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International students in Estonia in 2018/2019

Kristina Piliste

2018 saw a noticeable rise in the number of international students who started their studies in Estonia – the increase for international admission was nearly 25%. The biggest number of students can still be found in master’s programmes, however there has been a rise on all levels of study. For the first time, the number of international PhD students in Estonia has risen above 500.  Unlike previous years, the most popular programmes among international students are still business and  law, and humanities and arts; however, third place has now officially been claimed by the ICT field (replacing the previous third place owner – the field of engineering, construction and production engineering). 

Take a look at some of the statistics on international students in Estonia in 2018:

  • number of international students per study level
  • TOP 10 countries
  • number of curricula taught in English
  • most popular study fields

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Study in Estonia has a brand new website

Kristina Piliste

The long process of updating and re-branding the Study in Estonia website has finally been completed and from now on information about Estonian higher education and study possibilities can be found from the renewed website.

The new website was created by Trinidad Wiseman OÜ.

Any errors that occur while using the new website should be reported to International Marketing Specialist Kristina Piliste (


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Youth e-democracy developers from 30 countries met in Tallinn

Sihtasutus Archimedes

70 experts from 30 different countries met in Tallinn Creative Hub from 18 till 20 June 2018 to discuss how digital solutions can be used to increase the involvement of young people in decision-making processes.

From January this year Estonia was awarded the right to host a Europe-wide SALTO-YOUTH Participation and Information Resource Centre (SALTO PI). Last week the Centre brought together developers of e-democracy and youth e-participation platforms, youth policy makers, as well as youth workers and youth leaders for an international seminar „eXploring Youth eParticipation“. The aim of the seminar was to identify challenges that hinder greater and more meaningful involvement of young peole in democratic processes and to connect developers of eParticipation platforms with youth policy makers, youth workers and youth leaders.

„Despite the fact that young people are often the initiators of innovative solutions, in most European countries the concepts of e-participation and smart youth work are not yet a common part of everyday youth work practice,“ said Martti Martinson, coordinator of SALTO PI. According to Martinson the main factor contributing to the status quo is the lack of knowledge about existing digital platforms and applications created specifically for the involvement of young people in democracy. “This event was also quite unique as never before have developers of so many different platforms, practitioners and policy makers had the opportunity to meet at the same forum,” said Martinson.

E-participation projects can be very diverse in their scope and focus: “For example OPIN platform has been used in Cremona, Italy by over 1000 school students to decide on the budget for student-led projects. In Malta, iParticipate team has used OPIN for brainstorming and moved the discussion on vote@16 which surely contributed to the recent decision by Maltese Parliament to lower the voting age to 16,” outlined Evaldas Rupkus, project manager at IJAB.

CitizenOS, BiPart, Brabbl, OPIN, STEP, WEchange, and YouthMetre were among the e-participation platforms represented at the seminar. An English version of a Massive Open Online Course jbjMOOC! on initiating and facilitating youth e-participation projects was also launched at the seminar.

Energizers on the first day of the seminar

SALTO PI is one of the six Europe-wide resource centres in the youth field which provides advice, training and resources on youth participation and information for the National Agencies of Erasmus+:Youth in Action as well as to the European Commission, youth workers and youth leaders. SALTO PI is located within Archimedes Foundation Youth Agency in Estonia and is funded through the EU Erasmus+ programme. This seminar was organised by SALTO PI in cooperation with IJAB and the National Youth Agencies of Estonia, Latvia and Germany.

SALTO PI coordinator Martti Martinson greeting the participants

One of nine e-participation platforms represented in the seminar

Participants from EU neighbourhood countries were also invited to the seminar

Head of Estonian National Youth Agency Reet Kost welcoming guests arriving to the seminar

Stefano Stortone from Italy leading a discussion


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International students in Estonia in 2017/2018

Kristina Piliste

The number of foreign students that wish to acquire higher education in Estonia is on the rise. The majority of international students are working to obtain a master’s degree. The number of international PhD students has also made a significant leap compared to last year.

Take a look at some of the statistics on international students in Estonia in 2017:

  • number of international students per study level
  • TOP 10 countries
  • number of curricula taught in English
  • most popular study fields



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Making of Study Estonia video presentations

Kristina Piliste

In December 2017 Study Estonia in collaboration with Work Estonia and Estonian universities and institutions did several YouTube live events on living and studying in Estonia. We’ve combined these various presentations into one 100-second “Making of” video for you to enjoy!

