No. 42



Education in 2035

09 December 2020


RiTo No. 42, 2020

  • Aune Valk

    University of Tartu, Vice Rector for Academic Affairs

The strategy “Estonia 2035” gives the priority over the next 15 years to the compatibility between the labour market and people’s skills.

We must definitely avoid a narrow view of the topic, as this would be a loss to all other Estonia’s developmental challenges, as well as the labour market. A good education starts with the kindergarten, and its main objective next to (or rather, “ahead” of) developing the skills that satisfy the labour market is everyone’s individual self-realisation and the shaping of a caring, cooperative, and open society. The strategy sets out six directions to introduce change in order to improve the compatibility between the skills and the labour market; the article analyses their current state and ongoing developments. These are:

  • Let’s base the education system on the students and make it flexible
  • Let’s make the know-how, skills, and attitudes of people compatible with the needs of the labour market and the structural changes in the economy
  • Let’s get ready for future work
  • Let’s improve the quality of higher education and enhance its funding
  • Let’s create a talent friendly environment
  • Let’s improve social cohesion and equal opportunities in education and labour market

To enhance the flexibility of the education system, we should solve some old unfinished tasks (further developing the prior studies and work experience system so that these would be taken into account during the admission process in exceptional cases) and tackle some new ones (micro-degrees and learning analytics). In addition to this, a number of structural reforms are planned to increase flexibility, but these are not analysed in this article.

From the point of view of future work and future skills, our results suggest that the real problems involve the inability to better apply the learned skills and to involve new people on the labour market by overcoming the gender, language, age, and health barriers, as well as a smart migration policy. The key questions are how can we keep our talents here if the attractive jobs are elsewhere, and how do we shape an environment that would attract the sharpest minds from elsewhere to Estonia.

The comparative data on the quality and funding of education in the OECD countries indicates that the higher education in Estonia today gives the graduates skills that exceed the OECD average. In the higher education systems that are more successful than ours, 1.5 percent of the GDP worth of only public or combined private and public funds are poured into higher education, which is 50 percent more than in Estonia. It is a matter of political choices whether the funding in this volume comes solely from the state or in a cooperation between the public and private sectors.

The numbers show that Estonia is not talent friendly in either the education or the labour market. We are doing very well in educating the competent average, and all right in helping those with lesser abilities. However, there are very few top performers, and better skills are also not valued on the labour market where the pay gap depends more on the gender and native tongue than on better education and skills.

Even in the area of equal opportunities, the key problems concern the gender and native language divides. A uniform Estonian school would definitely be the boldest solution to attempt in the near future, so that we would have a hope of seeing any kind of change by 2035.