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Estonia:Quality Assurance in Higher Education

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Overview Estonia

Contents

Estonia:Political, Social and Economic Background and Trends

Estonia:Historical Development

Estonia:Main Executive and Legislative Bodies

Estonia:Population: Demographic Situation, Languages and Religions

Estonia:Political and Economic Situation

Estonia:Organisation and Governance

Estonia:Fundamental Principles and National Policies

Estonia:Lifelong Learning Strategy

Estonia:Organisation of the Education System and of its Structure

Estonia:Organisation of Private Education

Estonia:National Qualifications Framework

Estonia:Administration and Governance at Central and/or Regional Level

Estonia:Administration and Governance at Local and/or Institutional Level

Estonia:Statistics on Organisation and Governance

Estonia:Funding in Education

Estonia:Early Childhood and School Education Funding

Estonia:Higher Education Funding

Estonia:Adult Education and Training Funding

Estonia:Early Childhood Education and Care

Estonia:Organisation

Estonia:Teaching and Learning

Estonia:Assessment

Estonia:Organisational Variations and Alternative Structures in Early Childhood Education and Care

Estonia:Single Structure Education (Integrated Primary and Lower Secondary Education)

Estonia:Organisation of Single Structure Education

Estonia:Teaching and Learning in Single Structure Education

Estonia:Assessment in Single Structure Education

Estonia:Organisational Variations and Alternative Structures in Single Structure Education

Estonia:Upper Secondary and Post-Secondary Non-Tertiary Education

Estonia:Organisation of General Upper Secondary Education

Estonia:Teaching and Learning in General Upper Secondary Education

Estonia:Assessment in General Upper Secondary Education

Estonia:Organisation of Vocational Upper Secondary Education

Estonia:Teaching and Learning in Vocational Upper Secondary Education

Estonia:Assessment in Vocational Upper Secondary Education

Estonia:Organisation of Post-Secondary Non-Tertiary Education

Estonia:Teaching and Learning in Post-Secondary Non-Tertiary Education

Estonia:Assessment in Post-Secondary Non-Tertiary Education

Estonia:Higher Education

Estonia:Types of Higher Education Institutions

Estonia:First Cycle Programmes

Estonia:Bachelor

Estonia:Short-Cycle Higher Education

Estonia:Second Cycle Programmes

Estonia:Programmes outside the Bachelor and Master Structure

Estonia:Third Cycle (PhD) Programmes

Estonia:Adult Education and Training

Estonia:Distribution of Responsibilities

Estonia:Developments and Current Policy Priorities

Estonia:Main Providers

Estonia:Main Types of Provision

Estonia:Validation of Non-formal and Informal Learning

Estonia:Teachers and Education Staff

Estonia:Initial Education for Teachers Working in Early Childhood and School Education

Estonia:Conditions of Service for Teachers Working in Early Childhood and School Education

Estonia:Continuing Professional Development for Teachers Working in Early Childhood and School Education

Estonia:Initial Education for Academic Staff in Higher Education

Estonia:Conditions of Service for Academic Staff Working in Higher Education

Estonia:Continuing Professional Development for Academic Staff Working in Higher Education

Estonia:Initial Education for Teachers and Trainers Working in Adult Education and Training

Estonia:Conditions of Service for Teachers and Trainers Working in Adult Education and Training

Estonia:Continuing Professional Development for Teachers and Trainers Working in Adult Education and Training

Estonia:Management and Other Education Staff

Estonia:Management Staff for Early Childhood and School Education

Estonia:Staff Involved in Monitoring Educational Quality for Early Childhood and School Education

Estonia:Education Staff Responsible for Guidance in Early Childhood and School Education

Estonia:Other Education Staff or Staff Working with Schools

Estonia:Management Staff for Higher Education

Estonia:Other Education Staff or Staff Working in Higher Education

Estonia:Management Staff Working in Adult Education and Training

Estonia:Other Education Staff or Staff Working in Adult Education and Training

Estonia:Quality Assurance

Estonia:Quality Assurance in Early Childhood and School Education

Estonia:Quality Assurance in Higher Education

Estonia:Quality Assurance in Adult Education and Training

Estonia:Educational Support and Guidance

Estonia:Special Education Needs Provision within Mainstream Education

Estonia:Separate Special Education Needs Provision in Early Childhood and School Education

Estonia:Support Measures for Learners in Early Childhood and School Education

Estonia:Guidance and Counselling in Early Childhood and School Education

Estonia:Support Measures for Learners in Higher Education

Estonia:Guidance and Counselling in Higher Education

Estonia:Support Measures for Learners in Adult Education and Training

Estonia:Guidance and Counselling in a Lifelong Learning Approach

Estonia:Mobility and Internationalisation

Estonia:Mobility in Early Childhood and School Education

Estonia:Mobility in Higher Education

Estonia:Mobility in Adult Education and Training

Estonia:Other Dimensions of Internationalisation in Early Childhood and School Education

Estonia:Other Dimensions of Internationalisation in Higher Education

Estonia:Other Dimensions of Internationalisation in Adult Education and Training

Estonia:Bilateral Agreements and Worldwide Cooperation

Estonia:Ongoing Reforms and Policy Developments

Estonia:National Reforms in Early Childhood Education and Care

Estonia:National Reforms in School Education

Estonia:National Reforms in Vocational Education and Training and Adult Learning

Estonia:National Reforms in Higher Education

Estonia:National Reforms related to Transversal Skills and Employability

Estonia:European Perspective

Estonia:Legislation

Estonia:Glossary

 

The external evaluation of higher education institutions and higher education level curricular groups is governed by the Universities Act, the Institutions of Professional Higher Education Act and the Private Schools Act. The standard of higher education establishes the requirements for provision of instruction at the level of higher education.

