Estonia

RegionNorthern Europe
CapitalTallinn
LanguageEstonian
Population1,328,360
Expenditure on higher education3 %
Unemployment5,13 %
EuroUniversities in top 1001
EuroUniversities in top 2503
EuroUniversities in top 5006
EuroUniversities in top 10006
Students46,300
Foreigner students0,8 %
Enrollment rate in higher education70,2 %

Estonia is a country on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea in Northern Europe.  The most important objectives in education in the following years are specified in the Estonian Lifelong Learning Strategy 2020 or the education strategy. The general goal of the strategy is providing all people in Estonia with learning opportunities that are specific for their needs and capabilities throughout their whole lifespan in order to provide them with opportunities for dignified self-actualisation as individuals in the society, in their work and in their family life. In order to pursue the general goal, five strategic goals have been specified together with measures to be taken to achieve the goals. The goals regard all learners, including children and young people as well as adults and the elderly; and achievement of the goals depends on the contribution of everyone involved: the learners themselves, employers, etc.

Achievement of the strategic goals of lifelong learning in higher education has been specified in the higher education programme.    

In Estonia, the higher education system has two branches: study is carried out in the academic and the professional higher education branch.

The general structure of academic study has three levels or cycles:

  • the first level is Bachelor’s study;
  • the second level is Master’s study;
  • the third level is Doctoral study

Professional higher education is, similarly to Bachelor’s study, the first level of higher education, which ensures access to Master’s study. Completion of respective studies at each level of higher education is considered the graduation from an educational institution.

In case of medical training, veterinary training, pharmacist training, dentistry training, architectural studies, civil engineering studies and teachers’ training for general teachers, study is based on integrated curricula of Bachelor’s and Master’s study and gives the qualification of the second level of academic higher education.

An academic year is divided into two terms – the autumn and the spring term. An academic year begins in September and ends in June. Both the autumn and the spring term generally last for five months, the volume of which in credit points makes one half of the study load of an academic year. The autumn term usually lasts, based on the decision of the educational institution, from September to December; and the examination session is in January. The spring term lasts from the end of January or the beginning of February to the end of May, but examinations often take place until the end of June. Students shall have at least eight weeks of holiday each year.

The study load determined in the curriculum shall be expressed in credit points of European Credit Point Transfer System (ECTS). One credit point corresponds to 26 hours of work used by a student for studying. The study load of one academic year shall be 60 credit points, which is 1,560 hours of student’s work spent on studying.

Two types of institutions operate: universities and institutions of professional higher education. At a university, higher education is acquired at three levels: professional higher education and Bachelor’s study, Master’s study and Doctoral study. A professional higher education institution provides professional higher education. In a professional higher education institution, vocational training pursuant to the curriculum leading to the fifth level of the qualification framework may be provided in the same study programme group as the studies in professional higher education. Vocational training of the fourth level may be provided in a professional higher education institution for public defence or in a professional higher education institution organising studies in the field of health and well-being. In terms of the form of ownership, educational institutions can be state-owned, public and private.      

General legal bases for higher education

The general legal principles of higher education are determined in the Education Act of the Republic of Estonia, the Higher Education Act and in the Private Schools Act. The Education Act of the Republic of Estonia determines higher education as formal education and describes the types of higher education institutions.

  • The Higher Education Act determines the procedures for the establishment, merger, division and termination of the activities of universities and professional higher education institutions, the bases for the activities, the limits of autonomy, the principles of management, organisation of studies, incl. the principles of compilation of joint curricula, the system of quality assessment, the legal status of assets of universities; the principles of financing, the basic rights and obligations of teaching staff and students, and administrative supervision over the activities of universities.
  • Study Allowances and Study Loans Act provides for the conditions and procedure for granting allowances and study loan to students.

Furthermore, the Vocational Educational Institutions Act and the Adult Education Act and, in case of doctoral studies, the Organisation of Research and Development Act are applied. 

Uniform requirements for higher education studies and objectives of Bachelor’s, professional higher education, Master’s and Doctoral studies shall be established by a regulation of the Government of the Republic in the Standard of Higher Education, which applies to all levels of higher education. The Higher Education Standard forms a basis for granting higher education institutions the right to provide instruction, as well as for institutional accreditation, thematic assessment and organisation of studies. For medical training, veterinary training, pharmacist training, dentistry training, midwifery, nursing training, architectural studies or civil engineering studies or teacher training the provisions of higher education standard are applied having regard to differences arising from the framework requirements established by a regulation of the Government of the Republic. The Framework specifies the requirements for both curricula and teaching staff and also the competences to be acquired by completion of a corresponding curriculum. The correspondence of qualifications issued in Estonia at different periods is established with the regulation of the Government of the Republic Correspondence of qualifications of the Republic of Estonia and qualifications of the former Soviet Union before 20 August 1991.

