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Estonian higher education – a model for teaching the trends of
PhD student of the Department of Education, University of Turku
When facing the task to write an essay concerning the basics of educational policy,
one’s primary course of action would be turning to the resources of the university
libraries. To my surprise, as a reply to my information request for the educational
policy issues in Estonian libraries, a large variety (321) of information sources with a
very hectic nature were retrieved. Most of these were documents and articles from the
Estonian Educational Forums, the round table discussions held for defining about the
actual state and future steps of education in Estonia. There were also many reports of
specific cases how educational policy has been implemented in different countries.
But no books, which one could use as the basic source of information in learning
about the essence of educational policy, were available. The concept of educational
policy seemed to exist more as the community practice, which every author of
different issues was able to apply on its´ own way.
Many researchers (see Lave and Wenger, 1991; Wenger, 1998; Salomon and Perkins,
1998; Greeno, 1998) have assured that learning about community practices has to take
place in the course of practicing these activities. In this case, what would be the
options of learning about the educational policy without practicing it? In biology,
anthropology, and education the external observation of the community, and the
interpretation of the artefacts of that particular culture have proved to be the effective
methods for extracting new knowledge about the processes, and making
generalisations. Thus, it was considered by the author of this essay that the journals
concerning the scientific approaches about educational policy might be helpful in
defining the nature of educational policy, and some of its main trends for this essay.
Yet, if one obtains a good theoretical knowledge about all the issues related to the
educational policy in general level, the person might still not be able of applying this
knowledge. He or she needs to connect these general models with real situations in
hand. Therefore, this essay attempts to describe some definitions of educational
policy, and highlight its´ trends through the model case of Estonian higher education
Before the application of specific Estonian context, the factors, which all together
form the concept of educational policy, must be determined. In his research paper
Wielemans (2000) has proposed the following dynamic integrative model for the
educational policy (see Figure 1).
Figure 1. The educational policy process: an integrative model (Wielemans, 2000).
According to Wielemans (2000), the students are seen as the target of the policy. The
policy is been prepared by the central administration of the state, but also the regional
and local level administration are involved into making decisions about the policy and
into the execution processes. The schools are the local institutions, which implement
the policy. The student-centred focus must relate educational policy with the
pedagogic aims and the personal level accomplishments, and prevent it from being
outbalanced towards economic calculations, political-ideological pressures, and
administrative efficiency considerations. The implementation of the policy in the
educational institutions, and the evaluation processes, as part of it, weave themselves
around the educational goals and students´ achievements.
Wielemans’ (2002) model is based on the idea that educational policy is embedded in
the certain frames of the situation. It is assured that the changes in the situation have
triggered the changes in the development and implementation of educational policies
at different times and countries. Firstly, the political and ideological, culture of a
certain country, its´ facilities for professional work have influence on what people see
as the task of the education. Secondly, the demographic situation and the family
structures, the economic and technological state of the country have influence on its´
policy aims. Thirdly, besides nation-based situational background, the supra national
tendencies and institutions (e.g. IMF, UNESCO, OECD) and their program
documents can direct the national educational policies nowadays.
What concerns the policy-making actors in the certain situations, the Wielemans´s
(2002) educational policy model is bipolar. In one side there is state dictating the
policy, and on the other side there are the educational institutions streaming for
independent decision making. McDaniel (1996) introduces two paradigms in higher
education, which have guided the educational policies through centuries – the concept
of “academic freedom and institutional autonomy”, and the opposite tendency, the
“governmental influence”. He argues that higher education has its roots in the
consideration of the institutional autonomy and academic freedom. The papal bull
Parens Scientarium (1231) claimed the medieval universities´ autonomy from
external instances as a privilege. The regulation included the liberty of individual
faculties to determine their teaching methods and hours of their lectures. These first
universities have often been compared with the metaphor of the Ivory Tower because
there existed the desire to segregate the rare knowledge from lesser activities of
regular life. It was believed that the scarce resources shouldn’t be treated lightly,
hence the cloister like structure of the traditional university at these times (Salomon,
1999; Calvo-Sotelo, 2001).
