Consult Compendium

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Last updated in 2018

Chapter 1: Higher Education System

Section 1.1.: Schematic Description of the Higher Education System


Section 1.2: Description of Higher Education System

Estonia was among the countries signing the Bologna declaration in 1999. Since the academic year 2002/2003, the general structure of the system of higher education has three cycles:

Bachelor’s programmes are first-cycle higher education programmes. The purpose of bachelor studies is to broaden the scope of general education, to develop the basic knowledge and skills required for a certain field of study necessary for continuing at the master’s level or for access to the labour market. The nominal duration of the programmes is generally 3 years (180 ECTS credits), as an exception, it may be up to 4 years (240 ECTS credits). The qualification awarded upon completion of the programme is bakalaureusekraad. The qualification gives access to master’s programmes.

Professional higher education provides education tailored towards a certain profession. Graduates with a professional higher education degree can continue studying at the master’s level.
The nominal duration of such programmes is 3-4 years (180-240 ECTS credits).
Midwifery studies and specialised nursing studies last 4.5 years (270 ECTS credits).
The qualification awarded upon completion of the programme is rakenduskõrghariduse diplom (Diploma of Professional Higher Education). The qualification gives access to master’s programmes.

Master’s programmes are second-cycle higher education programmes. The purpose of master’s level studies is to develop the knowledge and skills required for a certain field of study and to acquire the necessary competences in order to enter the labour market or to continue studies at the doctoral level. The access requirement is a first-cycle higher education qualification. The nominal duration of the programmes is 1 to 2 years (60-120 ECTS credits), but together with the first-cycle studies it is at least 5 years (300 ECTS credits). The qualification awarded upon completion of a master’s degree programme is magistrikraad. The qualification gives access to doctoral programmes.

Integrated long-cycle programmes are offered in the fields of medicine, veterinary science, pharmacy, dentistry, architecture, civil engineering, and teacher education.
The nominal duration of programmes in medicine and veterinary science is 6 years (360 ECTS credits).
The nominal duration of other programmes is 5 years (300 ECTS credits).
Graduates receive a qualification certifying the completion of the integrated study programme.

  • Graduates of a pharmacy, architecture, civil engineering and teacher education programme are awarded a degree of magister (master’s degree).
  • Graduates of a medicine, dentistry and veterinary medicine programme are awarded a degree of arstikraad (degree in medicine), hambaarstikraad (degree in dentistry) or loomaarstikraad (degree in veterinary science).

The qualifications give access to doctoral programmes.

Doctoral programmes represent higher education of the third-cycle, the purpose of which is to acquire knowledge and skills necessary for independent research, development or professional creative work. The access requirement for doctoral studies is a magistrikraad or a corresponding qualification. The nominal period of study is 3 to 4 years (180-240 ECTS credits).


Section 1.3: Number of Higher Education Institutions

  • Universities’ under public law: 6
  • Private universities: 1
  • State professional higher education institutions: 8
  • Private professional higher education institutions: 5

Total number of higher education institutions 20.
All higher education institutions are recognised by State.


Section 1.4 Number of Students in Higher Education

Total number of students in academic year 2017/2018 was 46 154.

Number of students divided by type of institution (2017/2018):

Type of Institution Number of Students I Cycle II Cycle II Cycle 
Public Universities 19 359 13 849 2430
Private Universities 1042 348 60
State Professional Higher Education Institutions 6726 149
Private Professional Higher Education Institutions 1832 359
Total Number of Students per Degree Cycle 28 959 14 705 2490

Number of foreign students enrolled in full degree programmes:

Total number of foreign students
I cycle 
II cycle
III cycle

Number of outgoing and incoming exchange students with credit transfer (2016/2017):

Outgoing students 1651
Incoming students 1795


Section 1.5: Structure of Academic Year

The academic year usually starts early September. Academic year consist of 2 semesters (September-January and February-June).
Semester means five months of study or a longer period of time upon the decision of an educational institution, the volume of which in credit points makes one-half of the study load of an academic year. Traditionally, examinations take place at the end of each semester. All higher education institutions are required to end courses with examinations or preliminary examinations. There may be several independent examinations or tests in separate parts for a subject. Usually, oral and written examinations are held at the end of each semester during the four-week examination session. Students shall have at least eight weeks of holiday in an academic year.


