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Estonia Higher Education System
Structure of the Higher Educational System in Estonia
Admissions to Higher Education in Estonia
Types of Higher Education Institutions in Estonia
Cycles of Higher Education in Estonia
Types of Higher Education Institutions
In Estonia, the higher education system has two branches: study is carried out in the academic and the professional higher education branch. Since the academic year 2002/03, the general structure of academic study has three levels orcycles. The first level is Bachelor's study and the second level is Master's study. The third and the highest level is Doctoral study.
Professional higher education is, similarly to Bachelor's study, the first level of higher education, which ensures access to Master’s study. Completion of respective studies at each level of higher education is considered the graduation from an educational institution.
In case of medical training, veterinary training, pharmacist training, dentistry training, architectural studies, civil engineering studies and teachers’ training for general teachers, study is based on integrated curricula of Bachelor's and Master's study and gives the qualification of the second level of academic higher education.
An academic year is divided into two terms – the autumn and the spring term. An academic year begins in September and ends in June. Both the autumn and the spring term generally last for five months, the volume of which in credit points makes one half of the study load of an academic year. The autumn term usually lasts, based on the decision of the educational institution, from September to December; and the examination session is in January. The spring term lasts from the end of January or the beginning of February to the end of May, but examinations often take place until the end of June. Students shall have at least eight weeks of holiday each year.
The study load determined in the curriculum shall be expressed in credit points of European Credit Point Transfer System (ECTS). One credit point corresponds to 26 hours of work used by a student for studying. The study load of one academic year shall be 60 credit points, which is 1,560 hours of work which a student has spent on studying.
Two types of institutions operate: universities and institutions of professional higher education. At a university, higher education is acquired at three levels:
professional higher education and Bachelor’s study, Master’s study and Doctoral study. A professional higher education institution and some other vocational educational institutions provide professional higher education. A professional higher education institution can also provide vocational training to students who have acquired secondary education and, upon complying with certain requirements on the basis of the decision by the Government of the Republic, also Master’s study. In terms of the form of ownership, educational institutions can be state-owned, public and private.
A university is a research, development, educational and cultural institution where instruction is provided at the three levels of higher education according to professional higher education, Bachelor’s study, Master’s study and Doctoral study curricula in several fields of study.
The task and mission of a university is:
• to advance science and culture;
• to develop students into responsible and enterprising citizens;
• to cooperate with other universities and with the whole society while supporting the development of the society and preservation of national culture through efficient research, development and creative work;
• to create and develop opportunities based on integrated education and research activity for international cooperation, acquisition of higher education based on scientific approach as well as for lifelong learning;
• to provide services based on education, research and other creative activities necessary for the society.
An institution of professional higher education is an educational institution which provides professional higher education and which may provide Master’s study and vocational training and where at least two thirds of the students study on the basis of professional higher education curricula. Vocational schools may, in exceptional cases, also offer professional higher education.
The task of institutions of professional higher education is preparation of motivated specialists with excellent professional skills and work attitudes at the first level of higher education, taking account of the needs of the labour market. Study is characterised by flexibility and practical focus of curricula as well as close cooperation with enterprises, vocational unions and other social partners.
The functions of an institution of professional higher education are:
• to promote lifelong learning corresponding to the needs of the labour market,
• to offer services comprising study and research activities,
• to carry out applied studies;
• to develop students into responsible and enterprising citizens;
• to co-operate with different institutions and communicate actively with the public while supporting the development of the society through efficient development, innovative activity and applied research in the their field of activity.
Pursuant to the Higher Education Standard, the objectives of higher education studies are as follows:
• during Bachelor’s study, a student improves his or her general educational knowledge and acquires the basic knowledge and skills of a speciality and the knowledge and skills necessary for Master's study and to commence work;
• during professional higher education a student acquires the competence necessary for employment in a particular profession or to continue his or her studies in Master's study;
• during Master’s study, a student improves his or her knowledge and skills in his or her speciality and acquires the knowledge and skills necessary for independent work and Doctoral study.;
• during Doctoral study, a student acquires the knowledge and skills necessary for independent research, development or professional creative activity.
First Cycle Programmes
Students can make a choice between two types of curricula of the first cycle of higher education: Bachelor's curricula and professional higher education curricula.
