Rector Toomas Asser: universities will not sign administrative contracts without additional funding

Rector of the University of Tartu, Professor Toomas Asser said in the Vikerraadio programme “Uudis +” on 25 January that universities cannot take on additional obligations for the next three years without knowing whether the government provides the necessary funding to meet these obligations. For this reason, the six Estonian public universities have agreed not to sign the administrative contracts for the next three years until they receive clear confirmation of an increase in the activity support.

Asser said in the interview that it is no longer possible to postpone solving the higher education funding crisis. “It has been a growing problem since the time Estonia switched to free higher education. While at the beginning, the public funding was 1.5% of the GDP, it has now dropped to 1.1% of the GDP. Obviously, with such a decline it is impossible to maintain the same working conditions as we had then, and the quality of higher education is about to suffer,” said the rector.

The Ministry of Education and Research and the universities are currently holding talks over the administrative contracts for 2022–2024. These contracts, on the one hand, set out the government's expectations for the universities (incl. increase in IT, engineering, teacher education and other key programmes) and, on the other, ensure university funding. According to Asser, the universities know the state's expectations in terms of development and growth, but not the amount of money they will get to meet these expectations. “In the previous contract period, we assumed obligations and were disappointed as we did not receive the necessary resources. I can confirm that all public universities hold the position that at this stage of the negotiations we are not prepared to sign the administrative contracts,” said Asser.

I can confirm that all public universities hold the position that at this stage of the negotiations we are not prepared to sign the administrative contracts.

Toomas Asser, Rector of the University of Tartu

The rector pointed out that funding decisions must not be postponed until the state budget deliberations in autumn – the decision needs to be made now. “If the process drags on, or until there is no certainty, we remain in the position that we will not sign the administrative contracts,” he added.

The estimated deficit in higher education funding is about 100 million euros per year. Toomas Asser confirmed that the universities obviously do not expect the government to find such additional funding immediately but they have requested the Ministry of Education and Research to increase the amount the activity support in 2023–2025 by at least 15% per year compared to the previous year, to meet the obligations set out in the administrative contract. This means an additional funding of 25 million euros in 2023, 29 million euros in 2024 and 33 million euros un 2025. Asser underlined that efforts should be made in 2022 already to alleviate the situation. He said that in the longer term, however, Estonia needs a political decision whether to continue providing free higher education or switch to a different funding model.

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