Upon entry into force of the amendments to the law in 2008, the quality assessment system based on curricula attestation was replaced by a new two-stage quality assurance system: quality assessment and institutional accreditation of a curriculum group. The new system was fully implemented in 2012.

In 2009-2012, expert assessment of curriculum groups of all educational institutions, i.e. transitional assessment, was conducted, the result of which was either granting the right to provide instruction for an undetermined period or a request to terminate the provision of instruction. Quality of teaching and learning, curriculum development, resources and sustainability were assessed. The curriculum groups of the higher education institutions which have been granted a fixed-term right to provide instruction are subject to a repeat expert assessment of the study programme group in 2012-2017.

To obtain the right to provide instruction on the level of higher education level, all higher education institutions in private law or public law or state higher education institutions shall submit applications to the Ministry of Education and Research together with the data specifying the quality of study, resources and sustainability. The application shall be processed with the help of Estonian Quality Agency for Higher and Vocational Education. In case of a positive decision, the right to provide instruction is established by a regulation of the Government of the Republic in the annex to the higher education standard.     

Institutional accreditation is external assessment in the course of which the functioning of the higher education institution as a whole is assessed. Specifically, compliance of the management, work organisation, teaching and research and the environment of teaching and research of the higher education institution with the legislation, objectives and development plans of the higher education institution is determined. The purpose of the institutional accreditation is to support the development of strategic management and quality culture in the institution of higher education, inform interest groups of the results of the main activities of the higher education institution and increase reliability and competitiveness of higher education in Estonia.

The quality assessment of study programme is essentially feedback which supports the internal assessment of the higher education institution and self-development. In the course of the process, the compliance of the curricula as well as the study and the study-related development based on the curricula with legislation, national and international standards and developments are assessed for the purpose of making recommendations for improvement of the quality of study. The quality assessment of curriculum groups is not followed by sanctions and expert appraisals are of an advisory nature. 
Upon a significant deterioration of the quality of teaching, the state is entitled to initiate state supervision and on the basis thereof, submit to the Government of the Republic a proposal for deprivation of the right to provide instruction.   
Every educational institution shall undergo both the quality assessment of curriculum groups and institutional accreditation at least once within seven years. 
The described external assessments shall be carried out by the Estonian Quality Agency for Higher and Vocational Education or by a competent foreign quality agency with its approval. 

 Responsible Bodies

An educational institution may provide instruction on the level of t higher education study and issue the respective diplomas and academic degrees if it has been issued the respective right by the Government of the Republic. An educational institution must apply for this right; a respective procedure is organised by the Ministry of Education and Research. The Government of the Republic may grant the right to provide instruction either (a) for no fixed term or (b) for a fixed term of one to three years. In case significant deficiencies have been detected in assessing the application and provision of high quality instruction cannot be guaranteed, the application will be rejected and the decision is approved by a decree of the Minister of Education and Research.

Upon transition to the new higher education quality assurance system, the independent Estonian Quality Agency for Higher and Vocational Education  was founded in 2009, which bases its activities on international principles. The Estonian Quality Agency for Higher and Vocational Education: 

  • organises and implements institutional accreditation in educational institutions that enable acquisition of higher education;
  • organises and implements quality assessment of higher education level curricular groups;
  • publishes the conditions and procedures of institutional accreditation and quality assessment;
  • periodically undergoes internationally acknowledged external evaluation.

The Estonian  Education Quality Agency for Higher and Vocational Education comprises a bureau of organising evaluations and an evaluation council conducting evaluations.

At least one expert from each field of study is a member of the evaluation council. Candidates for membership of the evaluation council can be presented by universities, institutions of professional higher education, research and development institutions, registered vocational and trade unions, employers unions and unions of students’ organisations.

The National Audit Office checks the activities of public universities according to the National Audit Office Act.  State supervision of the legality of the activities of a university is exercised by the Ministry of Education and Research.


Approaches and Methods for Quality Assurance

Since 1 January 2012, higher education level study may be conducted only in case the Government of the Republic has granted the right to conduct studies in an according curricular group. This right is accompanied by the right to issue national graduation documents.

In order to receive the right to conduct higher education level study, an educational institution must apply for the right. The unit for which the right is applied is a curricular group.

For the sake of guaranteeing a homogeneous result and equal treatment, the procedure of applying for the right to conduct study is applied to all educational institutions despite the fact whether it is a private, public or state-owned institution. Applications are accompanied by data that enable the evaluation of the objectives and learning outcomes of curricula, the number and qualification of teaching staff, the existence of study materials and financing resources. It is also compulsory to explain the need for starting offering study, including data on the target group and proposals of vocational and trade unions.

