Tallinn University of Technology

Tallinn University of Technology celebrated its 100th anniversary three years ago, and this year the 80th -anniversary party is being held at its School of Business and Governance: the school that despite different regimes has survived with dignity has an exciting story to tell, and a significant role to play in the overall success of the whole country.

Majandusteaduskonna hoone
The building of the School of Business and Governance today. In the autumn of 2009, the school moved into its new premises in Mustamäe. In addition, other educational institutions, such as Tallinn College, the School of Social Sciences of Tallinn University of Technology, Concordia International University, and Audentes University have been merged with the school.

The School of Business and Governance takes off

In 1940, the today's School of Business and Governance of Tallinn University of Technology was founded.

In November of the same year, the structure of the School of Economics (today School of Business and Governance) was approved in the composition of Tallinn University of Technology, and Professor Paul Vihalem became the first dean of the school, but in June 1941, Professor Juhan Vaabel took office.

Kohtu 4 õppehoone
Throughout its history, several buildings have accommodated the teaching and learning activities of the School of Business and Governance – they started in Toompea, at 4 Kohtu Street. Photo: Äripäev

Teaching and learning in three buildings

On 1st February 1941, studies were started.

The School had its premises in three different locations: The Dean's Office, the library, and some lecture halls were located on Kohtu Street in Toompea (today the building houses the Finnish Embassy). The classrooms of the secondary schools located in 8 Kevade Street and 8 Hariduse Street also served as lecture halls.

It was the largest school of the university – in the spring semester of 1941 there were about 600 students enrolled, 213 students were admitted to their first year. The student candidates had to take entrance exams in Estonian and a foreign language, mathematics, geography, and the history of the peoples of the USSR. Young people aged 17-35 who held a secondary education certificate were eligible to take the exams.

Kopli 101 esifassaad
In the 1950s, the School of Business and Governance moved to Kopli. Photo: Äripäev

The activities of the School of Business and Governance were interrupted by World War II. After Nazi Germany had established its occupation regime, in the autumn of 1941 teaching continued at the University of Tartu.

After the re-establishment of the Soviet power in the autumn of 1944, the School of Business and Governance was re-incorporated into Tallinn Polytechnic Institute (TPI). Until the year 1954, when the teaching of some specialties was transferred back to Tartu University, the TPI School of Business and Governance was the only higher education institution in Estonia to train economics specialists.

In 1951–1952, the Department of Business Organization, Planning and Safety Engineering was established, which was headed by Edgar Vilbert until it was merged with the Department of Industrial Economics in 1957.

Majandusteaduskonna esimene lend
The first group of alumni who had studied in the building at 4 Kohtu Street in Toompea. It was the year 1945, and signs of the recently ended war were seen everywhere. Photo: Äripäev

Study facilities in Toompea

Regarding the high proportion of Finnish students today, it can be considered symbolic that between 1944 and 1950, the School of Business and Governance was located in Toompea, at 4 Kohtu Street, in the same building that houses the Finnish Embassy today. There was a shortage of study space and lectures and seminars were held in two shifts. The library was so small that it was not even possible to take all the books out of the boxes, and there was no reading hall.

From 1950, the School of Business and Governance operated in the main building of the university in Kopli. For 41 years, from 1968 to 2009, the building at 101 Kopli Street was called the building of the School of Business and Governance. As a symbol of continuity, the large floor mirror that has beheld the university people almost throughout the period of the existence of the university was moved to the lobby of the newly built Mustamäe premises.

Until 1948, the first- and second-year students, regardless of their major, studied together. Starting from their third year, students were divided according to their specialities. The training of economists, which was the non-engineering field, at a university or college of technology was considered an exceptional phenomenon in the system of higher education institutions in the USSR. As a general rule, industrial economists, trade, and finance specialists were trained either by universities or the institutes of the national economy.

Uno Mereste, an alumnus of the university, a professor and former chairman of the Supervisory Board of Eesti Pank, once recalled how a senior colleague had approached a specialist in finance and credit to give a piece of “good advice” - Stalin himself had said that communism would come soon and money would disappear. Although professor Mereste did not believe this story, it seems that the university management at that time did.

At the end of 1940, student admission numbers were reduced. Part of the School of Business and Governance was transferred to the School of Economics and Business Administration established by Tartu State University. Students majoring in industrial economics remained at TPI, but in the autumn of 1954 had to continue their studies according to the transition plans that made them specialize in economics and organization of the mechanical engineering industry.

Majandusteaduskonna üliõpilased 1974. aastal laboratoorsetel töödel.
Students of the School of Business and Governance in 1974 doing their laboratory work. Photo: Äripäev

A decade of big changes

A new era in the training of economists at TPI started in 1960–1961 with the establishment of the School of Engineering and Economics, which was renamed the School of Economics in 1964.