The regulation Types and amounts of student state scholarships and the general terms and conditions for the grant thereof establishes the student state scholarships, the amounts and conditions with which a student must comply upon applying for the scholarship. There are following scholarships:

  • Specialty Scholarship
  • Performance Scholarship
  • scholarship for Doctoral students
  • scholarship for students with special educational needs
  • scholarship supporting the acquisition of higher education by students who have been in residential care or lived in a guardian family

Legislative References

Estonian Lifelong Learning Strategy

Higher Education Act

Vocational Educational Institutions Act

Private Schools Act

Adult Education Act

Framework requirements for teacher training

Framework requirements for medical training, veterinary training, pharmacist training, dentistry training, study in obstetrics, nursing training, architectural studies and civil engineering studies

Correspondence of qualifications issued in Republic of Estonia and qualifications issued in former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics prior to 20 August 1991

Study Allowances and Study Loans Act

Organisation of Research and Development Act

Types and amounts of student state scholarships and the general terms and conditions for the grant thereof

Bachelor’s studies and studies in professional higher education

Branches of Study

The standard period of Bachelor’s study as well as of professional higher education study is three to four years and the study load prescribed in the curriculum is 180–240 European Credit Transfer System credits. As an exception, the standard period of study of nursing study with specialisation in obstetrics is four and a half years. The study outcomes of Bachelor’s study and professional higher education study correspond to the study outcomes on the sixth level of Estonian and European qualification framework.

Students can make a choice between two types of curricula of the first cycle of higher education:

  • under theory-based Bachelor’s curricula, practical skills are created on the basis of theoretical principles; curricula presume strong general education knowledge;
  • under professional higher education curricula focused on practical training, theoretical knowledge is created mainly on the basis of practical needs: curricula contain practical work (incl. practical training in work environment) at least to the extent of 15%.

It is possible to access Master’s studies after the completion of either of the above curricula, on the presumption that the admission requirements established by the institution of professional higher education or university are fulfilled.

Classification of broad groups of studies, fields of study and curriculum groups in higher education is based on the principles of the International Standard Classification of Education ISCED.

The Standard of Higher Education establishes uniform requirements for studies at higher education level, including the requirements for the quality of studies and study programmes, for organisation of studies and conditions for the completion of studies under a curriculum. Further, the standard also establishes the minimum qualification requirements for the members of the teaching staff and the principles for recognition of prior learning and professional experience. Annexes to the Standard of Higher Education establish the learning outcomes of the level of education anda list of broad areas of study and fields of study and study programme groups where given educational institutions have the right to conduct studies and to issue corresponding academic degrees and diplomas.

Admission Requirements

All persons with secondary education or with a corresponding qualification have an equal right to compete to be admitted to a university, an institution of professional higher education or vocational school. 

The board of an educational institution establishes the conditions and procedures for admittance of students. In addition to an upper secondary education certificate, also the National Examination Certificate, results of entrance exams, professional aptitude interviews, academic aptitude tests, etc. may be considered. Higher education institutions have created specific possibilities for competing for study places for students with special needs and flexible forms of study for different target groups. For example, several educational institutions offer the people who are working, an opportunity to study in the evenings, at weekends, once a month, etc. Where justified, the higher education institution may set a maximum limit of students to be admitted to a study programme and fill the student places based on the applicants’ ranking in fulfilling the admission criteria.

A student is a person who is admitted to studies at the level of higher education (matriculation) until exclusion from studies.

No tuition fee is charged from a full-time student who pursues an Estonian study programme and completes the study programme in full. A higher education institution has the right (but not an obligation) to demand partial reimbursement of study costs from students who study part-time, do not comply with the requirement of full-time study or following a curriculum, the language of instruction of which is other than Estonian.   

The proficiency level of international students in the language of instruction is set by higher education institution. The procedures for admission and covering of study costs of persons who study on the basis of international agreements and who are not residents of Estonia are set out in accordance with these agreements.

Estonian higher education institutions do not have the right to implement the system of taking account of previous study results and professional experience (VÕTA) in the course of student admission as the primary admission requirement is the existence of a certificate of acquisition of secondary education. APEL (Accreditation of Prior and Experimental Learning) can be used with regard to other admission requirements and as a part of fulfilling the curriculum.

Curriculum

The objective of each curriculum is to offer a student the knowledge and skills necessary for starting work or continuing studies. Legislation establishes uniform requirements for higher education level curricula. The requirements concern the quality of studies, nominal period of the curriculum, the requirements for teaching staff, the conditions for access to studies and the conditions for completion of studies. All educational institutions have the right to develop curricula that fall within the framework of established general requirements and correspond to the profile of the institution; these curricula are approved by the board of the educational institution and registered in the Estonian Education Information System.

The Higher Education Standard sets out the study results at higher education levels, which form the basis for the development of curricula. Learning outcomes mean knowledge, skills and attitudes acquired at the level which is necessary for completion of the study programme. Learning outcomes inform both the learner and employer of the skills and knowledge achieved by completing a specific curriculum.

One of the characteristics of a learning outcomes-based curriculum is its modular structure. By selecting modules, a student specialises in his or her main field of study and, if necessary, also in one or more secondary fields of study. For the purpose of specialising in a certain field of study, the educational institution offers the student necessary modules. The final selection of modules will be made by the student when compiling his or her own personal curriculum, i.e. selecting his or her elective and optional subjects. It is therefore possible that a student’s main field of study develops during completion of the curriculum.

It is important that the objectives and learning outcomes of the curricula are in correlation with the learning outcomes of the higher education level and through that also with the qualification framework: objectives and learning outcomes must be phrased in a way that they would enable the assessment of the knowledge and skills of a graduate of the curriculum; the name and structure of the curriculum and manner of carrying out study (teaching time, practice, individual work) must support the achievement of the objectives of the curriculum.