Branches of Study
The standard period of Bachelor's study as well as of professional higher education study is three to four years and the study load prescribed in the curriculum is 180–240 European Credit Transfer System credits. As an exception, the standard period of study in obstetrics is four and a half years. The study outcomes of Bachelor's study and professional higher education study correspond to the study outcomes defined on the sixth level of Estonian and European qualification framework.
So students can make a choice between two types of curricula of the first cycle of higher education:
• under theory-based Bachelor's curricula, practical skills are created on the basis of theoretical principles; curricula presume strong general education knowledge;
• under professional higher education curricula focused on practical training, theoretical knowledge is created mainly on the basis of practical needs: curricula contain practical work (incl. practical training in work environment) at least to the extent of 15%.
It is possible to access Master’s studies after the completion of either of the above curricula, on the presumption that the admission requirements established by the institution of professional higher education or university are fulfilled.
The Higher Education Standard sets out the broad groups of studies and fields of studies, as well as the nominal periods of different higher education levels and curriculum groups where a specific educational institution has the right to provide instruction and issue respective academic degrees and diplomas.
All persons with secondary education or with a corresponding foreign qualification have an equal right to compete to be admitted to a university, an institution of professional higher education or vocational school.
The board of an educational institution establishes the conditions and procedures for admittance of students. In addition to an upper secondary education certificate, also the National Examination Certificate, results of entrance exams, professional aptitude interviews, academic aptitude tests, etc. may be considered. Higher education institutions have created specific possibilities for competing for study places also for students with special needs and flexible forms of study for different target groups. For example, several educational institutions offer the people who are already working, an opportunity to study in the evenings, at weekends, once a month, etc.
A person who complies with the admission requirements specified in the terms for admission established by the board of the educational institution shall be matriculated as a student.
A student can acquire higher education without reimbursement of study costs if he or she studies full-time following a curriculum, the language of instruction of which is Estonian. A university has the right (but not an obligation) to demand partial reimbursement of study costs from students who study part-time, do not comply with the requirement of full-time study or following a curriculum, the language of instruction of which is other than Estonian.
The proficiency level of international students in the language of instruction is set by higher education institution. The procedures for admission and covering of study costs of persons who study on the basis of international agreements and who are not residents of Estonia are set out in accordance with these agreements.
Estonian higher education institutions do not have the right to implement the system of taking account of previous study results and professional experience (VÕTA) in the course of student admission as the primary admission requirement is the existence of a certificate of acquisition of secondary education. However, APEL (Accreditation of Prior and Experimental Learning) can be used with regard to other admission requirements.
The objective of each curriculum is to offer a student the knowledge and skills necessary for starting work or continuing studies. Legislation establishes uniform requirements for higher education level curricula. The requirements concern the quality of studies, nominal period of the curriculum, the requirements for teaching staff, the conditions for access to studies and the conditions for completion of studies. All educational institutions have the right to develop curricula that fall within the framework of established general requirements and correspond to the profile of the institution; these curricula are approved by the board of the educational institution and registered in the Estonian Education Information System.
The Higher Education Standard sets out the study results at higher education levels, which form the basis for the development of curricula.
One of the characteristics of a learning outcomes-based curriculum is its modular structure. By selecting modules, a student specialises in his or her main field of study and, if necessary, also in one or more secondary fields of study. For the purpose of specialising in a certain field of study, the educational institution offers the student necessary modules. The final selection of modules will be made by the student when compiling his or her own personal curriculum, i.e. selecting his or her elective and optional subjects. It is therefore possible that a student’s main field of study develops during completion of the curriculum.
It is important that the objectives and learning outcomes of the curricula are in correlation with the learning outcomes of the higher education level and through that also with the qualification framework: objectives and learning outcomes must be phrased in a way that they would enable the assessment of the knowledge and skills of a graduate of the curriculum; the name and structure of the curriculum and manner of carrying out study (teaching time, practice, individual work) must support the achievement of the objectives of the curriculum.
The qualification requirements of the teaching staff of universities and institutions of professional higher education are treated separately because their tasks differ. The qualification requirement of teaching staff is generally the existence of either a Doctoral or Master’s degree or a degree equal thereto, in addition, pedagogical skills and experience in supervising of students are required.