The Medieval Age faced also the second tendency, the governmental and Christian
institutions demanding some influence in the university affairs, which often reached
beyond the institutional or religious reasons. The governmental influence started to
grow from century to century, together with the massive investment of public funds to
education, until the second paradigm state was reached in many countries, which can
be characterised by states´ legitimate interest in higher education systems. Yet the
recent tendencies in higher education have also shown the return to the
decentralization, and the governments respecting the vital areas of academic freedom
and institutional autonomy. As an example, in 1992 the Australian Federal Minister of
Employment, Education and Training (see McDaniel, 1996) has brought out that the
higher institutions should be free from government interference in deciding their
course content, methods of assessment, the research, the staff appointment, and the
expression of their views and opinions.
Wielemans (2000) distinguishes between three types of educational policy models:
the centralizing Jacobine state, the central state with the diversity of initiatives, and
the non-interventionist facilitating state. In the first model the states control over
educational institutions is done with the intention to guarantee ideological-religious
neutrality and the equality for all citizens to have equal educational opportunities. The
state controls the procedures, the curricula, the percentage of hours dedicated to
different disciplines in the curricula, the exams, and the qualification of the lecturers.
The policy is made from top to down and it is uniform. In the second model the state
keeps a strong central control over the institutions, with the right to decide the content
of the curricula and the lectures´ professional and salary matters. Nevertheless, this
model also accepts the establishment of the non-governmental higher institutions for
supporting the societal pluralism and the different ethical-religious convictions. Yet,
the official and politically subsidised education is distinct from unofficial free
educational activities. This model can be characterised by the term centralised, both
the downward, as well as, the upward decision making processes are taking place. The
facilitation model associates with the decentralised educational policy, only the basic
initiatives concerning the institution structures, the curricula, the recruitment of
teachers etc., are controlled. This model favours the diversity of higher educational
institutions, and the local initiatives on grassroots level.
The categorization of governance practices by Volkwein (1986) enabled to distinguish
the educational policy models on the discrete scale through the indicators of finance
and personnel policy. In the study about the comparison of European Canadian and
American higher order institutions, McDaniel (1996) has suggested that the issues of
course/content supply (authority on educational issues), institutional management, and
the student policy factors should be added to the former model. His new evaluation
tool enabled to assess the educational policy systems on the scale of centralised,
predominantly centralised, intermediate, predominantly decentralised, and
decentralised. The evaluation instrument (see MacDaniel, 1996, Appendix) contains
19 indicators in five main categories: finance, management, education, personnel
policy, and students. Depending of their characteristics the educational policy in
higher institutions could be scored from 19-95 points with this tool.
The idea of this essay is to show how Estonian higher education policy models have
changed at different situations. This essay does not pretend on the in-depth evaluation
of the Estonian higher education systems throughout the history. Yet, the different
educational policy models in higher education will be described, using the categories
and indicators suggested by McDaniel (1996), and Wielemans (2000).
I. Academia Gustaviana
The history of higher education in Estonia dates back to 1632 when the Academia
Gustaviana, the predecessor of the University of Tartu, was established by the
Swedish king’s Gustav II Adolf decree. The establishment of the university was part
of colonial policy in just-conquered Livonia. One year earlier the era of book printing
was opened up in Estonia as well, by opening the printing press of Academia
Gustaviana. The academy in Tartu (and Pärnu) functioned from 1632-1710 with
Philosophy, Law, Theology and Medical Faculties enjoying the privileges of the
University of Uppsala. The University of Uppsala, like other the medieval
universities, was established by papal bull. Pope Sixtus IV granted to the university of
Uppsala the corporate rights and established a number of provisions. Among the most
important of these was that the university was given officially the same privileges and
freedoms as the University of Bologna. This included the right to establish 4 faculties
(theology, canon and roman law, medicine and philosophy) and to award bachelor’s,
masters, licentiate, and doctoral degrees. The Archbishop of Uppsala was the
chancellor of the university with the duty to guarantee that these privileges and the
rights of the university would be preserved. The mentality and world outlook of the
Academia Gustaviana had a strong impact on Descartes’ philosophy. In 1689 the
Regulations of the Academia Gustaviana were enacted. The students of the university
were of Swedish, German, and Finnish origin. No Estonians were accepted.