There are some differences between the qualification requirements for the teaching staff of universities and that for institutions of professional higher education (regarding the positions of a professor and a teacher). The qualification requirement of teaching staff is generally the existence of either a Doctoral or Master’s degree or a degree equal thereto, in addition, pedagogical skills and experience in supervising of students are required.

For graduation from any curriculum, it is necessary to pass a final examination or to defend a final thesis, with the exception of Doctoral study that ends with the defence of the Doctoral thesis.

Language of instruction is the language used in conducting studies, knowledge of which allows achieving study results at higher education levels. The language of instruction of the study programmes of the first and second level of higher education is Estonian or, by a decision of the higher education institution, a foreign language, provided that it is necessary for ensuring the quality of the studies or the availability of specialists with higher education and the resources required for the studies in the foreign language are available. The language of instruction and other languages required for achieving the learning outcomes are determined in the curriculum. The languages of instruction in a private higher education institution are decided by the owner of the private institution. A student with no command of Estonian shall be provided with an opportunity to learn Estonian profoundly during one academic year and, therefore, the standard period of his or her studies are prolonged by one year. Intensive national language study is financed through the operating grant allocated to the educational institution.

Educational institutions may take account of a person’s previous study results and professional experiences (APEL) to the extent and according to the principles established by the higher education institution and bearing in mind the principles established in the higher education standard.  As noted above, it is not possible, according to Estonian legislation, to take account of a person’s previous study results and professional experiences to compensate for a missing formal qualification in order to begin studies.

Higher education institutions may launch joint curricula. In case of a joint curriculum, study is carried out in two or more education institutions offering higher education that have cooperatively developed and approved the joint curriculum. If a part of the joint curriculum is carried out in an educational institution located abroad, the parts of the curriculum implemented in different countries must correspond to the requirements of these countries.

Teaching Methods

In general, teaching methods are chosen by teachers.

The most common method of teaching is still a lecture, in which a teacher presents an overview of the most important issues of a topic usually within 2 academic hours (90 minutes). The method is, however, gradually losing its prominence and the popularity of other, more interactive methods is increasing. In seminars, the topics and issues covered in lectures or studied independently are discussed and analysed, problems are solved in working groups and reports are presented. Case studies, different forms of project or teamwork, etc. are the methods widely used. The ultimate choice with regard to teaching methods and study aids nevertheless lies with the teacher offering a course.

Institutions of higher education actively extend the possibilities for e-study by providing web-based learning environments and learning aids.

Progression of Students

Higher education studies may be undertaken in the form of full-time study, part-time study or external study. People in full-time study and part-time study are considered students; those in external study are not considered students. The provisions of the Adult Education Act concerning formal education apply to external students; such provisions mainly deal with the right to get study leave. Students in external study cannot apply for education allowance or study loan.

In full-time study, a student shall cumulatively complete at least 75% of the study load required by the curriculum to be completed by the end of each academic year, and in part-time study – 50−75%. Upon enrolling in a higher education institution, the student decides whether they will study full-time or part-time in the first academic year, unless the study programme allows for studying only full-time. In the following academic years, the higher education institution shall base its decision of whether the student is studying full-time or part-time on the student’s completion of the study load required by the curriculum to be completed. The higher education institution transfers a student who does not meet the requirements of full-time study to part-time study.

The higher education institutions establish the general rules of study activities, as well conditions and procedures for dismissal of students from the university.

Employability

The employment opportunities are determined by several factors, incl. country’s economic situation, acquired profession, obtained skills and knowledge, etc. According to an analysis of yearly income (in 2017) of the 2016 graduates from the institutions of higher education (a survey conducted among graduates from Estonian institutes of higher education), 80 per cent of the graduates from Estonian institutes of higher education were in employment after graduating from the educational institution. Most of those holding a position related with the pursued specialty are the graduates from security services, ICT, health and education. Employment is least related with the acquired specialty among graduates from Bachelor’s studies. 

According to a labour force survey, in 2017 and 2018, on average 10 percent of the employees with higher education working full time were employed at a position that required, in their opinion, a lower level of education. The latest survey among graduates (2017) showed that 84 percent of the respondents were employed, one-fourth (21%) studied while working. On average, every fourth respondent with higher education worked at a position that requires a lower level of education. Every third graduate holding a Master’s or Doctoral degree works at a position that requires a lower level of education.

The students studying in Estonian institutions of higher education can, in general, be characterised by working while studying: according to Eurostudent VI (2016-2018), 66% of students works while studying. Being active on the labour market during studies and the acquired working experience helps to hold the employment level high after the studies.  Based on the data of the last survey conducted among graduates, it took longest to find professional employment for the graduates from agriculture, humanities and arts, and social sciences, business and law; nearly one-tenth of them sought professional employment for at least one year. The graduates from services were the fastest to find professional employment within the first six months.    

With a view to decreasing the gap between teaching skills and knowledge and the actual labour market needs, at the initiative of the Ministry of Education and Research, OSKA, a coordination system for the creation of a closer link between the labour market and studies, and development of skills, has been launched to centralise information regarding key professions and skills required on the labour market to allow for a better consideration of the labour market needs in teaching and learning. Similarly, a system supporting the development of entrepreneurship and entrepreneurship studies has been launched at all levels of education. Guidance documents and courseware have been developed; cooperation with entrepreneurs, local communities and other organisations are promoted. A traineeship system in higher education is being developed with an aim to modernise the organisation of traineeship. Tutors are trained, traineeship allowances are developed. Through a greater cooperation between teacher training, educational institutions and employees, readiness of students to cope on the labour market is increased. First steps are taken in introducing apprenticeship into higher education.

