee of 3,000 euros or more.

Also Aaviksoo stressed that if Estonia is unable to go on with the model of free higher education, a new one must be found.  

According to Postimees, the top ranks of Estonia's adacemia argue that the countries able to maintain free higher education are contributing about 1.5% of their gross domestic product to it. In Estonia that ratio is set to fall to half a percent if the present trend continues.

Valk said that the only country in Europe where higher education is free and the country is paying less for it than Estonia is Greece.

Advocates of the tuition fee system point out that the additional five million euros allocated by the state for 2020 allows to cope with wage pressure only in that year and constitutes no long-term solution. 

Mait Klaassen, rector of the Estonian University of Life Sciences and a member of the Reform Party, said that while the extra allocated by the state allows to raise the salaries of teachers, there are large numbers of auxiliary staff at universities whose wage pressure is also a problem.

Political support is now being rallied for the idea of a universal tuition fee, as introducing the fee requires an amendment to law. In line with the system of free higher education in place in Estonia since 2013, it is possible to charge a fee only in specific cases, such as for part-time study and from students studying in an English-language curriculum.

Minister of Education and Research Mailis Reps suggests universities cool their heels. When universities were told they cannot charge tuition fees in 2013, they were given more money than disappeared from the system, she said.

"That money was conditional, allocated in exchange for certain reforms. However, universities have not managed to curb duplication and make all the difficult decisions regarding their staff, have not optimized," the Center Party minister said.

Reps said she supports the current system and that while existing agreements obligate the state to increase funding, universities must go over their expenses.

Tallinn University Prorector Priit Reiska said that while the topic of study fees has not been discussed specifically at Tallinn University, it is necessary that the debate on increasing own contribution by students expand beyond the University of Tartu as it doesn't look like the state is prepared to think along. 

"If the system remains as it is, there will be ever less free higher education as we will be pulling it together all the time -- both the number of specialties as well as options within the curricula," he said. 

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