Estonian academics demand more funding for higher education and research

Academic unions say that the current center-right coalition government in Estonia has backtracked from its promise to raise state funding for research to 1% of the country’s GDP

August 08, 2019 by Peoples Dispatch
Academic protests - Estonia
Rectors of Estonian universities are apprehensive that the government’s decision could lead to the reinstatement of paid higher education in Estonia.

Teachers and workers at Estonian universities are outraged at the current government’s refusal to increase funding for research and development in its state budget strategy for 2020-2023. The coalition government, consisting of the social-liberal Center Party, the conservative Pro Patria (ISAMAA) and the right-wing Conservative People’s Party of Estonia (EKRE), had promised in April to increase spending on research sector to 1% of the country’s GDP.

There has been a long-pending demand from academics for an increase in funding. The Federation of the Estonian Universities, Institutions of Science, Research and Development (UNIVERSITAS), among other academic trade unions, has been at the forefront of the protests against the negligence of the government in the academic and scientific sectors.

Rectors of Estonian universities are apprehensive that the government’s decision could lead to the reinstatement of paid higher education in Estonia, apart from a decline in the volume of activity in the universities.

“We are far behind in the public funding of research,” said Triin Roosalu, chairperson of the Academic Trade Union Council and a member of UNIVERSITAS. “There is an agreement in the government strategy pegging it to 1% of the GDP, while in reality, it is now at the 0.5% level.”

Roosalu also said that the funding in the academic and research sector has been struggling to keep up with economic growth in Estonia. Compared to private and public sectors, the salaries of higher education employees have been increasing at a much slower pace.

The LeftEast reported that on June 5, the academic community in Estonia went on a warning strike and staged various protests, especially in Tartu and Tallinn. In May, academic trade unions petitioned for better work conditions and a 30% increase in wages. In April 2018, Estonian researchers had organized a protest outside the Estonian parliament to draw attention to the problem of funding in the academic sector.

All the universities in the country (six public universities and a private university) have been reeling under a funds shortage since the 2008 economic crisis. There has been little improvement in public spending even after the economy got stabilized in 2010.

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