Student Assessment

Along with the implementation of learning outcome-based curricula, an assessment system is used where the focus is on assessment of a student’s achievement of learning outcomes and on supporting students in the study process, in order to give him or her reliable information on his or her effectiveness in passing studies. The assessment system pays attention to measuring how the learner has acquired the knowledge and skills described in a curriculum pursuant to the learning outcomes specified therein.

Differentiated and non-differentiated scales are used in student assessment and the scale to be used must be known to the student already before beginning studies. In case of a non-differentiated scale (“passed” and “failed”), thresholds (base level) are established and if a student exceeds them, he or she has successfully passed the subject or module, i.e. achieved the described learning outcomes. In case of a differentiated scale, initially also the thresholds for passing a subject or module are established and then also the criteria of learning outcomes are described for obtaining grades from A to E (from 5 to 1) that signify a positive result. The level of thresholds is determined by the teacher.

The general scale for assessment of acquisition of learning outcomes is as follows:

  • grade A (5) – excellent – an outstanding and particularly exhaustive achievement of learning outcomes characterised by free and creative usage of knowledge and skills that is above the very good level;
  • grade B (4) – very good – very good achievement of learning outcomes characterised by effective and creative usage of knowledge and skills. Errors not related to content or principles may occur with regard to more specific and detailed knowledge and skills;
  • grade C (3) – good – good level of achievement of learning outcomes characterised by effective usage of knowledge and skills. Insecurity and lack of accuracy occur with regard to more specific and detailed knowledge and skills;
  • grade D (2) – satisfactory – sufficient level of achievement of learning outcomes characterised by usage of knowledge and skills in typical situations; in exceptional situations shortcomings and insecurity occur;
  • grade E (1) – unsatisfactory – achievement of most important learning outcomes on a minimally acceptable level characterised by usage of knowledge and skills in typical situations in limited manners; in exceptional situations significant shortcomings and insecurity occur;
  • grade 0 or F – insufficient – a student has achieved knowledge and skills on a level below the minimum level.
  • Non-achievement of learning outcomes is marked as F or 0.

Other symbols expressing assessment results may not be written on an academic transcript.

Teachers must describe the assessment criteria of all grades of all units of study (subject, module, a set of subjects, parts of individual subjects). Compared to the general learning outcomes of the curriculum, these criteria are much more informative and inform students of the level of knowledge and skills expected for acquisition of any grade.

When taking account of previous study and professional experiences and transferring grades from other higher education institutions (generally from foreign higher education institutions), the following principles apply:

  • previous non-graded (as a rule – non-formal) studies and professional experience is usually taken into account in a non-differentiated scale;
  • when taking account of previously graded subject or modules, a new exam or standard-determining test is not passed; i.e. if the learning outcomes are suitable for transfer but the earlier type of assessment was different (e.g., previously a standard-determining test was passed but now an exam is required), there is no need to make a new assessment and the earlier result should be counted.

The new assessment system was applied to all outcome-based curricula. A diploma issued by a higher education institution is complemented by an academic transcript that includes an explanation about which assessment system has been used in assessing a student’s knowledge and skills. An academic transcript is not an independent document certifying higher education.

Certification

Professional higher education study and Bachelor’s study end with the taking of a final examination or the defence of a thesis. The precondition for being allowed to take the final examination or to defend a thesis is generally the fact that the student has passed the other subjects of the curriculum. Final theses are usually assed in a public defence event, a defence can be declared non-public.

The study programme groups in which a university has the right to provide instruction and the academic degrees and diplomas to be awarded upon completion of studies shall be specified by the Government of the Republic in the Higher Education Standard.

After a study programme at the level of Bachelor’s studies or studies in professional higher education has been completed in full, the higher education institution issues to the graduate a diploma along with Estonian and English diploma supplements in proof of the academic degree. Where an institution of higher education decides not to issue an English diploma supplement by default, a graduate needs to apply for one. Since 2019/2020, a bachelor’s degree is conferred upon a student who has completed the study programme in professional higher education in full.

The issued document certifying education includes the contents of the curriculum and the results of its completion (including form of study, conditions for completing the curriculum, names of subjects and their volumes in credit points, as well as grading systems (grade/assessment)), results of the quality assessment of the curriculum, etc. A diploma supplement issued in Estonia follows the instructions of the European Commission, the Council of Europe and UNESCO/CEPES.

A person who has completed Bachelor’s study may, under the conditions established by the Minister of Education and Research, be awarded a diploma cum laude. A diploma cum laude can be awarded to a graduate who has completed a study programme in full, defended their diploma paper or taken the final examination achieving a grade “A” and whose weighted average grade is 4.6 or higher, whereas all grades included in the diploma supplement shall be taken into consideration.

Legislative References

Higher Education Act

Private Schools Act

Study Allowances and Study Loans Act

Standard of higher education

Correspondence of qualifications issued in Republic of Estonia and qualifications issued in former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics prior to 20 August 1991

Adult Education Act

The uniform grading system and the conditions of and procedure for issuing diplomas and diploma supplements.