The Figure 2 embeds the period of Academia Gustaviana into the educational policy
model. It can be argued that this period could be related to the Jacobine state model
(see Wielemans, 2002) in one hand, as the educational policy followed mainly the
regulations from upwards. Yet, as the university followed the similar freedoms and
privileges as the other medieval universities, the other tendency towards academic
freedom and institutional autonomy (see McDaniel, 1996), which can be related to
non-interventionist facilitating state, could be followed as well. Many historical
documents indicate that the students had in first order to follow the regulations of the
university, which differed from local regulations in town.
Figure 2. Educational policy model in the period of Academia Gustaviana.
II. Kaiserliche Universität zu Dorpat
In 1802 the political and educational interests of the Russian central government and
the Baltic-German elite coincided, and the university was reopened in Tartu as a
provincial Baltic university depending upon the local Knighthoods. The foundation
act confirmed by Alexander I, gave the university the legal status of the Russian State
University with German as a language of instruction. University had a dual nature in
that it belonged both into the set of German (was 11 largest German university at that
time in the world) and Russian universities. Financially and administratively, the
latter was more important; intellectually and regarding the professoriate, the former.
In teaching, the university educated the local Baltic-German leadership and
professional classes, as well as personnel especially for the administration and health
system of the entire Russian Empire. The first students' organisations began to appear
as corporations of fellow-country-men which were officially banned in the years
1824-1855, but in 1862 the corporate student body was legalised. According to the
Figure 3, the educational policy followed partly the state facilitating model (see
Wielemans, 2000), and the academic freedom with partial institutional autonomy (see
Figure 3. Educational policy model in the period of Kaiserliche Universität zu Dorpat.
The freedom to be a half-German university ceased with the rise of nationalist
tendencies in Russia, which held homogenisation more important than retaining one
university on the international level within the Empire. In the wave of russification,
which started in 1889, Tartu University was converted into a traditional higher
educational establishment and the Russian language was introduced as the language
of instruction. The German professors and most of the students left the university and
continued their studies in Germany. The amount of Russian students was exceeding
all the others, but besides them also some Estonian and Latvian students were
accepted. The time also made possible the revival Estonian national tendencies. This
period could be clearly classified into the Jacobine state model (see Wielemans,
2000), and to the “governmental influence” stage (see McDaniel, 1996). Educational
policy – financing, regulations, choice of personnel, and the curricula content – was
directed by the Empire, and the university had few possibilities to interact in decision
making. Yet, the student organisations remained active, and in this area the political
changes found a gateway.
III. Tartu University of the Republic of Estonia
In the spring of 1918, the Russian university was closed down, and the voluntary
departure of the Russians opened up the path to a new university. In 1919 the
university opened its doors as Tartu University of the Republic of Estonia with
Estonian as a language of instruction. New subjects, laying the basis for the
development and research of national Estonian culture, were taught. The University
law was enacted in 1925. According to the law the university had the right to organise
scientific work and study issues, but the university was under supervision of the
ministry of Education. The study system was reorganised into the subject-based
studies. Several reorganisations were made in the area of faculty structures. The
rectors, prorectors, and deans were elected until 1938. The features of educational
policy in the first independent republic period could be characterised with the central
state model in one hand (see Wielemans, 2000), and with the academic freedom and
partial institutional autonomy (see McDaniel, 1996) on the other hand. The state
favoured the flourishing of national education that was necessary after 600 years of
oppression. Yet, the activity of very different educational institutions (catholic
schools, schools for Jews, the school of the community of old orthodox faith etc.) was
favoured in the Estonian Republic.