Section 1.6: National Qualifications Framework (or Similar)

An eight-level EstQF was established in 2008: the 1st of which is the lowest and the 8th is the highest. The descriptions of the EstQF qualification levels are identical to the EQF level descriptions. The sub-frameworks for general education qualifications, VET qualifications, higher education qualifications, and occupational qualifications contain more detailed and specific descriptors and rules for designing and awarding qualifications. The EstQF levels are assigned to general education qualifications (on levels 1,2 and 4), VET qualifications (on levels 2-5), higher education qualifications (on levels 6-8), and occupational qualifications (on levels 2-8). Learning outcomes based descriptions of these types of qualifications have been compared with level descriptions of the EstQF and the best fit found.

The following table presents the results of assigning the EstQF levels to Estonian formal education qualifications, and levelling of some occupational qualifications.

Formal Education Qualifications
Occupational Groups and Occupational Qualifications 
Basic education certificate based on simplified curriculum;
Basic education certificate; VET certificate level 2 (without basic education requirement) 
Elementary workers (cleaner assistant, …)
VET certificate level 3
Skilled workers, machine operators, service and sales workers, clerical support workers (logger, baker, carpenter, …)
Upper secondary general education certificate; VET certificate level 4 (upper secondary VET)
VET certificate level 5 (based on upper secondary education certificate)
Technicians and craft masters, front line managers, clerical workers (electrician, construction site manager, accountant, …)
Bachelor’s degree, Professional higher education certificate
Specialists, supervisors (energy auditor, career counsellor, …)
Master’s degree
Specialists, managers (Diploma Engineer, …)
Doctoral degree
Senior specialists, top managers (principal architect, chartered engineer, …)


Section 1.7: Learning Outcomes in Higher Education

All study programmes have to be described in terms of learning outcomes in line with the 8 EQF qualifications level. National legislation (Government Act Higher Education Standard ) provides that every single programme should indicate the learning outcomes achieved by the end of each cycle.


Section 1.8: Admission Requirements to Higher Education

General requirements
All individuals with upper secondary education or equivalent foreign qualifications have the right to compete to be admitted to a first-cycle higher education programme. The requirement for access to higher education is secondary education, certified by Gümnaasiumi lõputunnistus (Upper Secondary School Leaving Certificate), Lõputunnistus kutsekeskhariduse omandamise kohta (Certificate of Vocational Secondary Education), the corresponding qualifications of earlier education systems, and foreign qualifications giving access to higher education.

Admissions to bachelor’s programmes. In addition to an upper secondary education certificate, the National Examination Certificate, entrance exams, professional aptitude interviews, academic aptitude tests, etc. may be considered.
Admission to a master’s programme is on the basis of a bachelor’s degree, a diploma of professional higher education or a corresponding qualification. In addition HEIs can decide if entrance exams, professional aptitude interviews etc are used.
Admission to doctoral studies is on the basis of a master’s degree or an equivalent qualification. More detailed conditions and procedures for admissions are established by the university board. Entrants to doctoral studies may, for example, be required to submit a thesis research plan and undergo an admissions interview. The admissions committee may take account of the competences acquired in the course of previous professional experience and additional training.

Specific requirements
The specific requirements are set by the higher education institution and depend on the chosen field of study. The conditions and procedures for admission are established by the council of the higher education institution and approved by the Minister of Education and Research. There is a selection procedure for most higher education institutions and programmes. General knowledge test, an interview or a professional aptitude test may be required for admission. It may also include a number of entrance examinations. The results of state examinations (riigieksamid) passed in a general secondary school (gümnaasium) can be accepted as part of admission requirements. Entrance examinations are most commonly set by departments and approved by the boards of higher education institutions.

Prevalent subjects are usually those relevant to the course of study. The basis for the admission decision is usually a combination of state examination results of general subjects and entrance examination results in the subject relevant to the course of study. In certain cases, the Certificate of General Secondary Education and/or the state examinations average grade, or the gold or silver graduation award from the secondary school are accepted as special conditions for admission. For admission to study programmes in art and music, aptitude is tested through the presentation of a creative work or through a creative competition. Private higher education institutions may establish additional conditions for admission. Study places are filled with students according to their entry requirement results, under the conditions established by the council of the higher education institution.