Second Cycle Programmes

Branches of Study

Master’s study is the second level (cycle) study of higher education, in the course of which a student deepens his or her specialised knowledge and skills and acquires knowledge and skills necessary for employment, independent work and Doctoral study. The standard period of Master’s study is one to two years and the study volume is 60–120 ECTS credits. While the period of Master’s curricula may vary, as a rule, it takes two years to acquire a Master’s degree. One-year Master’s programmes are provided under certain preconditions (such as having work experience or holding a previous qualification of the same level in another field) and considering that some of the learning outcomes have already been achieved by the student. The integrated curricula of Bachelor’s study and Master’s study can also be seen as an exception. The learning outcomes of the Master’s study level correspond to the learning outcomes defined on the seventh level of the Estonian and European qualification framework.

Admission Requirements

The access requirement to Master’s study is a Bachelor’s degree or a corresponding qualification.

Curriculum

Information on curricula is provided on the page on Bachelor’s study.

Teaching Methods

Information on teaching methods is provided on the page on Bachelor’s study.

Progression of Students

Information on progression of students is provided on the page on Bachelor’s study.

Employability

Most higher education institutions involve representatives of employers’ unions and vocational unions in the curriculum development process and final thesis defence committees. The role of higher education institutions in mediation of practical study places is increasingly acknowledged. Students are encouraged to choose issues related to actual problems of enterprises as themes of their course papers and final theses. Surveys on graduates provide institutions of higher education with valuable information in order to monitor the success of engagement of their graduates on the labour market but also to get feedback on the organisation and quality of study. In recent years, entrepreneurial study in non-economic specialisations has become increasingly important in order to ensure that students have wider competences for coping in professional life. An entrepreneurship programme has been called upon with an objective to implement a concept of learning that promotes entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial studies systematically at all levels and types of education, and to create a required methodology and learning materials to provide all learners with an opportunity to complete entrepreneurial studies.The programme for fostering entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial studies promotes entrepreneurship studies both in general, vocational and higher education.

More information on employability is provided on the page on Bachelor’s study.

Student Assessment

Information on assessment is provided on the page on Bachelor’s study.

Certification

Master’s study ends with the taking of a final examination or the defence of a thesis. A person who has completed Master’s study is issued free of charge a Diploma Supplement in English by the educational institution. The issued document certifying education includes the contents of the curriculum and the results of its completion (including form of study, conditions for completing the curriculum, names of subjects and their volumes in credit points, as well as grading systems (grade/assessment)), results of the quality assessment of the curriculum and level of the qualifications framework etc. A diploma supplement issued in Estonia follows the instructions of the European Commission, the Council of Europe and UNESCO/CEPES.

A person who has completed Master’s study may, under the conditions established by the Minister of Education and Research, be awarded a diploma cum laude. A diploma cum laude may be awarded to a graduate who has completed a study programme in full, defended their diploma paper or taken the final examination achieving a grade “A” and whose weighted average grade is 4.6 or higher, whereas all grades included in the diploma supplement shall be taken into consideration.

Legislative References

Higher Education Act

Standard of higher education

Correspondence of qualifications issued in Republic of Estonia and qualifications issued in former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics prior to 20 August 1991

Third Cycle (PhD) Programmes

Organisation of Doctoral Studies

Doctoral study is the highest level study of higher education in the course of which a student acquires the knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary for independent research, development and professional creative work. Doctoral study consists of studying and broad research and development activity or other creative work that must make up at least 70% of the volume of the curriculum. A doctoral thesis is defined as independent scientific research that presents an innovative solution to an important problem of the respective scientific field, or as creative work. The studying part of Doctoral study may consist of general and specific study, elective and optional courses and pedagogical practice; the volume of these subjects differs in the Doctoral curricula of different universities.

The standard period of Doctoral study is from three to four years and the study load is 180–240 ECTS credits. However, in Estonia the duration of Doctoral study programmes is mostly 4 years with a total volume of 240 ECTS credits. A person graduating from Doctoral study receives a Doctoral degree. A Doctoral degree is a scientific degree awarded after Doctoral study is passed and a Doctoral thesis has been defended. The learning outcomes of Doctoral level study correspond to the learning outcomes defined on the eighth level of the Estonian and European qualification framework.

Doctoral study is carried out only in universities. Attestation has become an important organisational element in carrying out Doctoral study. In the course of attestation, the attestation committee assesses the Doctoral student’s progress in study and research activities, which means in essence the evaluation of fulfilment of the Doctoral student’s individual plan. A detailed procedure for attestation is approved by the council of every university.

There are Doctoral schools in Estonia which are not independent structural entities but inter-university consortia where Doctoral students are offered interdisciplinary courses and international cooperation is promoted. The reason for launching Doctoral schools was a wish to increase the effectiveness of Doctoral studies, the number of defences and the quality of supervision of Doctoral students and to improve inter-university cooperation in Estonia.

Admission Requirements

The precondition for beginning Doctoral study is a Master’s degree or an equivalent qualification. More detailed conditions and procedures for admission of students are established by the university board. Entrants to Doctoral study may, for example, be required to submit a thesis research plan and undergo an admission interview. Usually, entrants to Doctoral study are required to submit a research plan for the thesis and to undergo an admission interview. The thesis research plan must generally include an explanation for choosing the theme and the objective of the research, introduction of research methodology and a timetable for completing the work. The admission committee may take account of the competencies acquired in the course of previous professional experience and additional training.

The total number of students to be admitted to Doctoral study is determined by the university board.