The live sessions were carried out together with University of Tartu, Tallinn University of Technology, Tallinn University, Estonian Academy of Arts and Estonian Entrepreneurship University of Applied Sciences.

The presentations included the following topics:

  • Why study in Estonia
  • Admission process
  • Accommodation and livingin Estonia
  • Working in Estonia
  • Scholarships
  • Institutions offering fully English taught degree programmes


Watch the “Making of Study Estonia video presentations” video:


Watch the whole playlist with 13 video sessions:


Study Estonia is a cooperation platform of institutions of higher education in Estonia to increase visibility of Estonia as an attractive study destination and promote the possibilities for studying for international students. The activities are coordinated by Archimedes Foundation in the framework of Dora Plus activity and financed by the European Regional Development Fund.


Additional information:

Kristina Piliste
Study Estonia
Archimedes Foundation

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Erasmus+ strategic partnerships in education (KA2)

Eero Loonurm

The Estonian Erasmus+ National Agency organised a cross-sectoral contact seminar “Enhancing Digital Competences in Education and Training” open to all Erasmus+ programme countries on September 17-20. For the conference the Estonian National Agency made a video to introduce Erasmus+ strategic partnership action (KA2). 

We invited to Tallinn more than 70 education experts from schools, VET and higher education institutions, adult education organisations, teacher training centres, enterprises and research institutions representing all education sectors and interested in digital competences and committed to develop Erasmus+ strategic partnerships.
In 2016 the contact seminar was very successful and seven projects were later funded by the EU. This time 11 potential cooperation ideas were generated by the end of the event and we hope to see good Erasmus+ project proposals submitted in 2018.

“We hope this video will give a good insight to the Erasmus+ KA2 strategic partnerships action. It is not always so easy to find quickly the right information regarding the cooperation possibilities of my school or organisation in Erasmus+ from the Commission´s website or the Programme Guide. In this case the video should help a lot. This short video will also give advice how to begin with the international collaboration and what are the first steps to bear in mind,” added Hannelore Juhtsalu, the project manager of the video production.

Strategic Partnerships (KA2) aim to support the development, transfer and/or implementation of innovative practices as well as the implementation of joint initiatives promoting cooperation, peer learning and exchanges of experience at European level.

Video “Strategic partnerships (KA2)” – subtitles in English

Video “Strategic partnerships (KA2)” – subtitles in Estonian

Erasmus+ is the EU’s programme to support education, training, youth and sport in Europe. Its budget of €14.7 billion will provide opportunities for over 4 million Europeans to study, train, gain experience, and volunteer abroad.

More information:

Archimedes Foundation
Erasmus+ in Estonia
Erasmus+ European Commission

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Erasmus story – Grete Paia and her mobility experience

Sihtasutus Archimedes

Grete is an Estonian successful singer and songwriter. She is a student in Estonian Business School and she was an Erasmus student in Italy in the academic year 2015/2016. Grete said: ‘I wasn’t scared anymore and I think this newfound confidence was a direct result of my Erasmus+ experience.’

She is best known for performing in the country’s national Eurovision competition Eesti Laul in both 2013 and 2016. Grete spent a semester at Milan’s Bocconi University, where she studied marketing and finance. Her Erasmus+ experience enhanced her personal development; she became stronger, more independent and confident. She also became calmer, which has been key to conquering her stage fright. Grete says that she gained a ‘completely new mindset’ which helped her to develop her creativity, as she wrote many songs during her stay in Italy.


According to Grete the Erasmus+ generation is more open-minded than previous generations. Being born in a time of free movement, she doesn’t understand the idea of boundaries stopping her from going anywhere. ‘If I have a performance in another country, I never think of being stopped from going there. You should be able to go wherever you want.’ This natural freedom Grete feels will likely mean doing a second Erasmus+ stint in the future – perhaps a communication course in the University of Amsterdam.

Erasmus+ is enriching lives and opening minds!

