Administration of higher education is the responsibility of the Ministry of Education; the institutions may be state, public, or private. Two types of higher education institutions exist in Estonia. The first type is the university, which provides academic higher education and applied, professionally oriented study programs. The second type is applied higher education institutions, which offer applied, professionally oriented diploma-study and vocational higher education programs. The tendency has been to merge applied higher education institutions into the universities as colleges.
Universities: A university is an institution of learning and research in which a student may acquire the academic qualifications of higher education. It is also possible to complete applied diploma-study at the universities. However, the broader objective of a university is to foster research and academic practices and to develop opportunities for obtaining higher education according to the standard of higher education.
Public universities are autonomous under the administrative jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education. Universities have the right to independently determine academic and organizational structure, develop academic content of courses, organize research, employ staff, and select candidates.
Private higher education institutions provide at least one baccalaureate-level study program. These institutions provide their own financing, but the state may participate in some programs if the public demand is apparent.
In the 2000-2001 academic year, six public universities and six private universities (with at least one study program accredited or conditionally accredited) operated in Estonia. The remainder of the 40 institutions and universities operating in Estonia during this period had nonaccredited programs.
Applied Higher Education Institutions: Applied higher education institutions offer non-academic higher education (diploma-study) with an emphasis on professional skills and abilities. These institutions may also offer vocational higher education programs. State supported applied higher education institutions are funded by the state budget. Private higher education institutions provide study programs mainly in the field of social sciences, business administration, or theology.
Admission to Higher Education: The general requirement for admission to higher education is the gymnasium certificate. However, secondary education may also be obtained at a secondary vocational school in which secondary education is combined with vocational education.
Since 1997, secondary school students have been required to pass state exams. These exams are conducted mainly in written form. However, examinations in foreign languages include an oral section. These state exams serve as entrance examinations to higher education institutions. Although some higher education institutions may conduct interviews, the state exams serve as the most important selection criteria.
Administration: The collegial decision-making body of a higher education institution is the council, whose function is determined in the statutes of the higher education institution. All higher education institutions operate primarily under the direction of the rector who acts under the council. The rector is responsible for the daily operation and development of the higher education institution, as well as for the legal and effective use of financial resources.
Academic Staff: The academic staff of a university is comprised of professors, associate professors, lecturers, assistants, and teachers. Senior researchers and researchers conduct the research work at the universities. All tenured education staff are selected from public applications of staff who have completed at least five years at a public university.
Students & Courses of Study: Higher education institutions offer diploma-study, baccalaureate study, master's degrees, doctoral degrees, and vocational higher education study. In the 1999-2000 academic year, approximately 49,574 students, of which 956 were foreign students, were enrolled in Estonia's higher education institutions. The language of instruction is usually Estonian, but an increasing number of courses are taught in English. In addition, some courses are taught in Russian.
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