Students can choose between full-time and part-time study, completing 75 per cent or 50 to 75 per cent, respectively, of the study load subject to completion according to the curriculum by the end of each academic year. Doctoral allowance can be applied for by the Doctoral candidates who are enrolled in full-time study or part-time study in case the reimbursement of study costs is not required from him or her, who have not exceeded the nominal period of the curriculum and who have passed evaluation or are the first-year Doctoral candidates.

Status of Doctoral Students

Doctoral students are students pursuing doctoral studies and they are subjects to all social benefits applicable to students. The career model for academic staff allows to distinguishthe members of academic staff at the start of their career, i.e., universities have an opportunity to create jobs for junior research fellows. While junior research fellows fall within the category of researchers, the applicable requirements differ: junior research fellows are required to be admitted to doctoral studies (and hold a Master’s degree or higher) instead of holding a scientific degree.

Universities are looking for opportunities for creating more attractive jobs, a stabile career perspective and higher independence for young capable researchers. Working as a junior researcher should, nevertheless, have a positive effect on the preparation of Doctoral thesis and motivate young people to dedicate themselves to research also after completing Doctoral studies.  



A Doctoral student has the right to receive both study allowance and salary of junior researcher. As working full-time may lengthen the period of study for Doctoral students, the Doctoral students in part-time study can be paid study allowance in proportion to their study load.  

Doctoral scholarship has been created under the national scholarship system. The scholarship can be applied for by a doctoral student whose research topic is related to at least one growth area of smart specialisation or takes account of the needs of business and is related to solving practical tasks of business and contributes to the applicability of the results of the research. It is the so-called entrepreneurial doctorate targeted at supporting cooperation between universities and businesses. The doctoral students who comply with the requirements have been an additional scholarship at the national doctoral allowance rate.

Social guarantees for the recipients of doctoral allowance have been extended in terms of the parental benefit and pension insurance, which is a sign of the recognition by the state of doctoral studies as a career choice.  

Supervision Arrangements

Issues related to supervision of Doctoral theses belong to the competence of the university.

An educational institution may appoint a supervisor of Doctoral thesis according to its regulations. Both the system of one-supervisor and that of co-supervisors may be applied. Also supervisors or co-supervisors from foreign states can be used.

The quality agreement between educational institutions outlines the importance of supervision.

Universities have agreed upon the indicators for assessing the results and success of Doctoral studies used by universities and academic units for setting up and comparing objectives. For developing the supervising competencies of supervisors, universities draw up, in co-operation, a description of supervising a Doctoral thesis, the aim of which is to assist the supervisor to understand his or her tasks and assess the additional work load and give the head of the academic unit a clearer basis for assessing the performance of the supervisor. In addition, trainings on supervision are carried out and seminars and inter-disciplinary workshops are organised in cooperation with partners, in which also international experts participate and good experience in supervision is shared. Universities promote co-supervision through which it is possible to increase the efficiency of supervision within the academic unit, link different disciplines and promote cooperation between universities and with the business sector. Universities take into account feedback from Doctoral students received both at the evaluation and upon re-assignment to a position.   

Supervision competencies are also related to the procedure for elections of professors. The higher education standard establishes that when running for the position of a professor at a university (except when the person has not previously worked as a professor, and in case of running for the position of professor in the arts field), at least one Doctoral thesis must have been defended under the supervision of the candidate in the last five years.

Employability

Outside the academic community, the requirement for holding a Doctoral degree is not common when getting a job.

A possibility to acquire doctoral degree has been created in the framework of the so-called entrepreneurial doctorate, which supports cooperation between universities and businesses. The doctoral students pursuing the entrepreneurial doctorate must be involved in addressing issues of practical value for business.  

Assessment

Doctoral study is carried out on the basis of the student’s individual plan compiled according to the curriculum.

Universities check the fulfilment of work load requirements by Doctoral students through attestation; each Doctoral student must undergo periodic attestation under the conditions and pursuant to the procedure established by the board of the university. A Doctoral student generally submits materials covering his or her work on the previous period to the attestation committee, the members of which decide on the basis of the information submitted how many ECTS credits the student has fulfilled. Also presentations in international scientific conferences, participation in international Doctoral courses and study activities of Doctoral schools, additional training in laboratories abroad and participation in courses on compilation of scientific projects as well as individual study may be acknowledged as parts of fulfilling a candidate’s individual work plan.

Acquisition of subjects foreseen by a curriculum is assessed on an assessment scale similar to the one used with first and second level higher education students.

According to the higher education standard, Doctoral thesis is an independent research which presents a new solution to a relevant problem in the according field of science, or a creative work. Thus, independent research formulated as a thesis, a series of publications together with a summary article or a published monograph are counted as a Doctoral thesis by universities. The Doctoral thesis must include an overview of the nature of the research problem, setting up of the research task, statements submitted for defence, description of methodology as well as the manner of finding a solution to and proof of the research problem. In case of a Doctoral thesis in foreign language, an Estonian-language summary of the thesis is required; in case of a Doctoral thesis in Estonian, the summary must be in a foreign language. The main characteristic of a Doctoral thesis is deemed to be its publication. A research-based Doctoral thesis generally requires the publication of at least three scientific publications.

Certification

After the completion of a study programme in full, a university shall award a diploma certifying the award of academic degree, as well as a Diploma Supplement in Estonian and in English free of charge to a person who has completed Doctoral study.