More information:

European Commission web page Erasmus 30

Erasmus experience in the spotlight

Estonian Business School

About Grete Paia


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Study in Estonia – A Tech-Savvy International Destination Where Digital Nomads Feel at Home

Greta Roosaar


Estonia is a small country in Northern Europe. Despite its size, Estonia offers a lot of space and opportunities for foreigners coming here to study. On the one hand, it is one of the greenest countries in the world and has quite a low population density, which makes its living environment very health-friendly. On the other, Estonia is the perfect place for connecting with the whole world, as it is an innovative digital country.

Less is more

Forests cover more than half of Estonia, which is quite rare in Europe and in the world (2016 Environmental Performance Index, ranks 180 countries). The country also features isolated islets, beautiful lonely beaches, and deep untouched forest areas. Wherever you are, you can get to wilderness in less than 30 minutes. Having a low population density and more room for every person does not mean being lonely as a human being. On the contrary, it allows Estonian universities to use a more personal approach to engage each student in the study process. Thanks to its small population, Estonia also has less bureaucracy in universities and in government in general.

Digital and start-up-prone

Living and studying in Estonia is more comfortable for students because Estonia is a highly digitalised community. It is very common to declare your taxes online (in 2 minutes), make bank transfers via mobile phone, or do your weekly grocery shopping without ever leaving home. Children as young as 7 years are taught the principles and basics of coding; computer usage is generally widespread in all fields of life. The Republic of Estonia is the first country to offer e-Residency — a transnational digital identity available to anyone in the world interested in administering a location-independent business online. This technology enables secure and convenient digital services that facilitate credibility and trust on the Internet. Estonia already has thousands of e-residents, including Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany.

Estonia is also famous for its start-ups – it takes just five minutes to register a company and, according to The Economist, the country held the world record for the number of start-ups per person in 2013 (many Estonian start-ups are now successful companies that you may recognise, such as Skype, Transferwise, GrabCAD, and others). Based on success stories, Estonian universities have developed new unique programmes that focus on high-tech education (e.g. cyber security, e-governance technologies and services, digital learning games).

Affordable and sensible student destination


View to Tallinn from the roof of the City Hall (Linnahall). Photo:

Estonia has very affordable living costs – The Business Insider has listed Estonia as home to two of the most affordable European cities to live in (Tartu and Tallinn). The same can be said about studying in Estonia – there are many scholarships and tuition-free programmes available, especially at the Master’s level.

In addition to being affordable, Estonia also has reasonable conditions for students to look for a job. International students are allowed to work full-time during their studies, as long as it does not interfere with their education. Taking up a job does not require a separate permit – if an international is allowed to study, it automatically ensures the right to work. Students are also allowed to stay in the country for six months after graduation to look for employment. It is not always easy to find a job if you do not speak the local language; however, most Estonians do speak English and the field for English-speaking positions is growing. There is an annual work fair organised specifically for foreign students, which also helps bring together companies and students.

A recent discovery in the world of international higher education

Among international students, Estonia is still a rather recent discovery and the number of international students is growing by nearly 20% every year. The student body is quite diverse – there are students from neighbouring countries, such as Finland, Russia, and Latvia, from other European countries, such as Germany, Italy, UK etc., and from other countries all over the world, such as the USA, Georgia, India, China, and so on – all together from 90 different countries. All of them can choose between 140 degree programmes taught entirely in English.


Estonian University of Life Sciences campus. Photo:

The most important fact is that 89% of international students are satisfied with their studies in Estonia (according to the International Student Barometer 2015). If you still have not discovered this small and innovative place to study, there is an excellent opportunity for attending the Study in Estonia webinar week at the end of November and at the beginning of December (more information about studying in Estonia).


The article was published in Studyportals web site Mastersportal in November 2016.

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How Estonia Became an Attractive Study Destination

Eero Loonurm

Estonia is one of the smallest countries in the EU, yet it has more than 20 higher education institutions, offering more than 100 different degree programmes in English. Every year, Estonian universities welcome more and more international students from all over the world. Internationally recognised English-based degree programmes and shorter courses are offered by universities that have agreed on common high academic standards and support services by signing the Agreement on Good Practice in the Internationalisation of Estonia’s Higher Education Institutions. When it comes to international higher education we know that the size and limited resources of a small country make it more challenging to compete with larger countries with globally known institutions. Estonia is always looking to become more efficient, using limited resources smartly and, being always tech-savvy, everything is evaluated, analysed and tracked with advanced methods based on IT and broad-based cooperation with higher education instutitions and other national and international stakeholders.