New specialties were included and the admission numbers also increased. The impact of the decisions made at that time was of great significance in restoring independence and building the new economy, and the alumni and the faculty of the school were at the forefront of many innovation processes. At the beginning of this academic year, the group of alumni who celebrated the 60th anniversary of their admission paid a visit to the school. The alumni Jaak Leimann and Liina Tõnisson, who were among the people important for the Estonian economy, were part of that group.

Informatsioonitöötlemise kateedri dotsent Leo Võhandu.
Associate Professor of the Department of Information Processing Leo Võhandu in 1982. The first industrially manufactured electronic computer was allocated to TPI in 1966. Photo: Äripäev

The winds of change in the late '80s

By the 1980s, the structure of the School of Business and Governance had mostly been established. In the last years of the decade, preparations were made for the changes in the study system.

There was an opportunity to include new, market economy-based courses in the programmes, and the first marketing textbook in the Estonian language was compiled. The reorganization of the teaching and learning process resulted in organizational changes. In 1992, the system of chairs was introduced and corresponding professorships were established. The chairs that had similar specialisations were united by the departments. In the early 1990s, there was a shift from an academic year system to a course system, and soon the former 5-year higher education model was replaced by a 3 + 2-year structure with bachelor's and master's degrees.

Into building of the English College?

In the early 1990s, the School of Business and Governance of Tallinn University of Technology came up with the idea to secede from the University of Technology and set up the Tallinn (Estonian) University of Economics. The building had also been selected: today's English College. The School of Business and Governance remained part of the University of Technology, but it was moved from Kopli to Mustamäe. The incorporation of the School of Business and Governance into the buildings of other schools of TPI had already been intended in the 1950s, when new premises of TPI were designed, and also in the 70s, but for various reasons this decision had not been carried out.

On April 23, 2008, the cornerstone of the building of the School of Economics and Social Sciences was laid and construction work began. The building was officially opened on 31 August 2009 by the then President of the Republic of Estonia Toomas Hendrik Ilves and the then Rector of Tallinn University of Technology Peep Sürje.  In addition to the people from the School of Economics and Social Sciences, students and staff from the newly merged Audentes University moved there. The Estonian Maritime Academy was accommodated into the former building of the school in Kopli.

Today, TalTech School of Business and Governance holds the same position in Estonia as Aalto University School of Business in Finland. The school is the largest educator of specialists for the economic and public sector in Estonia, and has high applied research potential. The building of the School at 3 Akadeemia tee holds Estonia's most international unit of higher education, which employs nearly 100 people who hold doctoral degrees, almost a third of them have international backgrounds.

Within the last few years, three out of the school’s four key areas have reached international rankings. During its long history, TalTech has become the strongest business university in Estonia.

Jaak Leimann
Jaak Leimann. Photo: Äripäev


I was admitted to the TPI School of Economics in 1959 and studied in the field of mechanical engineering economics and organization to become an engineer-economist. The teaching was carried out mainly in the premises of Kohtu Street, where the Finnish Embassy is located today. Some of the lectures were also held on the top floor of the Stenbock House, because of a shortage of study space.

At that time, there was a certain period of optimism in the Estonian economy. The industry was largely subordinated to the local National Economic Council, and several new industrial enterprises started operating. It also provided the background for teaching and learning. We were taught engineering and economics and production organization courses and we carried out course projects.

In my opinion, today’s School of Business and Governance should follow the model of educating medical doctors, where a teaching staff member acts as a practitioner and an instructor at the same time. This way there would be no need for visiting lecturers who would master and generalise the practice that is evolving in real-time.

Some publications, including my dissertation, self-report, and press cuttings reflecting my defence have survived since my postgraduate studies. In my research paper, I focused on the concept of self-regulation, trying to find a management system that would reduce the need for managerial intervention. My first opponent at my dissertation defence was a well-known doctor of economics, Professor Gavril Popov from Moscow, who also became a politician during the perestroika, being the mayor of Moscow for a short time.

It was a real miracle to get to Finland for internship

Remembering my internship period in Finland, I have sweet memories of Tartu surgeon Ants Peetsalu, my flatmate, with whom we broke bread. To save Finnish currency, we brought smoked sausage and cheese from Estonia, consumed 150 packages of instant soup in ten months, bought finer spirits at a good price in the embassy shop, and much more.