Organisational Variation

Outside universities, there are no alternative opportunities for acquisition of Doctoral degrees in the Estonian higher education system. The system also does not include third level programmes, the fulfilment of which would give the opportunity to apply for a Doctoral degree.

Legislative References 

Higher Education Act

Organisation of Research and Development Act

Study Allowances and Study Loans Act

Higher Education Standard

The uniform grading system and the conditions of and procedure for issuing diplomas and diploma supplements

Types and amounts of student state scholarships and the general terms and conditions for the grant thereof

Mobility in Higher Education

In Estonia several scholarship programmes have been launched to support both Estonian students pursuing their studies abroad and foreign students coming to study in Estonia. Students also have an opportunity to participate in the European Union programmes and the Nordic and Baltic programme Nordplus. The European Union programmes and funding from the Structural Funds are of huge relevance in supporting mobility and internationalisation. 

Several national scholarship schemes have been developed, supporting the studies and research of foreign students, researchers and teaching staff in Estonia. Students are offered scholarships for pursuing formal education, partial studies or participating in summer schools; scholarships for researchers and teaching staff cover the costs of short or long visits and post-doctoral studies. Some of the measures are targeted specifically at the ones interested in the studies of the Estonian language and culture, expatriate Estonians or kindred peoples.  

Student Mobility

Scholarships for the students of Estonian higher education institutions for studying abroad: 

Kristjan Jaak scholarship programme
A national scholarship programme initiated in cooperation between the Ministry of Education and Research and Archimedes Foundation with a view to supporting the studies abroad of Master’s and Doctoral students enrolled in Estonian institutions of higher education and academic and research related secondments abroad of the Master’s and Doctoral students (and teaching staff). 

Young scholar grant programme
A scholarship programme founded in cooperation between private companies, the Ministry of Education and Research and Archimedes Foundation, aimed at supporting talented upper secondary school graduates towards acquiring a Bachelor’s degree in acknowledged foreign universities.  

DoRa Plus 
The programme supports short-time study mobility of young researchers and Master’s students (participation in professional conferences, seminars, courses or other professional activities). 

Nordplus higher education programme 
Under the programme studies or work practice with a duration of 1 to 12 months for Bachelor or Master’s students, as well as short-time study mobility projects of 5 days to 1 month are funded. 

European University Institute scholarships 
In 2005, Estonia joined the Convention Setting up a European University Institute. The institute is an academic institution located in Florence, Italy and oriented toward Doctoral and post-Doctoral studies, focusing on European studies in law, economics, political and social sciences and history. Estonia has been allocated up to 4 doctorate student places.  Additional information: Archimedes Foundation.

Scholarships for supporting the studies of expatriate Estonians and foreigners in Estonia 

DoRa Plus
The programme supports foreign Master’s and Doctoral students pursuing studies at Estonian institutions of higher education in the form of full-time study and visiting Doctoral students staying in Estonia for a shorter period, and the organisation of professional short and intensive courses at Estonian institutions of higher education primarily targeted at foreign students.    

Compatriots programme 2014-2020  
Supporting the studies of expatriate Estonian youth at Estonian public universities, state institutions of professional higher education and vocational educational institutions.   

Kindred peoples programme IV 
A programme launched to support the languages and cultures of the indigenous Uralic peoples (Finno-Ugric and Samoyed) under which Doctoral or Master’s studies in Estonian state universities of people of Finno-Ugric origin living in Russia are funded. 

National Scholarship Programme for International Students, Researchers and Teaching Staff 
A scholarship schema, which is partially based on the foreign agreements of the Ministry of Education and Research and offers students scholarships for formal education, exchange programmes and participation in summer schools.  

Scholarships for the academic study of the Estonian language and culture by foreign students  
The programme awards the scholarship Estophilus, under which funding is provided for Estonia-related studies and research carried out in Estonia by Master’s and Doctoral students or researchers holding a Doctoral degree who are enrolled in foreign institutions of higher education. In addition, the participation in intermediate and advanced summer or winter courses of the Estonian language and culture is supported.  

Ministry of Foreign Affairs scholarships  
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs offers Master’s and Doctoral scholarships under the instruments of development cooperation to the citizens of the development cooperation states of relevance for Estonia. Scholarship applications must be submitted by universities on a project basis, i.e., students cannot apply for the scholarship directly.  Additional information: Archimedes Foundation.

Academic Staff Mobility

Scholarships for Estonian teaching staff and researchers: 

Kristjan Jaak scholarship programme 
The programme supports study-related secondments abroad of teaching staff and researchers of up to 35 years of age (for 3 to 30 days). 

DoRa Plus
The programme supports short-time study mobility of young researchers and Master’s students (participation in professional conferences, seminars, courses or other professional activities). 

State scholarship programme for the students, researchers and teaching staff of foreign universities 
A scholarship schema under foreign agreements, which offers researchers and teaching staff scholarships for education and research in Estonia.   

Nordplus higher education programme 
The programme supports teacher mobility for the purpose of teaching, instructing students and developing teaching materials, or promoting cooperation with traineeship organisations and the labour market. The duration of a secondment shall be at least 8 hours.  
 
Mobilitas Plus
The programme provides a returning researcher grant to the researchers who have completed their post-Doctoral studies (or comparable research) abroad for the conduct of a research project in Estonia. Funding is provided also to the researchers employed in Estonian research and development institutions for the participation in professional trainings and continuing education abroad.  