For graduation from any curriculum, it is necessary to pass a final examination or to defend a final thesis, with the exception of Doctoral study that ends with the defence of the Doctoral thesis.
Language of instruction is the language used in conducting studies, knowledge of which allows achieving study results at higher education levels. Universities have the right to decide on the use of other languages as languages of instruction in addition to Estonian. The language of instruction of professional higher education institutions and vocational educational institutions is Estonian, the use of other languages shall be decided by the minister in whose area of government the educational institution falls. This requirement does not apply to private higher education schools. A student with no command of Estonian shall be provided with an opportunity to learn Estonian profoundly during one academic year and, therefore, the standard period of his or her studies are prolonged by one year. Intensive national language study is financed through the operating grant allocated to the educational institution.
Educational institutions may take account of a person’s previous study results and professional experiences (APEL) to the extent and according to the principles established by the board of the university or professional higher education institution and bearing in mind the principles established in the higher education standard. Through APEL, a curriculum can be completed in full, except for the final examination or final paper. As noted above, it is not possible, according to Estonian legislation, to take account of a person’s previous study results and professional experiences to compensate for a missing formal qualification in order to begin studies.
Higher education institutions may launch joint curricula. In case of a joint curriculum, study is carried out in two or more education institutions offering higher education that have cooperatively developed and approved the joint curriculum. If a part of the joint curriculum is carried out in an educational institution located abroad, the parts of the curriculum implemented in different countries must correspond to the relevant requirements of these countries. In case of a joint curriculum, at least 20% of the volume of the curriculum must be passed at the partner university.
In general, teaching methods are chosen by teachers.
The most common method of teaching is still a lecture, in which a teacher presents an overview of the most important issues of a topic usually within 2 academic hours (90 minutes). The method is, however, gradually losing its prominence and the popularity of other methods is increasing. In seminars, the topics and issues covered in lectures or studied independently are discussed and analysed, problems are solved in working groups and reports are presented. Case studies, different forms of project or teamwork, etc. are the methods widely used. Interactive study methods are also applied more extensively in all educational fields. The ultimate freedom of choice and responsibility with regard to teaching methods and study aids, nevertheless lies with the teacher offering a course.
A lot of attention has been paid to the introduction of e-study at the level of higher education institutions. For the support of e-learning, web-based learning environments and teaching aids have been created and continue to be developed. Educational institutions have created and continue to create more and more possibilities for video conferencing. Examinations can also be taken through IT solutions. With the support of EU Social Fund the higher education e-learning programme BeSt was implemented in 2008-2013 with a view to reinforcing the use of e-learning instruments and possibilities, increasing the quality of formal education and in-service training and the diversity of studies, and contributing to an increase in the mobility of students and improvement of the access to studies in various regions of Estonia.
Progression of Students
At an institution offering higher education, studies may be undertaken in the form of full-time study, part-time study or external study. People in full-time study and part-time study are considered students, those in external study are not considered students. The provisions of the Adult Education Act concerning formal education apply to external students; such provisions mainly deal with the right to get study leave. Students in external study cannot apply for education allowance or study loan.
In full-time study, a student shall cumulatively complete at least 75% of the study load required by the curriculum to be completed by the end of each academic year, and in part-time study – 50−75%. The first year when a student enrols at a higher education institution, he or she shall decide whether he or she will study full-time or part-time, unless only full-time study may be conducted according to the curriculum. In the following academic years, the higher education institution shall base its decision of whether the student is studying full-time or part-time on the student’s completion of the study load required by the curriculum to be completed by the end of each academic year. The higher education institution transfers a student who does not meet the requirements of full-time study to part-time study.
The board of a higher education institution establishes the general rules of study activities, as well conditions and procedures for dismissal of students from the university.
The employment opportunities for graduates of the 3-year Bachelor’s study significantly depend on the country’s economic situation. During the period of economic growth (2005-2007), there was a great shortage of employees in the economy and also the new holders of a Bachelor’s degree (according to the new 3+2 system) could find a job relatively easily. For example in the 2006/2007 academic year, only less than half (44%) of the graduates from Bachelor level continued their studies at Master’s level the following academic year. This was also a period when employability issues were not ranked very highly among the priorities of higher education institutions. Since the outbreak of the economic crisis, the situation has changed and all higher education institutions deem it increasingly important to develop their career counselling system and to mediate practical study places.