Numbers and figures

According to the Estonian Education Information System, this academic year (2015/2016), Estonia hosted nearly 3,500 international degree students, more than 1,600 exchange students and around 400 participants of summer or winter schools. Ten years ago the situation was totally different. Estonia had a litte more than 700 incoming Erasmus students and less than 900 international degree students in the year 2007. The number of international degree students in Estonia has almost quadrupled from around 900 in 2008/09 to around 3,500 in 2015/16. Besides that the number of Erasmus exchange students has grown tremendously. In the academic year 2008/2009 Estonian higher education institutions hosted 708 students, but in the academic year 2015/2016 the respective figure increased to 1,642 students. The top sending countries of origin for international degree students are Finland, Russia, Ukraine, Nigeria, Georgia, Turkey, India, Latvia, China and the USA. These countries make 75 percent of all the international degree students. All in all, our students come from more than 100 different countries. The top sending countries for Erasmus exchange students are Germany, Italy, France, Czech Republic and Latvia.

When did it all start?

Why are more international students coming to Estonia? In the 1990s and in the beginning of the last decade our higher education institutions worked independently and carried out their own internationalisation activities without any remarkable cooperation with each other. This began to change some years later, in the mid-2000s with the establishment of Estonia’s Higher Education Internationalisation Strategy. The strategy was planned for ten years (2006–2015). As Estonia had entered the European Union just in 2004, this was exactly the right time to get the international experience and learn from major players in higher education international marketing. The state established Archimedes Foundation in 1997 with the objective to implement different national and international programmes in the field of training, education and research, beginning with Erasmus ending up with Youth in Action and academic recognition. In the early 2000s, it was decided that the foundation will be in charge of enhancing the attractiveness of Estonian higher education landscape. So, shortly after signing the strategy, in 2008, Archimedes Foundation launched the higher education international marketing campaign called „Study in Estonia“.

What did we agree on?

Estonia first agreed on the objective of internationalisation which was according to the higher education internationalisation strategy to improve the competitiveness in the region, to make the public more aware of our universities and our education and to create a legal and sustainable environment to support the development of internationalisation. Besides that there were pervading principes on implementing the whole strategy which were: valuing the international dimension, the development of the Estonian language, added value to society, autonomy of institutions of higher education and equal opportunities to all teachers and students regardless of their country of origin and to all Estonian institutions of higher education regardless of their size, type or area of specialisation. One of the key points about international students was that by 2015 Estonia was expected to have at least 2000 non-resident foreigners who would be enrolled in full-time study at its higher education institutions and universities. We then decided to focus on the main actions: coordinating and promoting our national brand together with our universities; focusing our marketing communication activities on top-priority target markets; playing on our national strengths and focusing on any kind of fields beginning with the economy ending up with culture and technology; focusing on our unique selling points; and enhancing the support systems that would help the students feeling welcome and taking the maximum out of their study experience.

About the future

As the amount of Estonian students is decreasing, there is a growing need to enhance the attractiveness of Estonia as a study destination. In the academic year 2007/2008 the student body (including both Estonian and international students) was over 68,000 students, but in 2015/2016 it was only around 51,000 students. The statistics show that the student body has decreased more than 20 percent. At the same time the amount of international degree students has risen and we expect Estonia to keep growing as a study destination. The long-term mobility of Estonian students is also decreasing, at the same time the short-term mobility schemes are extremely popular amongst the university students and professors. Our statistics show that mobility is not considered solely as a studying-oriented concept, but it has changed and is going to continue changing more towards practice and employability. We will continue to make it easier for international students regarding their career chances and employability. To sum up – Estonia has been successful in enhancing the attractiveness of its higher education and has focused on its strenghts. Hopefully in the future we can be a role model for others.

Eero Loonurm
Head of Communications Department
Archimedes Foundation


Estonian HE Internationalisation Strategy 2006–2015: default/files/higher_education_strategy.pdf
Estonian Education Information System: citizen/haridus_ja_teadus/isikukaart_eesti_ee_portaali
Estonian higher education international marketing web page
Eero Loonurm. International Lectures by OeAD. How Estonia Became an Attractive Study Destination

The article was written by Eero Loonurm and published in the “Schriftenreihe” series by the Austrian agency for international mobility and cooperation in education, science and research OeAD.

