Some thoughts about the Estonian Higher Education Quality Reform

Posted: April 3rd, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: education, Estonia, european union, university | No Comments »

It was announced yesterday that there are going to be changes in the accreditation of Estonian higher education institutions, mainly that institutional accreditation is going to be introduced. This means that any university which passes this will be operate with constant fear of losing some of its programmes and can focus on continuous institution-building, rather than worrying only about specific curricula. This also allows the universities to be more efficient, flexible and synergetic.

I do not really know what exactly this means for my current employer, but in any case it is much better to finally have clarity on these issues. Too long has the Estonian higher education system been in legal limbo, and it is too long that certain practices and obviously worthless institutions have been allowed to exist.

In my opinion having a competitive and efficient higher education market is a prerequisite for Estonia’s long term economic development. The stepts announced yesterday will definitely bring us closer to that, but there are also many uncertainties in the application of the quality reform. There is a threat, that could derail the reform, or not bring the desired results.

Although there has been much talk about being internationally competitive, Estonia’s higher education laws do not really allow for meaningful international cooperation to take place (joint degrees and diplomas have still not been allowed for example). This is not a problem only for Estonia, but the whole EU: in a situtation where there is a common market, common laws on commercial activities, movement of goods and provision of services, the higher education market has remained fractured. This is due to lack of coordination: even the much discussed Bologna reform remains to be completed.

Universities are still very national entities: we talk mostly about UK, Belgian, French, German, Finnish, etc universities, but not European universities. Compare this with the US, where location of a university does not really matter that much (Harvard is Harvard, regardless of its location).

For Estonia, the best option would be to be open. Open to students coming in and supportive of students going out. Open to cooperation with other universities in the strive for internationalisation of higher education. This requires a significant shift away from the current local-student-oriented approach, real competitions for staff instructors, and, in most areas, shift away from Estonian as the full language of instruction.

It also requires that universities develop its own niches where they can offer world-class education and research. Estonia is way small for everything under the sun to be taught here, locally. But we can concentrate on a few areas where we can be internationally competitive.

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