Estonian universities say three years for B.A.

  • 2000-04-27
  • By Jaclyn M. Sindrich
TALLINN - Voldemar Kolga, head of Tallinn Pedagogical University's gender studies department, agrees wholeheartedly that adopting Western standards is, for the most part, a step in the right direction for Estonia.

What he doesn't think the West has to offer his country is shorter university educations. It may be too late.

Estonia's largest institute of higher learning, the University of Tartu, will reportedly instate three-year bachelor's degree programs starting this fall, replacing the traditional four-year study.

But by 2002, shortened university terms - at both public and private schools - may be the norm for all Estonian students, and European Union standards are indeed the reason for it, Hillar Bauman of the Education Ministry admitted. Bauman is an expert in higher education.

"From the Estonian point of view, this is some threat to our education. The system is becoming worse compared to Soviet times," Kolga lamented. He suggested that this time, Estonia has gone too far to appease the EU, which has three-year programs more prevalently.

In fact, the option to switch to a three-year system has been available to universities since Parliament passed a law on the matter last year. Schools design the appropriate shortened curriculums and submit the proposals to the Ministry of Education for approval.

So far, only the Tallinn and Tartu branches of the Mainor Business College have officially taken advantage of it, now advertising B.A.'s in three years starting next fall.

Peeter Muursepp, vice rector of the private business college, explained that the Education Ministry recommended the school offer the shorter program when it submitted its application to introduce bachelor's degrees last winter. Mainor Business College agreed, and it is not looking back.

"This is the system that works in the Nordic countries. We think our cultural and structural backgrounds are quite close," said Muursepp, noting that he expects enrollment and degree conferrals to increase because of the change.

Another private school, Concordia International University, will likely implement the three-year program in the fall of 2002, according to adviser to the rector, Ingrid Alttoa.

Alttoa sounded optimistic about the change. She argued that quantity doesn't mean quality. In reality, students don't reach higher levels of knowledge with an extra year of attending classes, slaving over texts and papers and exams. Instead, they are more likely to burn out.

"I find more benefits to shorter time and concentrated studies," she said.

In addition, she assured that once the requirements are reduced, students will be more likely to continue on to a master's degree.

She pointed out that Finland, for example, mandates students have 120 credits for a bachelor's degree, and 80 more for a master's. Estonian students must have substantially more credits - 160 - for the same bachelor's degree, plus 80 total for a master's.

"At the moment, students are studying more in Estonia than they would be in other Western European countries, so they have a comparative advantage. We are positive about that," she said.

The change should also attract more international students, once they see they can get a degree for the same amount of work they would face in the rest of Europe, Alttoa explained.

As of yet, Concordia has made no official decisions about reductions. Which classes are cut out from the requirements will depend on the choice of individual universities, she said.

Kolga worried that too many important courses and electives will be eliminated, such as his introductory women's studies class, leaving students shortchanged before they set off into the "real world."

"I think more education is a good thing," he said.