The OeAD organized during 2015-2016 the concept “International lectures” that offered talks and discussions on the topic of internationalisation of higher education institutions. Selected topics and contributions are summarized in the OeAD “Schriftenreihe” series.


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New illustrations for the Estonian national epic drawn by Spanish Erasmus student in Estonia

Eero Loonurm

Studying with the Erasmus programme in the Estonian Academy of Arts (Eesti Kunstiakadeemia) encouraged a young Spanish artist Joan Llopis Doménech to make new illustrations for the Estonian national epic „Kalevipoeg” (“Kalev’s Sons”). Doménech was taking different classes in printmaking techniques, lithography, comic books, stained glass lessons and many other fields.

Doménech opened an exhibition in Valencia last month – as the photos show, the opening in Museu de la Festa was full of admirers of the young artist’s work. The Spanish students was studying in the Estonian Academy of Arts in the academic year 2014/2015 and has stressed on the influence that the Academy had on his artistic development.

“My experience at EAA (Estonian Academy of Arts) was brilliant. In fact, it was during my Erasmus studies when I realized that illustration should be my vocation. Studying in Estonia helped me a lot to understand the diversity of subjects and the freedom of developing your own projects and ideas. I learned from everything – printmaking techniques, lithography, comic books or even stained glass lessons. Each subject has opened my mind and has been useful to improving my own style. Also, I’ve always felt support by the teachers, they really encourage students and pay attention to their views and goals, so it’s a very familiar atmosphere and you can feel more productive. Especially I want to say that the illustrator Gerda Märtens has helped me a lot and has been a great influence. My Estonian friends and classmates have always supported me in this project too and I’ve learned a lot from them,” said Doménech.

Doménech said that Erasmus programme has been truly marvelous and he hopes he can return to Estonia in the future.

“I fell in love with the Estonian nature, wandering through the forests… that calm atmosphere has been very inspiring to me and it’s one of my nicest memories of Estonia. Also there are no words to describe the city, I’ve felt very comfortable there and all those experiences have been magical. I could say that my Erasmus in Tallinn has really changed me, giving beautiful memories and motivation for my starting career as an illustrator,” added Doménech.

The Estonian national epic “Kalevipoeg”

Doménech said that he has been interested in folklore, mythology, ancient stories and tales for many years. At first, he was not sure of illustrating “Kalevipoeg” due to various reasons.

“The national epic exists in many versions in Estonia with stunning drawings and I thought that just living in Tallinn for one year… That it is not enough to understand the Estonian culture as deeply and thouroughly as needed and as much Estonian culture and art deserves. But I like these kind of ambitious aims and in fact I was really motivated by the difficulty of being a foreigner. So I started to read a lot, I started to find information about Estonian traditions, paganism and everything related to it’s nature and gods. Also buying books about Estonian traditional clothes, motives and decorative patterns, to draw it as faithful and accurate as possible. I started, while reading the book, (I read an English version of the original poem) to kind of investigate every element that appeared in each chapter, so every animal or plant has been drawn in a very careful and realistic way. The same happens in every element or symbolism, it has a reason behind,” explained Doménech.

Additional information:

Gallery in Facebook:

The news article in Estonian:



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Tallinn Gustav Adolph Gymnasium developed Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry

Sihtasutus Archimedes

Tallinn Gustav Adolph Gymnasium carried out a Nordplus Junior collaboration project between schools in Estonia, Sweden, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania and Russia. The idea was to have a cooperation project for developing Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry among students.

The cooperation project involves different Nordic and Baltic countries: schools from Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Russia (at their own expenses).

The project creates opportunities to popularise science education and interest in Sciences among the students and to strive towards achieving better results in these subjects. The highlight of the project is a large international Olympiad in mathematics, physics and chemistry, which is organised between the partner school students and involves more than 100 students and teachers all together.

More than twenty years ago the idea of competing in Sciences was brought to life by the oldest schools in Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius. Due to Nordplus Junior, the co-operation has become more large-scale and the schools from Helsinki, Vasteras and St. Petersburg have been involved in the project. During the year 2016 we hope to involve a partner school from Copenhagen to be a part of the Olympiad.