EEA/Norway grant programme
Study mobility projects support the bilateral mobility of the employees of higher education institutions of Estonia and other EEA states. The general purpose of the study mobility is to support professional development of the employees of higher education institutions, which shall be in line with the internationalisation strategy and development plan of the higher education institution. The programme provides the teaching staff of higher education institutions with an opportunity of secondment to a partner higher education institution to teach and study.

Further measures

Additionally, teaching staff has the opportunity to participate in the study mobility under Erasmus+ and Nordplus higher education programme and the Estonian-Norwegian Research Cooperation Programme. In addition, through the programme of academic studies of Estonian language and culture abroad, the Ministry of Education and Research supports the studies of the Estonian language and culture in foreign universities and general education schools by sending there lecturers and teachers of the Estonian language and culture. Lecturers of the Estonian language and culture are also sent to foreign universities as visiting lecturers.  Additional information: Archimedes Foundation.

Scholarships for international teaching staff and researchers: 

Mobilitas Plus
The programme offers a returning researcher grant to the researchers who have completed their post-Doctoral studies (or comparable research) abroad for the conduct of a research project in Estonia. Support is granted also for the post-doctoral studies of the researchers coming to Estonia from abroad, and a separate grant has been developed for the implementation of a research project by a renowned researcher coming to Estonia from abroad.    

DoRa Plus
The programme supports short-time study mobility of young scientists and Master’s students of Estonian higher education institutions relating to studies or research abroad (participation in conferences, seminars, courses or other professional activities). 

EEA/Norway grant programme
The study mobility projects support the bilateral mobility of the employees of higher education institutions of Estonia and other EEA states. The programme provides the teaching staff of both Estonian and EEA/Norwegian higher education institutions with an opportunity of secondment to a partner higher education institution to teach.

National Scholarship Programme for International Students, Researchers and Teaching Staff 
A scholarship schema, which partially relies on the foreign agreements of the Ministry of Education and Research and offers scientists and teaching staff scholarships for the participation in formal education, exchange programmes and summer schools.   
Additional information: www.archimedes.ee

Recognition

Estonia has joined the Lisbon Convention (the ratification act entered into force on 27 February 1998) and it organises higher education based on the principles of the Bologna Process. The Professions Act adopted in 2008 establishes the eight-level qualification framework, which is in line the European Qualification framework and consists of general, professional, higher education and professional qualifications or professions. The framework brings together the competence-based professional qualifications and formal education qualifications in an integral system. 

Academic recognition falls in the responsibility of the Estonian ENIC/NARIC Centre that belongs to the Council of Europe and UNESCO cooperation network ENIC (European Network of National Information Centres on Academic Recognition and Mobility) and to the NARIC cooperation network (National Academic Recognition Information Centre). The main activities of the Estonian ENIC/NARIC Centre include assessment of foreign education certificates for the purposes of recognition and offering of information related to higher education. 

In addition to academic recognition, it is also important to recognise a person’s professional qualifications and skills in a broader sense, in order to ensure free movement of labour. Recognition of professional qualifications is regulated in Estonia by the Recognition of Foreign Professional Qualifications Act and coordinated by the Ministry of Education and Research. The latter is responsible for offering information on regulated positions and vocations as well as on institutions operating in the field of recognition of professional qualifications. Information related to the recognition of professional qualifications is also accumulated and distributed by the ENIC/NARIC Centre. 

Estonia has also signed three bilateral international agreements on mutual recognition of educational certificates and diplomas, which also facilitates and supports bilateral exchange:  

  • an agreement between the governments of the Republic of Estonia, the Republic of Latvia and the Republic of Lithuania on mutual academic recognition of educational certificates in the common Baltic educational space  (8 June 2018, the ministers of education of all Baltic States signed an agreement on automatic recognition of higher education qualifications (the Agreement on automatic recognition of academic qualifications concerning higher education entered into by the Governments of the Republic of Estonia, the Republic of Latvia and the Republic of Lithuania). The agreement shall enter into force soon and terminate the aforementioned agreement);
  • an agreement between the governments of the Republic of Estonia and of Ukraine on mutual recognition of educational certificates and academic degrees;  
  • an agreement between the Ministry of Education and Research of the Republic of Estonia and the Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China on mutual recognition of  higher education qualifications.  

Legislative References

Recognition of Foreign Professional Qualifications Act

Regulated professions and regulated professional activities in case of which taking aptitude test or completion of adaptation period may be required for working and in case of which the prior verifying of the foreign qualification may be conducted for temporary working

Conditions and procedure for assessment and academic recognition of documents certifying education completed in foreign state and for use of title of qualification granted in education system of foreign state

Correspondence of qualifications issued in Republic of Estonia and qualifications issued in former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics prior to 20 August 1991

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European Higher Education Organization is a public organization carrying out academic, educational and information activities on higher education in Europe.

The EHEO general plan stresses that:

  • Higher education systems require adequate funding and, as an investment in economic growth, public spending in higher education should be protected.
  • The challenges faced by higher education require more flexible governance and funding systems, which balance greater autonomy for education institutions with accountability to stakeholders.

Thus, EHEO plans:

  • improve academic and scientific interaction of universities;
  • protect the interests of universities;
  • interact more closely with public authorities of European countries;
  • popularize European higher education in the world;
  • develop academic mobility;
  • seek funding for European universities.