01 - Estonia - Historical overview

In the second half of the 16th century, a Jesuit College (1583) and an Interpreter Seminary (1585) were established in Tartu. Under the Swedish reign, a gymnasium school was opened in Tartu in 1630, which was then reorganised as a university in 1632 (Academia Gustaviana, Academia Dorpatensis, later Academia Gustava Carolina). The university comprised four faculties (theology, medicine, law, and philosophy) and moved to a number of towns. In 1710, the university was closed due to the plague as a result of which only two teachers survived. The university was reopened on 21 April 1802 when the German-language Landesuniversität was denoted an Imperial University as it was financed and managed by the Russian empire. The institution became a recognised education and research centre of its time. In the period of Russification in the Baltic provinces (since the 1880s), the autonomy of the University of Tartu was radically curbed and the official language of instruction was Russian.

The Tartu University as the Estonian national university was officially opened on 1 December 1919. Several other higher education institutions in the field of arts and music were opened in the following years. Tallinn Technical University was founded in 1936.

At the beginning of the Soviet occupation, the operation of universities was reorganised according to the norms valid in the Soviet Union. Higher education became a state monopoly. The operation of all student and scientific societies was banned. In November 1944, five universities were reopened in Soviet Estonia.

After Estonia regained independence in 1991, the Republic of Estonia Education Act was adopted in 1992 as the most important legal act in the field of education. Higher education was reformed step by step by adopting the Universities Act (1995), the Private Schools Act (1998) and the Institutions of Professional Higher Education Act (1998). Thus, higher education is offered besides universities also by institutions of professional higher education. Starting from 1999, also some vocational schools were given the right to offer professional higher education. In 2000, the Higher Education Standard was adopted, establishing general higher education requirements in Estonia and becoming the basis document for issuing education licenses to institutions that offer higher education and for accreditation of their curricula. Institutions that offer higher education may be state institutions, legal persons in public law or legal persons in private law. Due to a liberal higher education politics, the number of private higher education institutions grew very fast.

For the application of the Bologna Declaration, signed by the European Ministers of Education in 1999, in Estonia, a working group consisting of the representatives of academic circles, employers and students was formed under the leadership of the Minister of Education and Research. The amendments to the valid legislation concurrent with the implementation of the Declaration were authorised by the higher education reform plan approved by the Government of the Republic on 12 June 2001. Following these agreed principles, all relevant acts regulating higher education – the Universities Act, The Institutions of Professional Higher Education Act and the Higher Education Standard were amended in one year. Transfer from the thus far applying 4 + 2 study stages system to the new 3 + 2 system took place in the academic year 2002/2003 after the amendment of the Universities Act and other acts related to it by the Riigikogu (Parliament) in June 2002. At the same time, the implementation of the uniform form of the Diploma Supplement commenced. Several other topics mentioned in the Bologna Declaration did not foresee profound amendments for their application in Estonia as the practice of determining the volume of curricula on the basis of a student’s study load had already begun at the beginning of the 1990s, following the example of the Scandinavian countries. An accreditation system based on the collegial assessment in which external experts are engaged in order to guarantee the increase of objectivity has been put to practice  The state also supports the mobility of Estonian students and professors within the framework of European programmes.

For the functioning of the principles of mutual recognition of diplomas and qualifications have been made, which is, in turn, the prerequisite for the application of free movement of people in the context of the European Union. Estonia has passed the Recognition of Foreign Professional Qualifications Act that came into effect on 1 January 2001. The issues of academic recognition are regulated by the Lisbon Convention on the recognition in the European region of the certificates of higher education and the certificates giving access to higher education, which was ratified by the Parliament of the Republic of Estonia on 1 April 1998. In 2006, conditions and procedures for evaluation and academic acknowledgement of documents certifying education acquired in a foreign country, and for usage of titles of qualifications given in the education system of a foreign country were additionally established with a decree of the Government of the Republic of Estonia.

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Date: 2009
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