Joosep Perandi, Chairman of the Student Council of Tallinn University of Technology, highlighted the role of the universities’ sustainability in his presentation to members of the Parliamentary Support Group for Higher Education.
‘A university graduate can expect to earn more when leaving the university than a lecturer who provided them with the necessary skills,’ he noted. ‘Would I, as a current student, be interested in pursuing a career as a researcher and lecturer in the future? No – of course not! And perhaps this is where the main problem with funding higher education in Estonia lies.’
Student representatives from other higher education institutions shared their views on the problems regarding higher education together with Joosep Perandi.
Complete text of the speech
Lecturers earn less than university graduates
Speech by Joosep Perandi, Chairman of the Student Council at Tallinn University of Technology, at the Parliament.
‘Dear members of the Parliamentary Support Group for Higher Education.
Let me begin with the obvious fact that university graduates, employees, and as it happens, many students, are also taxpayers in the Republic of Estonia. As a student, I feel somewhat self-conscious in beginning my speech with money, rather than knowledge or research. However, the current financial concerns are so acute that they are beginning to affect the sustainability of university education.
In the Student Union of Tallinn University of Technology, we are aware that our university brings hundreds of skilled, productive and efficient professionals to the labour market every year, who also earn good wages. In fact, one of the goals in Tallinn University of Technology's strategic plan is that the wages of postgraduates should be 1.65 times the Estonian average. And they are!
And even more, depending on the field of study, our graduates earn two, three or even four times the Estonian average - and pay income tax proportionally. Estonian society is perhaps too heavily geared towards success, but if that is the case at the moment, we can indeed confirm: people with higher education, especially technical education, are successful in the labour market.
Coming back down to earth, however, I have to admit that this success story only applies to the alumni of Tallinn University of Technology, not to lecturers. Of course, there are a handful of well-paid lecturers, but generally, lecturers’ wages are not comparable with the wages of those they send out to the labour market every year. It may strike us as comical, but in reality, it is tragic. Very tragic.
Now to the facts.
The minimum wage for a lecturer at Tallinn University of Technology is €1559, while the average salary in Estonia is €1754. More to the point, a university alumna can expect to earn more when leaving the university than the lecturer who provided them with the necessary skills. Let me ask you this: would I, as a current student, be interested in maximising my potential in the future, to become a researcher and a lecturer? No – of course not! And it is perhaps this tendency that is the main problem with funding higher education in Estonia.
The cogwheel has missing cogs
I entered university with big dreams and hopes. I saw Tallinn University of Technology as a great and powerful organisation, striving to be at the top of its field. This is true, except that the cogwheel which is supposed to carry the force has several cogs missing. In financial terms: we contribute to making our alumni successful and to efficiently fill the national treasury. However, whilst doing this, we also need to admit that we are incapable of offering our employees a level of pay that would retain the current workforce and attract future lecturers.
The gap between ambition and reality is already clearly visible. Continuity is breaking down. The new generation is no longer interested in working as lecturers. And the reason for that is the low income.
It is true that money cannot and should not be the main motivator. However, a respected position in academia deserves a fitting reward. Right away. Now.
The new coalition has promised a 15% increase in higher education funding. In the case of the University of Technology, this means an increase of €6 million. But the growth is only illusory. It will hardly affect the lecturers, and certainly not the students, because the rise in the cost of energy carriers alone will be an additional €7 million to our budget. Hence, the additional operating grant has already been spent in advance.
This means that we need either significantly more money or there will have to be a cut in the cost of the so-called energy carriers. We cannot solve two problems at once. Universities have been short-funded for far too long to ignore the concerns of lecturers and to simply keep the pot simmering.
That the brilliance of lecturers would inspire students
As a student, I know that teaching at universities has been under a strain. In a way, research has been favoured for many decades. On the one hand, it is the result of funding principles, and on the other, the researchers' ambitions. But lecturers are also expected to make significant scientific contributions.
To put it simply: the correlation between research and teaching has been, to the disadvantage of teaching, unbalanced. At least that is how it has appeared to be.
For a student, this prospect is not encouraging. After all, students go to university to be inspired by the brilliance of lecturers and researchers. At present, it is the opposite - witnessing the current state of affairs, our inspiration is dwindling, perhaps it will even die.
Students can see how lecturers struggle to earn a wage that is even remotely in keeping with their position and ability. But we want our lecturers to focus on us, to provide us with tools for the future, to help each of us find our best self, and to guide us to a path where we can give our best to society.
True, we have been given the opportunity to learn and develop, but we are also expected to achieve something. It is therefore unacceptable that state funding is available to help students learn, but not to help lecturers teach in a dignified manner.
Let’s face it, this is an investment
Professor Kadri Männasoo from Tallinn University of Technology has noted that university education is an investment.
In other words: if we do not invest in higher education, we do not invest in successful taxpayers. In the big picture, we are thus not investing in the development of the Estonian state either.
At the beginning of the academic year, the rector of our university, Tiit Land, said in his speech, "I hope very much that university education and research will receive the support it needs from the state in the near future." The rector was very polite in his manner; instead of "I hope" he should have used the term "I insist". After all, the state is expecting more IT specialists, as well as professional engineers. Instead of saving money, the university should boost its sustainability. But with whom, if we, the future students, turn our backs on academic work with contempt? If Estonian society is increasingly coming to believe that schools, and now also universities, are for people who settle for barely an average wage, then why even call these institutions after the Latin term universitas, which meant, simply, any body of people with a distinct purpose and status in society.
Dear decision-makers! I speak out of genuine concern. I express the concerns of hundreds or even thousands of undergraduate and postgraduate students, but perhaps above all, of future PhD students, lecturers and researchers.
I am aware that many of us are going through a difficult time. But universities are already at a breaking point, or about to reach it. If we fail to find successful solutions now, we will all suffer. Faith in the power of education is what has sustained our nation. Let’s affirm this conviction!’