In order to start work in public service, the general requirement with regard to minimum education is formal secondary education and therefore no formal obstacles exist for Bachelor’s level graduates. In reality, educational requirements are established in the public sector through job descriptions individually for each post and usually the minimum requirement for jobs with significant responsibility is Master’s degree or a qualification equal thereto.
In the last years, business management has become more important in non-economy specialties to add dimension to the competencies of the students and contribute to better coping in their working life.
Along with the implementation of learning outcome based curricula, since 1 September 2009, a new assessment system has been used where the focus is on assessment of a student’s achievement of learning outcomes and on supporting students in the study process, in order to give him or her reliable information on his or her effectiveness in passing studies. The new assessment system was established by a decree of the Minister of Education and Research from 27 October 2009 “Unified assessment system on higher education level, together with conditions for receipt of cum laude diploma”. Compared to the previous system, attention is paid to measuring the acquisition of all learning outcomes that must be acquired on the minimum level and the volume of acquisition of a subject (percentage of subject acquired of the total volume) and the results of other students are not important.
Differentiated and non-differentiated scales are used in student assessment and the scale to be used must be known to the student already before beginning studies. In case of a non-differentiated scale, thresholds (base level) are established and if a student exceeds them, he or she has successfully passed the subject or module, i.e. achieved the described learning outcomes. This is marked with the terms “passed” and “failed”. In case of a differentiated scale, initially also the thresholds for passing a subject or module are established and then also the criteria of learning outcomes are described for obtaining grades from A to E (from 5 to 1) that signify a positive result. The level of thresholds is determined by the teacher.
The general scale for assessment of acquisition of learning outcomes is as follows:
• grade A (5) – excellent – an outstanding and particularly exhaustive achievement of learning outcomes characterised by free and creative usage of knowledge and skills that is above the very good level;
• grade B (4) – very good – very good achievement of learning outcomes characterised by effective and creative usage of knowledge and skills. Errors not related to content or principles may occur with regard to more specific and detailed knowledge and skills;
• grade C (3) – good – good level of achievement of learning outcomes characterised by effective usage of knowledge and skills. Insecurity and lack of accuracy occur with regard to more specific and detailed knowledge and skills;
• grade D (2) – satisfactory – sufficient level of achievement of learning outcomes characterised by usage of knowledge and skills in typical situations; in exceptional situations shortcomings and insecurity occur;
• grade E (1) – unsatisfactory – achievement of most important learning outcomes on a minimally acceptable level characterised by usage of knowledge and skills in typical situations in limited manners; in exceptional situations significant shortcomings and insecurity occur;
• grade 0 or F – insufficient – a student has achieved knowledge and skills on a level below the minimum level.
Non-achievement of learning outcomes is marked as F or 0. Other symbols expressing assessment results may not be written on an academic transcript.
Teachers must describe the assessment criteria of all grades of all units of study (subject, module, a set of subjects, parts of individual subjects). Compared to the general learning outcomes of the curriculum, these criteria are much more informative and inform students of the level of knowledge and skills expected for acquisition of any grade.
When taking account of previous study and professional experiences and transferring grades from other higher education institutions (generally from foreign higher education institutions), the following principles apply:
• previous non-graded (as a rule – non-formal) studies and professional experience is usually taken into account in a non-differentiated scale;
• when taking account of previously graded subject or modules, a new exam or standard-determining test is not passed; i.e. if the learning outcomes are suitable for transfer but the earlier type of assessment was different (e.g. previously a standard-determining test was passed but now an exam is required), there is no need to make a new assessment and the earlier result should be counted.
The new assessment system was applied to all outcome-based curricula. As an exception, the assessment system used until 1 September 2010 (see ch.6.13) is used under such curricula under which no more admissions take place and which have not been brought to conformity with outcome-based study.
A diploma issued by a higher education institution is complemented by an academic transcript that includes an explanation about which assessment system has been used in assessing a student’s knowledge and skills. An academic transcript is not an independent document certifying higher education.