However, going to Finland was a complicated procedure in itself. The application had to be accompanied by several documents – filled-in questionnaires, a handwritten curriculum vitae, a medical certificate, recommendation letters, etc. In addition, a long-term internship in Finland required something more complex. My first application was not approved. For the second attempt, I had to report to the regional commission in Vilnius. Then, together with other young researchers travelling to capitalist countries, I spent four weeks in a training camp near Moscow in Krasnovidovo, which provided learning a foreign language, ideological preparation, etc.

Since economics was considered a social science, I was also interviewed by the Central Committee of the Communist Party in Moscow. Only then, in the spring of 1975, I was declared eligible for spending the next academic year abroad. When I returned, I had to produce a voluminous report, one copy of which (in Russian) is still in my archives.

A warning against dotsentism

Having been an assistant professor since 1973, after my internship I was entitled to apply for the position of associate professor (dotsent in Estonian), which required delivering a public lecture. The feedback was good and I got a recommendation that I deserve the position. The relevant documents were sent to Moscow, and only in the following year a positive decision and an associate professor's diploma arrived.

I remember how the then Rector Boris Tamm handed it to me at a ceremonial meeting. As several nominees for associate professorship were invited to the same meeting, he considered it necessary to warn us against dotsentism at the university. The thing was that there were many associate professors (dotsents) at the university but very few professors. It was relatively easy to become a candidate and an associate professor, but earning a doctoral degree, which served as a prerequisite for becoming a professor, was complicated and time-consuming. Later, when the regime changed, the degree of a candidate was enough to be elected a professor, and the number of professors multiplied. While working at the department, I defended my doctoral dissertation which dealt with a wide range of consultations that were based on my nearly 20 years of applied research activities.

It's not enjoyable to rest on the laurels

I earned my doctoral degree later on after the decision of the council had been approved in Moscow, in accordance with the required procedure - by the Higher Attestation Commission. In my defence speech I mentioned that after a lot of work, I intend to rest on my laurels. However, one of the opponents warned that laurel leaves become sharp-edged when they dry, and it is not pleasant to lie on them.

At that time, of course, it was impossible to have a rest. Since the director of the department was also eligible to apply for the rank of professor, I did so after receiving the confirmation of my doctoral degree. Professor ranks were also distributed from Moscow, which was time-consuming. I only received the confirmation of acquiring the rank of professor a year later, when I already served in the position of the Minister of Economic Affairs of the Estonian Republic.

Raoul Üksvärav – one of the most influential people in my life

I have had many amiable colleagues. First of all, I would like to mention the man who has influenced my life the most: professor and doctor of economics Raoul Üksvärav.

At the beginning of my first university year, an introduction to the field and the programme was held, where two young lecturers spoke - one of them was Raoul Üksvärav. This meeting deepened my belief that the choice of the field was the right one and a lot of interesting experiences were ahead. We had no direct contacts with each other in the following few years. Only in my third year, Associate Professor Üksvärav taught us a course in organizing mechanical engineering and he gave us a good impression with his specific and ideology-free approach.

In the mid-1960s, more and more articles on management were published in Estonia, and I read the publications by Raoul Üksvärav with great interest. The problems I faced in my managing practice, the teaching, reading management-related books, etc. led me to the idea that management has to be studied. At some point, I got in touch with my future supervisor, took the postgraduate entrance exams, and was enrolled in the TPI postgraduate programme. Until then, Raoul Üksvärav had guided me indirectly, but from that moment my studies and research were carried out under his direct supervision. After completing my postgraduate studies, I continued in the department led by Raoul Üksvärav as a lecturer.

By the mid-1970s, the department had about 30 staff members and the head of the department, already a recognized doctor of economics and professor at that time, was a beacon to us. There were few doctors and professors at that time - about 30 at TPI, the doctoral degree and the professorship had not been devalued yet. Professor Üksvärav was then and has remained a great role model to me not only professionally but even more as an extraordinary person. Always correct, precise, respectful and regardful of other people, polite, yet demanding. I think that everyone who knew him would agree on my appreciation.

You learn the most from good role models

I worked as a lecturer in the department until the autumn of 1979. When I was the director of the Estonian Management Institute, I invited Raoul Üksvärav to join us as the research director. In the 1990s, when he was already a Member of Parliament, he had even more authority in my eyes. In the first decade of this century, being a professor of organization and management at Tallinn University of Technology and the head of the corresponding chair, I got useful tips, again and again, from my former supervisor, later on, professor emeritus Raoul Üksvärav, who had been a good role model for me for decades, and I dare say for many.

The most important companions have an influence on the people around them and their choices. You try to learn from them, and it is more enjoyable to live with them.


  • 1959–1964 student
  • 1968–1971 postgraduate research student
  • 1971–1979 lecturer
  • 1998–2008 full professor
  • 2008– Professor Emeritus

Read the original article in Äripäev.