Estonian Educational System

The current Estonian educational system consists of pre-school education, basic education, general secondary education, vocational education and higher education. There are special basic and upper-secondary schools for handicapped children.

Basic education is the compulsory educational minimum, which is provided by basic schools (grades 1-9). Children reaching the age of seven have to attend school.

On the satisfactory completion of basic education, studies are usually continued in a gymnasium – a general secondary school (grades 10-12) or at a vocational secondary school. Besides schools offering general secondary education, there are secondary schools where certain subjects are taught in more depth. Currently there are schools with special focus on languages (French, English, German, etc), mathematics, biology and other subjects.

Trade can be learned at a vocational secondary school (59 schools) or a post-secondary professional school (74 schools). Post-secondary professional schools provide vocational higher education. Vocational education institutions offer study programs in 35 fields of study.

Higher education is divided into two parallel sectors, applied higher education (diploma studies) and the academic higher education (bachelor's, master's and doctorate studies).

Estonia has the following types of higher educational institutions:
· public universities
· private universities
· public institutions of applied higher education
· private institutions of applied higher education
The Estonian University of Life Sciences is one of the six public universities in Estonia.

The universities are autonomous to the extent determined by the law of universities. This autonomy means that universities have the right to independently determine their academic and organisational structure, the content of teaching and research work, the course curricula, the requirements for admission and graduation, etc.


Recent Developments in Higher Education

In January 2007 the Estonian higher education internationalisation strategy 2006-2015 was endorsed by the Minister of Education and Research as a result of extensive national debate. The objective of the internationalisation of higher education in Estonia is to improve the competitiveness of Estonian higher education in the region, make our institutions of higher education more visible and create a legal and institutional environment that supports internationalisation in all of its aspects.

Another positive development has been the parliamentary approval of Estonian Higher Education Strategy 2006–2015 in November 2006 and of Estonian Research, Development and Innovation Strategy 2007-2013 in February 2007. The strengthening of the international dimension of higher education and research institutions is identified in both documents as one of the main challenges in the coming years. It has been envisaged to use both national as well as European Structural Funds for the development and implementation of practices laid out in the strategies.

In December 2007 an Agreement on Good Practice in the Internationalisation of Estonian Higher Education Institutions was signed by the rectors of public universities. The purpose of the agreement is to specify the duties that Estonian higher education institutions shall undertake and pledge to observe by executing any internationalisation-related actions. 

The initiation of the agreement came from the Estonian Rectors’ Conference and the rectors of all public universities signed it at the launch event in December. Other higher education institutions that express their desire and readiness to observe good practice as defined in the document are cordially welcome to join the agreement.