Professional higher education study and Bachelor’s study end with the taking of a final examination or the defence of a thesis. The precondition for being allowed to take the final examination or to defend a thesis is generally the fact that the student has passed the other subjects of the curriculum. Final theses are usually assed in a public defence event, a defence can also be declared non-public.
The study programme groups in which a university has the right to provide instruction and the academic degrees and diplomas to be awarded upon completion of studies shall be specified by the Government of the Republic in the Higher Education Standard.
A person who has completed professional higher education study is issued free of charge a Diploma Supplement in English by the educational institution. A person who has completed Bachelor’s study is issued free of charge the Diploma Supplement by the university upon the request of the person. The issued document certifying education includes the contents of the curriculum and the results of its completion (including form of study, conditions for completing the curriculum, names of subjects and their volumes in credit points, as well as grading systems (grade/assessment)), results of the accreditation of the curriculum, etc. A diploma supplement issued in Estonia follows the instructions of the European Commission, the Council of Europe and UNESCO/CEPES.
A person who has completed Bachelor’s study may, under the conditions established by the Minister of Education and Research, be awarded a diploma cum laude.
Second Cycle Programmes
Branches of Study
Master’s study is the second level (cycle) study of higher education, in the course of which a student deepens his or her specialised knowledge and skills and acquires knowledge and skills necessary for independent work and Doctoral study. The standard period of Master's study is one to two years and the study volume is 60–120 ECTS credits. The standard period of Bachelor's and Master's study combined must be at least five years in total and the study load prescribed by the curriculum is 300 ECTS credits. In the Estonian higher education system, the length of a second level Master’s curriculum generally does not vary according to specialities. Information on Bachelor’s study and Master’s study integrated curricula is provided on a separate page. The learning outcomes of the Master’s study level correspond to the learning outcomes defined on the seventh level of the Estonian and European qualification framework.
Information on fields of study is provided on the page on Bachelor’s study.
The access requirement to Master's study is a Bachelor's degree, higher education acquired by completing a professional higher education curriculum or a corresponding qualification.
In an institution of professional higher education, work experience of at least one year in a field of study corresponding to the Master's study curriculum is also required for commencing Master’s studies. Professional higher education and Master’s studies must total at least 300 ECTS credits. More information on admission requirements is provided on the page on Bachelor's study.
Most higher education institutions involve representatives of employers’ unions and vocational unions in the curriculum development process and final thesis defence committees. The role of higher education institutions in mediation of practical study places is increasingly acknowledged. Students are encouraged to choose issues related to actual problems of enterprises as themes of their course papers and final theses. Many higher education institutions carry out regular surveys on their graduates in order to monitor the success of engagement of their graduates on the labour market but also to get feedback on the organisation and quality of study. In recent years, entrepreneurial study in non-economic specialisations has become increasingly important in order to ensure that students have wider competences for coping in professional life.
Master’s study ends with the taking of a final examination or the defence of a thesis. A person who has completed Master’s study is issued free of charge a Diploma Supplement in English by the educational institution. The title of the curriculum which the student has completed can also be recorded on Master’s diploma. The issued document certifying education includes the contents of the curriculum and the results of its completion (including form of study, conditions for completing the curriculum, names of subjects and their volumes in credit points, as well as grading systems (grade/assessment)), results of the quality assessment of the curriculum and level of the qualifications framework etc. A diploma supplement issued in Estonia follows the instructions of the European Commission, the Council of Europe and UNESCO/CEPES.
A person who has completed Master’s study may, under the conditions established by the Minister of Education and Research, be awarded a diploma cum laude.
Programmes outside the Bachelor and Master Structure
In case of medical training, veterinary training, pharmacist training, dentistry training, architectural studies, civil engineering studies and teachers’ training for general teachers, Bachelor's and Master's level study is integrated into a unified whole. These curricula are called integrated curricula of Bachelor's and Master's study and just like in case of graduating from Master’s study, students get a Master’s degree. In case of study based on integrated curricula of Bachelor's and Master's study, the standard period of medical training and veterinary training is six years and the study load is 360 ECTS credits; the standard period of pharmacist training, dentistry training, architectural studies, civil engineering studies and teacher training for general teachers is five years and the study load is 300 ECTS credits.
