Tallinn University of Technology

People in Estonia still value education and education is valuable. While it is possible to make do with less, education remains the safest investment in prosperity and successfully coping, Külli Taro finds in Vikerraadio's daily comment.

Külli Taro
Külli Taro, head of the Civil Servants Ethics Council, TalTech Ragnar Nurkse Institute of Innovations and Governance

In addition to the beginning of summer and Midsummer holidays, June is also the month of school graduations. Social media has been overflowing with pictures of happy graduates and their parents beaming with pride.

Those graduating from basic school probably already know where they will be going next. Those who wrapped up high school and bachelor's studies this year are busy making plans. The university applications period is ending and the entry exams period about to begin.

It is no secret that one may find it easier to get into university than high school in Estonia. High school study places are in much shorter supply than those in basic school depending on the region, while high school graduates can usually take their pick of universities. Estonia has 18 higher education providers, including six public-law universities competing for every high school graduate.

Data from the Estonian Education Information System suggests 52 percent of high school graduates went on to university last year, with 41 percent securing a free place at a public-law university. 42 percent of high school leavers did not continue studying in Estonia.

It is probable that a notable share of the latter went to study abroad instead. Choosing a foreign university for bachelor's studies is an increasingly popular option among young people. It has been a long time since Estonian universities only competed with one another. The competition is international.

On the other hand, foreign students play an important role in ensuring the sustainability of Estonian higher education. Last year, 10 percent of students in Estonia were from abroad. We could not be able to offer certain curricula without foreign students.

Obtaining several higher educations simultaneously is also a growing trend, for example, several master's degrees in different fields. People also return to university years after graduation to obtain a new degree. Luckily, it has been realized that a bachelor's degree is not enough to work as a specialist in the 3+2 system.

Software and application development and analysis was the most popular subject among university entrants last year, with management and public administration in second.

While it is sometimes suggested certain professions and specialties are important and some useless, no skill should be disparaged. Instead we should evaluate the quality of education, people's predispositions and interest. Society sorely needs doctors, engineers and teachers, and we would not wish to see those professions manned by people who do not like it.

Leadership skills and the ability to understand social processes are clearly undervalued in Estonia. It is difficult to take advantage of or turn into innovation engineering know-how if one knows nothing about business development or how individuals and groups behave in society.

When choosing a specialty, one should look beyond attractive names or advertising slogans. University education needs to be rooted in science. What matters is the number of lecturers with doctoral degrees and whether their degree and research activity is linked to the subject they teach.

International accreditation can also serve as an important quality marker. Whereas we're talking about accreditation that one cannot simply buy and which looks thoroughly at curricula and study organization.

Finally, I am glad to see that people in Estonia still value education and education is valuable. While it is possible to make do with less, education remains the safest investment in prosperity and successfully coping. Labor market statistics show that the higher one's education level, the higher their average income. For example, those with a master's degree tend to earn 20 percent more than people who have a three-year bachelor's degree.

A higher level of education is even tied to better health and life expectancy. The lower one's education level, the likelier one is to die prematurely.

Besides, knowledge and skills once obtained cannot be taken away. And this lends certainty. Especially today when we have been rudely reminded of how senseless violence can easily cost one their property and loved ones. But one will always have one's education.