The whole project demands extremely thorough preparation work and very open-minded discussions between all participating schools; therefore, the tasks between the schools are divided long before the Science Olympiad takes place:

The teachers in the project will agree upon the topics in Science competition and the competition tasks will be compiled in collaboration with local universities. The teachers instruct students more than usual and give them more challenging and complex Science tasks during the period before the Olympiad. Finally, every school establishes their team of six “mathematicians”, “physicists” and “chemists” – all together 18 students – to participate in the Olympiad.

The Science competition takes place in rotation at one of the partner schools. The event has its own traditions, which include festive opening and closing ceremonies, the Olympiad day, cultural and educational activities, friendship evenings for all the participants etc.

In order to select the best mathematicians, physicists and chemists for the Olympiad, the international teams of partner school science teachers correct the students’ tasks together, which is extremely important and useful for the development of the teachers and science departments.

“This was a wonderful experience for me and I hope this tradition will go on for many years! The event was overall a success and all my friends had a great time in Tallinn! I will consider coming to compete again next year.”, Joonas, student from Finland

“My experience from all this is more than I expected! I really enjoyed the whole trip, and I will try to be a part of it next year too!”, Anonymous, student from Sweden

Results and products

Due to the project, there is an increasing interest in learning mathematics, physics and chemistry among the partner school students. During the project, the schools have had a possibility to focus on the importance of sciences and have had a chance to work out special courses for students who are interested and talented in Sciences in order to prepare them for the competition.

The schools have had an opportunity to arrange a big international Science event, which is a big challenge and an exciting event for students.


Students have had a chance to compare their knowledge in science, study how to cooperate, communicate with people from different cultures and get more motivation for setting higher goals in the future. All participating students can see much wider perspectives to develop their talents further, to continue their studies in different European countries. Most importantly, they have created their own network of relationships among the young people from the participating countries.

For the teachers, the project has made it possible to work as an International team. Teachers have had an opportunity to share their working methods, the best practice and study materials with each other. In addition, they have had a possibility to compare the national curricula in sciences in six European countries. The project has encouraged mathematics, physics and chemistry teachers to use innovative techniques and technologies in the teaching process.

All the high quality science tests, which are specially compiled in co-operation with local universities for the contest, are revealed to the public on the project webpage after the contest. They are available for other schools to use and popularise Science among students to give the talented students an extra task and challenge and enable an individual approach to students’ needs in lessons. Also, the tasks and solutions provide an opportunity for students to test themselves.

Additional information:

Nordplus Online home page
The project home page

Name of the project: The co-operation between the Nordic and Baltic countries for developing Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry
Article written by: Kerli Koppel

Nordplus Junior Project coordinator:
Tallinn Gustav Adolph Gymnasium (EE)
Type of institution: Primary/secondary school
Postal address: Suur-Kloostri 16 10133 Tallinn
Web page:
Contact information: Hendik Agur


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OECD review: Estonian education system performs well

Eero Loonurm

The OECD published its Review of School Resources on Estonia on Wednesday. It found that while Estonia’s system performed well, there was room for improvement concerning structural matters as well as how the country dealt with Russian speakers and special educational needs students.

The report analyzed the use of resources in the Estonian school system. In detail, it examined the organization of the school network, the funding of education, school organization and operation, and the teaching workforce.

The Estonian system generally performed very well

Several positive points were mentioned. The report described the Estonian school system as high-performing, and said that it had made significant advancements. Participation in schooling in Estonia was almost universal, and the amount of adults with secondary education was among the highest in the OECD, the authors stated.

Also, the proportion of adults holding a tertiary qualification was above the OECD average, and the performance of students in international assessments at the secondary level among the best in Europe in reading, mathematics, and science.

About general access to education and matters of equal opportunity, the report stated that the social and economic background of Estonian students had a small impact on where they went to school.


Consolidation of small schools inevitable: The Estonian system is too big for its student numbers. School on the island of Ruhnu (Liis Treimann/Postimees)

Lots of adults without a professional degree, low education completion rate, Russian schools

But the report also brought out a few negative points. Most significantly, a large proportion of young adults didn’t have a professional or vocational qualification, and the rate of students who completed their vocational education was low.

Moreover, while at the secondary level students’ socio-economic background had a smaller impact on performance compared to other OECD countries, the authors of the report expressed concerns about the performance of students in Russian language schools, though they recognized recent improvements to the system.

