New IT college in Estonia

  • 1999-12-09
  • By Brooke Donald
TALLINN - In another move that signals Estonia's commitment to
everything high-tech, the government announced last week that it is
prepared to invest over 40 million kroons ($2.59 million)) for a new
college specializing in information technology and telecommunications.

The expectation that Estonia's economy will soon be heavily driven by
the electronics sector is the impetus for such a college, said Linnar
Viik, the prime minister's adviser on computerization and information

The market demand for specialists in the computer industry has risen
disproportional to the number of qualified people available to work
in that sector, he said. The government also believes that by
increasing the capacity of the domestic IT sector, more foreign
capital will be brought into Estonia.

In a recent survey by the Estonian Investment Agency, highly trained
and qualified human resources ranked as a top priority to foreigners
interested in investing in Estonia. The IT sector was also mentioned
as having the biggest potential growth compared to other industries.

"The shift on the employment market happened so quickly that
educational institutions were not able to reply to the demand," Viik

Currently, courses in IT and telecommunications are offered at
universities around the country including Tartu University, Tallinn
Technical University, Tallinn Pedagogical University and other
private colleges, but they don't concentrate on practical
application, Viik said.

The new college, scheduled to open on Sept. 1, 2000, will be a three-
year institution offering classes in binary mathematics, logistics
and systems design, for example. In addition to the technology
courses, Viik said emphasis will also be paid to the management and
business side of IT. Courses in IT management will teach skills to
run a more efficient workplace, the importance of continuing
education and the basics of electronic commerce.

Around 200 students will be admitted to the college, whose structure
is loosely based on another IT college in Stockholm. Viik said that
Estonia's college plans on cooperating with foreign universities and
electronics specialists to insure the most up-to-date and most
qualified instruction and facilities. Virtual classrooms will also be
set up to bring those foreigners into the Tallinn college.

The specific location of the college is still being decided, but
preliminary plans are to refurbish an existing government building
that is currently unoccupied. Private businesses and banks have
offered funding for the school, and because of their and the
government's location in Tallinn, the least expensive option for the
college was the capital city, Viik said.

Eesti Telekom is donating 2 million kroons to help the college get on its feet.

"We are really concerned about this kind of education," Raul Kalev,
public relations manager at Eesti Telekom, said. "At the moment [this
sector] is not over invested."

The telecommunications company, which owns Eesti Telefon and Eesti
Mobiiltelefon, normally donates to scholarship funds at other area
universities as well.

"Estonia has quite good opportunities and quite big developments
ahead. We need to catch up to our western neighbors," Kalev said.

Currently Estonian colleges graduate about three times less the
number of students specialized in electronics and computer technology
than their Nordic neighbors, according to Viik.

The hope is the new college, which will function as a non-profit
organization, will encourage more students to go into IT jobs.

Students will have to pay around 40,000 kroons a year to get the
high-tech education, which Viik admits is a hefty sum compared to the
tuition at other Estonian universities. State-run universities such
as Tartu University and Tallinn Technical University are free, for
example, and the private Estonian Business School costs approximately
17,000 kroons per semester.

But, the government is relying on private support to make the
advanced degree available to everyone. And, the government is
confident that even students who find it necessary to take out a loan
will feel comfortable in doing so because of the high returns in the
IT field.

"The tuition is higher, but the students should get access to top
technology and instruction," Viik said. "We are not worried about the
funding capital, nor the fee. Everybody should have access, via
scholarships or loans, even a poor family."