No. 40



Research Organisation in Estonia: Past and Future

11 December 2019


RiTo No. 40, 2019

  • Jüri Engelbrecht

    Member of Estonian Academy of Sciences

  • Erki Tammiksaar

    Director, Centre for Science Studies, Karl Ernst von Baer House; Senior Research Fellow

When the University of Tartu was established in 1632, the Western European progressive scientific worldview spread to the territory of what today is the Republic of Estonia. At the same time, that gave an impetus to higher education becoming more widespread in the region on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea.

Although few Estonians studied at the imperial University of Tartu, Estonians also benefited indirectly from the university. Native Estonian scientists with a doctoral or master’s degree numbered very few in the 19th century and at the end of the first decade of the 20th century.

In the Republic of Estonia, it was decided to opt for the path of funding one university, differently from many developed Western European countries where several institutions of professional higher education operated besides classical universities. The University of Tartu became the university. The decision was conditioned by scarce funds. It was not until the end of the 1930s that institutions of professional higher education also emerged in Estonia. During the Soviet occupation period, all research institutions established during the independence period were retained, and a number of others were established in addition to them. In the Soviet Union, science was a priority sector, which enabled to develop all research areas, but in particular exact sciences, also in Estonia. There was however a very strong ideological control on research.

During the second independence period starting from 1991, the research system that had expanded during the Soviet period has been successfully optimised. The aims are to carry out high-level research work and to rise in global citation and university rankings. The assistance from the European Union structural funds to Estonian research infrastructure has greatly contributed thereto. Thus, there are very good conditions for research in the Estonian research institutions and universities. However, the Estonian research system is particular in its very heavy reliance on projects, dependence on European funding, and increasingly decreasing support to research from the Estonian state budget. This is not normal, and increasing research funding from the state budget is an important component to ensure sustainable development of Estonian research. This is being explained to the Government and the parliament.