According to an evaluation report recently published by the Estonian Research Council, eight national engineering professorships of the University of Technology received a high rating from an international commission, passing the targeted evaluation required by law. What does this step mean for the University of Technology and for Estonia as a whole?
The evaluation report published on 7 December indicates that the professorships passing the targeted evaluation are:
- structural engineering (Professor Alar Just, leading the professorship);
- electrical engineering (Senior Lecturer Lauri Kütt);
- information technology (Professor Dirk Draheim);
- chemical engineering (until 2020, the professorship was held by Vahur Oja);
- metals technology (Professor Jakob Kübarsepp);
- wood technology (Professor Jaan Kers);
- oil shale technologies (Professor Alar Konist);
- industrial engineering (Professor Tauno Otto).
Areas important for the Estonian economy
Jakob Kübarsepp, Academician and Professor Emeritus of Metals Technology at the University of Technology, emphasises the importance of these disciplines for the Estonian society, economy, and future. If we want the technological success of Estonia to continue and the economy to develop, if we want to have serious developers and advocates in the field of technology, if we want to be able to use our resources wisely and at the same time create new sustainable technologies, the professorships of technology established under the Tallinn University of Technology Act are essential. They serve the current and future interests of Estonia by ensuring a high level of teaching, research and development, and naturally, a new generation of researchers. According to Kübarsepp, the selection of the professorships also took into account the huge impact of engineering on the Estonian economy. ‘The annual output of the manufacturing industry is comparable to the size of the Estonian national budget,’ Kübarsepp notes. Based on the classification of scientific fields and disciplines of the Estonian Research Information System (ETIS), the eight engineering professorships represent key areas related to engineering sciences.
Teaching and research in Estonian language is important
The objective of the evaluated professorships is to ensure the sustainable development of the field of engineering and higher education, including education in Estonian language at the first and second levels of higher education and the development of teaching materials and terminology in Estonian.
In its 2014 decision, the Council of TalTech relied on the criterion that these eight professorships in engineering are of fundamental importance to Estonian society, both today and 100 years from now!
However, according to Jaan Kers, professor of wood technology, it is not a new thing, as the eight professorships were established by the Council of TalTech in 2014 to play a leading role in technical education and research and to ensure the next generation of engineers and technical scientists. ‘Based on an agreement concluded with the Ministry of Education and Research, the senate (formerly, the council) appointed professors with targeted financing to lead the national professorships of technology in 2015. In 2021 and 2022, professors with targeted financing were transferred to a tenure track,’ Kers explains.
How was the evaluation of professorships carried out?
Initially, these eight engineering professorships, fundamentally important to the Estonian society, were divided into five different faculties, but the 2017 structural reform of TalTech resulted in seven engineering faculties and one IT faculty.
The Tallinn University of Technology Act also stipulated that a targeted evaluation is to be carried out every five years and the Estonian Research Council must organise it every five years. Although the law was enacted in 2014, for various reasons (including the COVID-19 crisis), the targeted evaluation was carried out only in 2022 instead of 2020. An international evaluation panel assessed the success of the engineering professorships for the period 2017–2021.
‘For the evaluation, the university submitted a report on the self-evaluation of the professorships and the key persons of professorships met with the international evaluation panel. The performance, impact and level were assessed in terms of research outputs (publications, patents), interaction between research and society, international cooperation, and sustainability of the field, including the next generation of researchers and doctoral studies,’ Kübarsepp says. According to him, the evaluation report contains assessments of four main areas: quality of research, societal impact, international standing, and the mentoring of doctoral students.
Key elements of the report include recommendations for professorships, the university, and the state as valuable input for planning steps for improvement. For example, it recommends that the Estonian state should increase funding to enable the expansion of doctoral studies, the maintenance of a competitive R&D infrastructure, and the dissemination of research results to the public.
According to Professor Kübarsepp, the professorships were evaluated based on their research and development performance in line with internationally recognised standards as well as the efficiency of the use of operating grants allocated to them and their impact on the development and the level of engineering and technology.
The disciplines need long-term support at national level
Kers and Kübarsepp emphasise that in order to maintain the core competences of national engineering professorships, long-term support at national level is needed, as is agreed for the aforementioned TalTech engineering professorships and the University of Tartu national professorships. Agreements on the funding of professorships are set out in the contracts under public law concluded with the universities.
Presentation of the evaluation report for the technology professorships took place on 7 December.