Higher Education in Estonia

The history of education system in Estonia gives a clear light about its influence by many different countries which have ruled over its territory. The Tartu Grammar School in Estonia was reorganized in 1632 and Academia Gustaviana was the new name given to it. The year is regarded as a significant one as the first university in Estonia “The University of Tartu” was established.

The higher education system of Estonia comprises of two main branches:
  • The academic branch
  • The professional higher education branch

The Academic Branch

The academic study structure has three different cycles. First is the Bachelor's study, which is followed by the Master's study and finally the Doctoral study which is the third and the highest level of study.

Professional Higher Education Branch

In the professional higher education Bachelor's study is the first level of higher education, which gives an access to pursue Master’s programme. The successful completion of the study at each level of higher education, the student is regarded as a graduate.

Higher education studies in Estonia takes the following path:

  • The Bachelor’s programme helps a student to improve his/her educational knowledge and also acquires the basic skills and knowledge that is required to further pursue master’s programme.

  • During the professional higher education programme, the student gains the competence that is necessary for their employment in a particular profession or even helps them continue with their Master’s programme.

  • During the Master’s programme, the student further improve their skills and knowledge in their specific field of study and acquires the required knowledge that would help them if they further go for independent work or Doctoral study

  • During the doctoral study, a student acquires the knowledge and skills necessary for independent research or professional creative activity.

Higher Education Academic Year

An Estonia academic year can be divided into two terms:
  • The autumn term
  • The spring term
Every year the academic year begins in the month of September and ends in June. The duration of both the term is generally five months. The autumn term is based upon the institute’s decision and it is generally from September to December, the exams are held in the month of January. Then in the end of January or beginning of February is time for the spring term which ends in the end of May, and in June end the spring term examinations are held. The students get a total of 8 weeks holiday in each academic year.

The load of study that is determined in the academic curriculum is expressed in credit points of ECTS or European Credit Point Transfer System. Hence a single credit point corresponds to 26 hours of work that is used utilized by the student for studying. The total study load of a year is 60 credit points, which is a total of 1,560 hours of work that the student has spent on studying.

There are two types of higher education institutions in Estonia.
  1. The universities
  2. The institutions of professional higher education

University Education in Estonia

At the university, the students pursue higher education at three different levels: professional higher education and Bachelor’s programme, Master’s programme and Doctoral programme. A vocational educational institutions and some other professional higher education institution offer professional higher education in Estonia.

The mission and task of a university in Estonia is:
  • Advancement of Culture and Science.
  • To make every student an enterprising and responsible citizens.
  • Co-operation with the whole society and other universities and supporting the development of the society and also preserving the culture of Estonia through creative work, development and research.
  • Based on various research activities and integrated education, create and develop opportunities for various international cooperation.
  • To provide services this is based upon the creative activities, research and education.

Institutions of Professional Higher Education

An institution of professional higher education provides professional higher education and which may offer vocational programme and Master’s programme and at least 2/3 of the students pursue their studies based on the professional higher education curricula.

The main task of the professional higher education institution is to prepare the student with excellent work attitudes and professional skills at the very first level of higher education, considering the need of the labour market.

Given below are the functions of the of higher education professional institutes
  • Promoting lifelong learning that correspond the need of a labour market.
  • To offer various services that comprises research activities and study.
  • Carrying out applied studies.
  • To groom every students as enterprising and responsible citizens.
  • Cooperating with different types of institutions and also communicate actively with the public while supporting the society’s development through innovative activities, applied research and development in their field of activity.

First Cycle Programmes - Bachelor's Programme

In the first cycle of higher education programmes, the students are given the choice to make between Bachelor's programme and the professional higher education programme.

The duration of study for both Bachelor's degree and the professional higher education study is same and is of 3-4 years. However, for the obstetrics study the duration is four and a half years. The outcome of both professional higher education study and Bachelor's study correspond to an outcome that is defined on the 6th level of Estonian and European qualification framework.

The two types of the first cycle of higher education curricula are:
  • Under Bachelor's curricula that are theory-based, the practical skills are mostly created and are based on the theoretical principles.

  • The practical training, theoretical knowledge based on the practical needs is main focus of the professional higher education curricula. The curricula also include practical work that has at least 15% practical training in the work environment.
The curricula make it possible for the student to pursue Master’s programme after successfully completing any one of the given curricula. 

Second Cycle Programmes - Master's Programme

The master programme is the second level of higher education studies which helps a student to deepen their specialized knowledge which is important for further Doctoral study or independent work. The duration of the master’s programme is 1 - 2 years and one should earn credit points between 60 - 120 ECTS. The standard period of combining both Master's and Bachelor's programme must be at least five years and credit points of 300 ECTS.

Third Cycle (PhD) Programmes - Doctoral Programme

The third and the highest level of higher education programme is the Doctoral study. During the doctoral study the student gain skills and knowledge that is necessary for them in their independent research, professional creative work and development.

The duration of the Doctoral programmes in Estonia is 4 years with total credits of 240 ECTS. A Doctoral degree is awarded to a person who has successfully completed his Doctoral research study and his/her study is passed and also a Doctoral thesis as the student’s independent scientific research has been defended successfully.
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