Study based on integrated curricula of Bachelor’s and Master’s study ends with the taking of a final examination or the defence of a thesis. Persons who have completed study based on integrated curricula of Bachelor’s and Master’s study are, after completion of the full curriculum, awarded a diploma certifying completion of the curriculum or the awarded academic degree together with an academic transcript, and are issued free of charge a diploma supplement in English by the educational institution.
Third Cycle (PhD) Programmes
Organisation of Doctoral Studies
Doctoral study is the highest level study of higher education in the course of which a student acquires the knowledge and skills necessary for independent research, development and professional creative work. Doctoral study consists of studying and broad research and development activity or other creative work that must make up at least 70% of the volume of the curriculum. A doctoral thesis is defined as independent scientific research that presents an innovative solution to an important problem of the respective scientific field, or as creative work. The studying part of Doctoral study consists of general and specific study and elective subjects; the volume of these subjects differs somewhat in the Doctoral curricula of different universities.
The standard period of Doctoral study is from three to four years and the study load is 180–240 ECTS credits. However, in Estonia the duration of Doctoral study programmes is mostly 4 years with a total volume of 240 ECTS credits. A person graduating from Doctoral study receives a Doctoral degree. A Doctoral degree is a scientific degree awarded after Doctoral study is passed and a Doctoral thesis as independent scientific research has been defended. The learning outcomes of Doctoral level study correspond to the learning outcomes defined on the eighth level of the Estonian and European qualification framework.
Doctoral study is carried out only in universities. Attestation has become an important organisational element in carrying out Doctoral study. A detailed procedure for attestation is approved by the council of every university. In the course of attestation, the attestation committee assesses the Doctoral student’s progress in study and research activities, which means in essence the evaluation of fulfilment of the Doctoral student’s individual plan.
There are Doctoral schools in Estonia which are not independent structural entities but inter-university consortia where Doctoral students are offered interdisciplinary courses and international cooperation is promoted. The operation of Doctoral schools is financed with special measures supported by ESF; the reason for launching Doctoral schools was a wish to increase the effectiveness of Doctoral studies, the number of defences and the quality of supervision of Doctoral students and to improve internal inter-university cooperation.
The precondition for beginning Doctoral study is a Master’s degree or an equivalent qualification. More detailed conditions and procedures for admission of students are established by the university board. Entrants to Doctoral study may, for example, be required to submit a thesis research plan and undergo an admission interview. Usually, entrants to Doctoral study are required to submit a research plan for the thesis and to undergo an admission interview. The thesis research plan must generally include an explanation for choosing the theme and the objective of the research, introduction of research methodology and a timetable for completing the work. The admission committee may take account of the competencies acquired in the course of previous professional experience and additional training.
The total number of students to be admitted to Doctoral study is determined by the university board.
Students can choose between full-time and part-time study, completing at least 75 per cent or 50 to 75 per cent, respectively, of the study load subject to completion according to the curriculum by the end of each academic year. Doctoral allowance can be applied for by the Doctoral candidates who are enrolled in full-time study or part-time study in case the reimbursement of study costs is not required from him or her, who have not exceeded the nominal period of the curriculum and who have passed evaluation or are the first-year Doctoral candidates.
Status of Doctoral Students/Candidates
Doctoral students are subject to social benefits on the same grounds as other higher education students.
A position of junior researcher has been created. Since 1 July 2012, the position of a junior researcher can be applied for by a person who holds at least Master’s degree or equivalent. Positions of junior researchers, like other positions of research workers, are filled on the basis of the Research and Development Organisation Act.
The position of a junior researcher as a science worker is not directly related to completing Doctoral study. Working as a junior researcher should, nevertheless, have a positive effect on the preparation of Doctoral thesis and motivate young people to dedicate themselves to research also after completing Doctoral studies.
A Doctoral student has the right to receive both study allowance and salary of junior researcher. As working full-time may lengthen the period of study for Doctoral students, the Doctoral students in part-time study who comply with the requirements set out by law can be paid study allowance announced in the State Budget in proportion to their study load.