IV. Higher education during Soviet occupation
In the first Soviet academic year 1940/1941 the students' corporations and academic
societies were closed, scientific contacts with Western European centres of research
and universities were interrupted. The political cataclysms and repressions affected
the personnel of the university. The curricula of Tartu University were replaced by the
common syllabi of the Soviet Union: a 5-year course system was adopted, obligatory
political subjects based on the new marxist-leninist ideology, including the history of
the USSR, were introduced. After the war the university was subordinated to the
People's Education Commissariat of the Estonian SSR and from 1946 to the Ministry
of Higher Education of the Soviet Union. The higher education was financed by state
and it was free for the accepted students. Yet there were a limited number of
vacancies at certain disciplines, and the students and the lecturers had to be
ideologically suitable for the system. Six higher education institutions financed by
State existed at the period of 1940-1986 in Estonia. The severe communist oppression
lasted until the 1986. The educational policy in this period was very similar to the
russification period of higher education under the Russian Empire. This period could
be clearly classified into the Jacobine state model (see Wielemans, 2000), and to the
“governmental influence” stage (see McDaniel, 1996). Everything in education was
under control of the policy of Soviet Union and the university lacked all kinds of
autonomy and freedom in the financial, management, educational, personnel policy
and student initiative spheres.
In 1986 the private initiative form, the cooperative enterprise, was recognised by the
liberal Gorbatshev´s administration. A group of young intellectuals established in
Tallinn under the Association of Estonian Writers the private Estonian Institute of the
Humanities. The school distanced itself from the communist establishment and its´ re-
productive practices of official higher education system. It also attracted many
faculties from the West. The main value of Estonian Institute was opening the era of
private higher education in Estonia (see Tomusk, 2001). The second rebelling event in
the landscape of higher educational policy was the official republican level approval
of the Tartu State University Law, which was prepared by the Council of the
University of Tartu in 1989. The document was contradicting the existing practices
and normative regulations of the Soviet higher educational institutions.
The last period of soviet occupation reflected very interesting trends in educational
policy, which are not easy to describe in the frames of the educational policy models
of the Wielemans (2000). It can be characterised by the different policy models being
applied at a time. Tthe higher order institutions followed the Jacobine state model,
whereas the intermediate governmental organisations on the Estonian SSR level, and
at local level followed the non-interventionist facilitating model (see Figure 4). That
was supported by the universities´ and public systems´ turn towards academic
freedom and institutional autonomy. This conflict initiated the radical changes in
Estonian higher education, as well as, in the whole political system. This model
resembles the situation in the 18th
century when the Kaiserliche Universität zu Dorpat
was established due to the variance of interests in the Russian Empire, and the
German speaking Baltic Knightshood (see Figure 3). The latter was strong enough to
influence the policy of German Empire against the Russia.
Figure 4. The educational policy in Estonian higher education system during the Gorbatshev period.
V. Re-establishment of higher educational systems in Estonian Republic
The re-establishment of the Estonian Republic started with the big boom of new
private universities. The universities started to change their study system from
previous 5-year course system towards 4-year bachelor courses. The degree of
MSc/MA comprised 2 additional years of study, and the degree of PhD 4 additional
years. The new system considered the previous 5-year diploma degrees as the master
level studies, yet without having the legal right to use the master degree definition.
The previous candidate of the doctor nomination was considered relevant with the
doctoral degree. Within 1992-1998 several legal acts were prepared for regulating the
higher education. The Law of Private School for regulating all private educational
institutions was accepted in 1993 and adopted in 1998. The University Law for
regulating 6 state universities, and the Law of the University of Tartu, addressing the
uniqueness of the only classical university, were enacted in 1995. Finally the Law of
Vocational Higher Education Institutions for regulating all the state-run universities
was enacted in 1998. Each of 6 governmental higher education organisations has its´
own law under the new legislation, and they enjoy the status of legal person, whereas
there are several other state controlled institutions, which do not. The public money is
now divided to the state universities according to the officially ordered students´
places. The students who are accepted can study free of charge. Besides this, the
universities are allowed to accept 20 % of students who must pay for their studies.
