TALLINN - The Research and Development Council led by Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas discussed on Tuesday the proposals of the council's working group on how to ensure the sustainability and quality of the Estonian higher education system.
One of the proposals of the working group is to include more private funds. A small part of the funding should also come from tuition fees, which would be supported by the reform of study loans and education allowances. The Ministry of Education and Research must propose the new model of long-term funding for higher education for discussion by fall next year.
"Higher education has been underfunded for a long time and we have made very important decisions with the current government to improve the situation. We increased the state funding for higher education in the next four years by 15 percent per year. At the same time, to maintain world-class higher education, the funding should increase even further," the prime minister, Kaja Kallas said. "The sustainability working group for higher education made a proposal to include private funds. It is a proposal that we need to discuss as a society."
Minister of Education and Research Tonis Lukas said that the model of funding for higher education must not decrease the availability of higher education.
"We must definitely continue providing free higher education in Estonian, so that the Estonian youth would study in Estonian universities. Instead of the model of funding for higher education, we should change the conditions of acquiring free higher education, thus ensuring the availability to higher education to a higher number of upper secondary school graduates, while also influencing them to be responsible in choosing a specialty."
The proposal for establishing a moderate tuition fee was submitted by a working group of researchers and experts, who analyzed how to ensure the quality of the higher education system in 15 years.
The working group led by Marek Tamm points out that establishing a tuition fee offers an opportunity to better guide the students in choosing their specialties, and for specialties important to the state, tuition fees could be waived. To ensure that the establishment of a tuition fee would not decrease the availability of higher education, the working group proposes developing a new system for study loans and education allowances. The study loan system must allow the students to fully cover their tuition fees and living costs.
The working group also made a comparison that although the higher education expenses of the public sector of Estonia as a percentage of the GDP are similar to the average level of the EU, when comparing Estonia to countries where higher education is free for most students, only Cyprus and Greece spend less on higher education.
The Research and Development Council decided that considering the proposals of the report of the working group, the Ministry of Education and Research along with Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, Ministry of Finance, and other partners must develop a model of funding for higher education and submit it to the Research and Development Council for discussion in September next year.
The Research and Development Council also discussed the model of an applied research center suitable for Estonia. Its main goal is to conduct research and development activities based on the needs of companies. The proposal of the working group was to create an independent facility which would initially focus on five areas -- biorefining, drone technology, autonomous vehicles, hydrogen technology, and health data.
Minister of Entrepreneurship and Information Technology Kristjan Jarvan said that in innovation leaders and countries with a significant economic growth, applied research centers have a clear role in increasing the internal development and innovation capability of companies.
"The task of applied research centers is to accelerate the companies in certain areas, so that they could be competitive on the global market and to ensure that the Estonian economy as a whole would become smarter."
Trends in the state budget financing of research and development activities were also discussed at Tuesday’s meeting of the Research and Development Council.
The Research and Development Council is a council advising the government, focusing mainly on the strategic issues of research and innovation policy.