Issues related to supervision of Doctoral theses are generally not organised at the state level, they belong to the competence of the university.
An educational institution may appoint a supervisor of Doctoral thesis according to its regulations. Both one supervisor and co-supervisors may be involved. Also supervisors or co-supervisors from foreign states can be used.
The quality agreement between educational institutions outlines the importance of supervision.
Universities have agreed that the indicators for assessing the results and success of Doctoral studies used by universities and academic units for setting up and comparing objectives will be agreed upon. For developing the supervising competencies of supervisors, universities draw up, in co-operation, a description of supervising a Doctoral thesis, the aim of which is to assist the supervisor to understand his or her tasks and assess the additional work load and give the head of the academic unit a clearer basis for assessing the performance of the supervisor. In addition, trainings on supervision are carried out and seminars and inter-disciplinary workshops are organised in cooperation with partners, in which also international experts participate and good experience in supervision is shared. Universities promote co-supervision through which it is possible to increase the efficiency of supervision within the academic unit, link different disciplines and promote cooperation between universities and with the business sector. Universities take into account feedback from Doctoral students received both at the interview with the immediate employee and upon re-assignment to a position.
For example, in the framework of ESF DoRa programme the qualification and suitability of supervisors is assessed in order to allocate additional Doctoral study places to universities. Also co-supervision (incl. involvement of external supervisors) and organisation of training to raise supervisors’ competencies in teaching and supervision are financed in the framework of Doctoral schools supported from ESF resources.
Supervision competencies are also related to the procedure for elections of professors. The higher education standard establishes that when running for the position of a professor at a university (except when the person has not previously worked as a professor, and in case of running for the position of professor in the arts field), at least one Doctoral thesis must have been defended under the supervision of the candidate in the last five years.
Outside the academic community, the requirement for holding a Doctoral degree is not very common when getting a job. However, this trend has been changing. In order to bring the activities of universities and enterprises closer to one another, a specific measure financed from ESF has been used to support carrying out a part of the research activity in an enterprise or research and development institution to offer conditions that a university is not able to offer to its Doctoral student (e.g., work with practitioners of the field or specific infrastructure).
Doctoral study is carried out on the basis of the student’s individual plan compiled according to the curriculum.
Universities check the fulfilment of work load requirements by Doctoral students through attestation; each Doctoral student must undergo periodic attestation under the conditions and pursuant to the procedure established by the board of the university. In order to be attested, a Doctoral student generally submits materials covering his or her work on the previous period to the attestation committee, the members of which decide on the basis of the information submitted how many ECTS credits the student has fulfilled. Also presentations and participation in international scientific conferences, participation in international Doctoral courses and study activities of Doctoral schools, additional training in laboratories abroad and participation in courses on compilation of scientific projects as well as individual study may be acknowledged as parts of fulfilling a candidate’s individual work plan.
Acquisition of subjects foreseen by a curriculum is assessed on an assessment scale similar to the one used with first and second level higher education students.
According to the higher education standard, Doctoral thesis is an independent research which presents a new solution to a relevant problem in the according field of science, or a creative work. Thus, independent research formulated as a thesis, a series of publications together with a summary article or a published monograph are counted as a Doctoral thesis by universities. The Doctoral thesis must include an overview of the nature of the research problem, setting up of the research task, statements submitted for defence, description of methodology as well as the manner of finding a solution to and proof of the research problem. In case of a Doctoral thesis in foreign language, an Estonian-language summary about the contents of the different parts of the thesis is required; in case of a Doctoral thesis in Estonian, the summary must be in a foreign language. The main characteristic of a Doctoral thesis is deemed to be its publication. A research-based Doctoral thesis generally requires the publication of at least three scientific publications.
After a person has fulfilled the curriculum to full extent and completed Doctoral study, the university offers him or her a diploma on fulfilling the curriculum or on the awarded academic degree together with an academic transcript. The university will offer a student that has completed Doctoral study an English language diploma supplement free of charge. The title of the curriculum which the student has completed can also be recorded on a Doctoral diploma.
Outside universities, there are no alternative opportunities for acquisition of Doctoral degrees in the Estonian higher education system. The system also does not include third level programmes, the fulfilment of which would not give the opportunity to apply for a Doctoral degree.
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