The official student loan system, run by banks, is supporting the self-financing of the
studies. For quality assurance there is the non-voluntary accreditation system of
curricula, research groups and units in public and private universities. The teaching
licences that are dependent of the accreditation results guarantee the quality of
education in private universities.
All these tendencies indicate that Estonian Republic is following the higher education
model, which favours partly the central state with the diversity of initiatives (the
strong financial support to the state universities, the central regulation and control
mechanisms in the quality of education, the licence system for private institutions),
and the non-interventionist facilitating state on the other hand (some state universities
as autonomous institutions with their own regulative documents, and right to earn
additional money by accepting students who must pay for studies). The universities,
on the other hand are streaming for bigger institutional autonomy and academic
VI. Towards European higher education era
The new 21st
century is facing more changes in the higher education system of
Estonia. When in earlier periods the educational policy was mainly influenced by the
factors from inside the state, nowadays the outside influence is gaining more and
more importance. In accordance of enacting the Bologna Declaration in 1999 (see
DeGroof, 1999) the education in Estonia is streaming towards the compatibility of
degrees, and the transferability of credits between universities within Estonia and
abroad. This has forced the universities to change the previous curricula towards new
3 + 2 years system. The last two years will give the student the master degree, which
is yet not relevant with the previous MSc or MA degree. The additional doctoral level
study lasts for 4 years as pervious. Many academic people inside the university see it
as the degradation of the master level education. Together with changing the curricula
into lego-type building blocks, the continuity inside the discipline subjects is believed
to be decreasing. This is seen as the threat towards academic, science directed
education. The second change, which Estonia is facing, is the gradual decrease of
state-played student places. It is questionable, how can Estonia fulfil the requirement
of the Universal Declaration of The Human Rights, which states that: Higher
education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit if many students
from low income families will be left out of the possibility of studying.
When stepping towards European higher educational era, the higher education policy
seems to be moving towards new educational policy models. These models can be
characterised by the diversity of interest at different levels of the actors who are
involved into policy-making. The universities are losing their academic independence
and initiative, and must follow the regulations of European normative acts. This
indicates towards the governance models of policy. On the other hand, the universities
are given more autonomy at the state level, and they are expected to be economically
more independent. The state’s role is seen in facilitating the education by regulative
acts, and evaluating the quality of teaching and science among other similar
institutions. Even though the author of this essay is supporting the ideas brought into
higher education by the Bologna Declaration, it is questionable, how can such new
situations in educational policy work effectively. The universities have been the
special institutions with privileges and academic freedom throughout centuries. Every
time when this autonomy and freedom has been suppressed or over-governed, the
result has been the lowered quality of education, and the universities´ rebelling
against this type of educational policy.
The idea of this essay was to describe the cases from Estonian higher education
history by applying some educational policy models. The state-focused educational
policy models by Wielemans (2000), and the university-focused educational policy
models by McDaniel (1996) were used. It was found that the descriptions of different
cases in Estonian higher education could not be characterised by these two types of
theories in a coherent and overlapping way. It was possible to use these two
approaches at a time by constructing the system with two axes – the state interest axis
and the university academic freedom/institutional authority axis (see Figure 5). The
model enabled to follow the fluctuations in Estonian higher education from very
liberate towards very controlled situations. It was noticeable that the extremely state-
centred educational policy in higher education was followed by the liberate models
due to the universities´ rebellion against totalitarian controlling. This figure does not
show which could the position of the 21st
century higher education. It must be
considered, how to add the supra-state influences on this type of comparative models.
Figure 5. Estonian higher education models in the focus of state and university interests.
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