Initiatives by the government to improve the situation

Estonia’s initiatives to improve the quality of the education system got a lot of positive attention in the report, among them improving how the schools are financed, the Estonian Lifelong Learning Strategy 2020, the 2011 curricular reform in general education, the 2013 new standard for vocational education, and the introduction of a new competency-based career system for teachers.


The report lined up policy recommendations, several of which will likely be discussed in more detail in the course of the currently ongoing administrative reform debate.

The authors recommended to consolidate the school network further, which should be in line with the government’s current efforts. It stated that Estonia’s extensive school network would likely need to shrink, or at the very least to be made a lot more efficient. Built up to provide education at even levels across all of the country, the size of the school network and the teaching workforce had not adjusted to the student population, which had shrunk considerably.

Apart from class sizes and the spread of the school network, the report suggested that planning capacity, co-ordination mechanisms and collaboration between parishes would be the cornerstone of creating a more efficient and equitable school network.

To the proponents of administrative reform as well as to those who followed the developments thus far this is nothing new. Katrin Pihor of policy and governance think tank Praxis told ERR News in March that better public service as envisaged by the government depended on the design and the application of these services.

“I don’t see the need to merge for example schools or care homes physically. We could have teachers travelling across a parish and work in different small schools, or we could have care home departments located in different parts of a parish. However, their management and administrative services could be merged, and this is an important factor for quality and efficiency,” Pihor said.

The OECD report made similar recommendations. Among other things, it suggested cooperation between parishes,which could involve the co-management of basic schools, improved transportation services, and the common use of various facilities.

This could happen in various ways, the authors suggested. Small schools could be closed or consolidated, services within schools reduced “with due consideration to the costs and feasibility of different alternatives, such as transporting students and housing them at boarding schools.”

The currently ongoing recentralization of the management and funding of general upper secondary education would bring along a number of challenges and should be approached very carefully, the authors stated. One solution to the problem of class and student body sizes they suggested was to set a threshold class size, which would then decide whether or not students could be funded through the state grant.

An exception to such a measure, the authors concede, would have to be a school’s identification as important to a more remote area, or in other words not to close it or refuse to support it if it guaranteed access to education in a particular rural region.

Making vocational education more attractive

Socially as well as economically, Estonia’s policy focus has been on higher education. The report spelled out the need to increase the attractiveness of professional and vocational education to balance this.

The government’s efforts in the matter were adequate, the report stated, and acknowledged how it placed increasing emphasis on strengthening the mechanisms for the vocational education and training (VET) system, last but not least to adjust to changing labour market needs.

Challenges facing vocational education were its low status among students and parents, its high drop-out rates, and few opportunities for students to engage in work-based learning and apprenticeships.

To improve the situation, the report suggested making programmes more relevant for the labour market and for regional development. Also, employers should be involved more. A more rounded approach, the authors suggested, could include funding that would give institutions more stability and better incentives to improve completion rates, improved career guidance for students, more committed engagement from employers, and making sure that regional development strategies would be taken into account.

Extra resources for Russian students and students with special educational needs

The report pointed out that Estonia had a well-developed network of special education schools, but that there had been a lack of efforts to integrate children with special educational needs into regular school classes.

One solution the report suggested was funding for regular schools for special educational needs students. This could be turned into an additional revenue stream for regular schools. In turn, these funds would then allow schools to hire the teachers they need to accommodate these students.

Another component, the report stated, was to adequately prepare teachers to accommodate special educational needs students in regular classes.

On the subject of Russian-speaking students, the report brought out that language acquisition was clearly an issue. Problems related to it meant that Russian-speaking students would be slowed down or even kept from making their way through the Estonian education system, and that these issue would also raise the system’s overall cost.

Language barriers were likely to distort the choice of upper secondary programmes by Russian-speaking students in favour of vocational programmes, the report stated, and as such went against Estonia’s commitment to equal opportunity and fair treatment.

The report recommended that the government consider “developing an earmarked grant designed to provide financial support to municipalities and schools for the additional hours of Estonian language instruction necessary to make Russian-speaking students proficient in the country’s official language.”

Editor: Dario Cavegn (ERR)
The text initially was published in the news of online magazine Estonian Public Broadcasting on April 6, 2016.

Original post (Estonian Public Broadcasting):

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