The procedure of and expert assessment for granting rights for conducting study is organised by the Ministry of Education and Research as the matter is related to development of the national education policy. In the first assessment  – a highly important component in granting the right to conduct study – the Estonian  Quality Agency for Higher and Vocational Education as the most competent body in this field as well as additional experts (from higher education institutions, businesses, vocational unions, etc.), invited by the former if required, are involved.

When applying for the right to conduct Doctoral study, data about the evaluation of the research and development activities of the field forming the basis of the respective Doctoral study must be presented.

External evaluation is carried out in educational institutions either as institutional accreditation or quality assessment of curricular groups. External evaluation is organised and implemented by the Estonian  Quality Agency for Higher and Vocational Education who involves, in addition to experts of the agency’s evaluation council, also other experts in its activities.

Educational institutions may submit an application to the Estonian Quality Agency for Higher and Vocational Education that external evaluation would be conducted by another acknowledged (submitted in the EQAR registry) international quality agency.

Higher education institutions have the obligation to undergo institutional accreditation once in 7 years but if the Estonian Quality Agency for Higher and Vocational Education has detected shortcomings in the previous accreditation process, also an up to 3-year deadline may be given after which time the institution must again undergo institutional accreditation.

Institutional accreditation evaluates the internal quality assurance system of an educational institution and the functioning thereof, including performance of the tasks of the institution and the correspondence of its management system to the objectives and development plan of the institution.
The Estonian Quality Agency for Higher and Vocational Education will issue, as a result of an institutional accreditation procedure conducted, one of the following decisions:

  • Management of the higher education institution, organisation of work and teaching and research as well as the environment for teaching and research in the institution comply with the requirements, and it is decided to grant the university accreditation for seven years;  
  • Shortcomings have been exposed in the management of the higher education institution, in its organisation of work, teaching and research or teaching and research environment. Guidelines are given for correcting the shortcomings and a decision to grant the university accreditation for three years is made;
  • Management of the higher education institution, its organisation of work, teaching and research as well as teaching and research environment do not comply with the requirements. A decision not to grant the university accreditation is made. The Minister of Education and Research is informed and guidelines are given for eliminating the deficiencies. Receiving this information forms the basis for the Ministry of Education and Research to initiate state supervision or quality assessment of curricular groups in the higher education institution or reorganisation/closure of the educational institution.


If the Estonian Quality Agency for Higher and Vocational Education has brought the minister’s attention to severe deficiencies in the internal quality assurance system of an institution, the minister first has the right to give the institution a deadline for eliminating the deficiencies. If the deficiencies are not eliminated or the educational institution cannot eliminate them without additional resources, the minister has the right to initiate the quality assessment of all curricular groups of the educational institution at the expense of the institution (in case of a state-owned institution, at the expense of the state) or a reorganisation/closure of the educational institution and withdrawal of the right to conduct study.

In case the quality assessment of all curricular groups leads to the result that also the quality of study is not satisfactory in the educational institution, the Minister of Education and research brings this information to the Government of the Republic, together with the proposal to withdraw the institution’s right to conduct study. Hence, deficiencies detected in the course of institutional accreditation may lead to the closure of an educational institution.

Quality assessment of curricular groups focuses on evaluating the quality of study carried out on the basis of the curricula, including assessment of the correspondence of teaching staff to established requirements.

Quality assessment of curricular groups is conducted once in every 7 years if the Estonian Quality Agency for Higher and Vocational Education  has not, based on the results of the previous quality assessment procedure, established a deadline of up to 3 years.

The results of quality assessment comprise an evaluation decision and specific proposals regarding how the educational institution could enhance its quality of study. In very exceptional cases when the quality of study has dramatically fallen compared to the results of the previous quality assessment, the Estonian Quality Agency for Higher and Vocational Education has the obligation to inform the Minister of Education and Research thereof. In such a case the minister must conduct state supervision, the result of which may, in the worst case, be the withdrawal of the right to carry out study. The decision to withdraw the right to carry out study must be accompanied with a solution for the question of how the students studying in the educational institution can continue their studies. 

Only state supervision can form the basis for withdrawal of the right to carry out study. The Ministry of Education and Research may initiate state supervision either on its own initiative or according to the proposal of the Estonian Quality Agency for Higher and Vocational Education. The Minister of Education and Research may submit a proposal to the Government of the Republic to withdraw an educational institution’s right to conduct study in case:

  • illegality of the activity of an institution is identified as a result of state supervision and the precept for elimination of such illegality is not fulfilled, or
  • significant deterioration in study quality, in the internal quality assurance system or its functioning compared to the previously evaluated situation has been identified, or
  • the educational institution has not fulfilled the obligation to participate in institutional accreditation or quality assessment.

The same proposal will be made to the Government of the republic also in case a negative evaluation result is received with regard to a scientific field that forms a basis for Doctoral study.

Legislative References

Universities Act

Institutions of Professional Higher Education Act

Private Schools Act

Standard of higher education

State Audit Office Act