Special requirements for foreign students
All applicants to Estonian higher education institutions’ degree programmes are required to have a qualification giving access to higher education institutions in their home country. Applicants also need to present a certificate of English skills. All internationally recognised language proficiency tests (e.g. IELTS, TOEFL) are accepted, though some institutions may run individual language tests. Usually, the required minimum test result for BA and MA is 5,5 in IELTS and 70 in TOEFL (IBT).

Applicants wishing to pursue bachelor-level studies are required to have completed their secondary education or an equivalent education level necessary for higher education. Applicants must be eligible for higher education in their own country. Additional qualifying examinations may also be required for admission to higher education institutions in Estonia.
Applicants wishing to pursue master-level studies are required to have completed bachelor-level studies, and those wishing to pursue a doctoral-level studies must have completed master-level studies.


Section 1.9: Grading System

All courses taught at higher education institutions must end with an examination or a pass/fail assessment. There may be several independent examinations in separate parts of the course. At the end of each semester, during a 4-week examination session, there are usually oral and written examinations. The results of examinations or other forms of assessment may be given in numbers or expressed in words: pass or fail. Until the 1999/2000 academic year there was no unified grading system used in higher education institutions of Estonia. The two most common grading scales were a 5-point scale and a 6-point scale.

The 5-point scale was as follows:

väga hea / very good or excellent (pass)
 hea / good (pass)
 rahuldav / satisfactory (pass)
 puudulik / unsatisfactory (fail)
 kasin / poor (fail)

The 6-point scale was as follows:

 suurepärane / excellent (pass)
 väga hea / very good (pass)
 hea / good (pass)
 rahuldav / satisfactory (pass)
 kasin / sufficient (pass)
 puudulik / unsatisfactory (fail)

The fail grade indicates that the student has not met the minimum requirements for the course. If the student fails, he/she is allowed two chances to retake the examination.
In accordance with the Regulation of the Ministry of Education and Research, all higher education institutions started using a unified grading system in the 1999/2000 academic year.

According to the regulation:

  • a 6-point percentage-based grading system was established;
  • the minimum passing level in examinations is 51%;
  • the distribution of marks among the students who pass the examination is not calculated.
 5  A  suurepärane / excellent  91 – 100%
 4  B  väga hea / very good  81 – 90%
 3  C  hea / good  71 – 80%
 2  D  rahuldav / satisfactory  61 – 70%
 1  E  kasin / sufficient  51 – 60%
 0   F  puudulik / insufficient  0 – 50%

Some higher education institutions use letter grades A – F, others use numbers 5 – 0. Grades F or 0 are the fail grades. Since September 2010, the same grading scale has been in use, but assessment is based on
learning outcomes.


Section 1.10: Tuition Fee System for International Students

Generally, in our higher education system, payment of tuition fees is directly linked to the language of instruction, in other words no tuition fees when studying in Estonian language full time studies. Since 2013 HEIs are not entitled to demand the reimbursement of study costs from students who study full-time following a curriculum, the language of instruction of which is Estonian and who have by the starting semester cumulatively completed the study load subject to completion under the curriculum in the previous semesters.

Obviously, foreign students choose English language programme, so students from the European Economic Area (EU-member countries + Norway, Liechtenstein, Iceland) pay the same tuition fees as Estonian students. For other international students the higher education institution can define the tuition fee, depending on the programme and the type of degree (varying between €1500 to 2000 per semester, there are more expensive programmes).
At the same time, foreign students have the possibility to apply for a scholarship to pay the fees.


Section 1.11: Graduation Requirements and/or Qualification Awarding Requirements

Diploma is issued to a person who has completed a nationally recognised programme of the Bachelor’s study, Master’s study, Doctoral studies and integrated curricula of Bachelor’s and Master’s study or professional higher education study in the full extent. The right and obligation to issue a respective diploma lies with the HEI providing studies based on the corresponding programme. Full completion of the programme includes the requirement to pass a final examination or to defend thesis.


Section 1.12: Relevant Current and Prospective Reforms in Higher Education

Not applicable.


Chapter 2: Quality Assurance in Higher Education

Section 2.1: Quality Assurance Body in Higher Education

Since 2009, higher education quality has been assessed by an independent agency Eesti Kõrg ja Kutsehariduse Kvaliteediagentuur (Estonian Quality Agency for Higher and Vocational Education, EKKA). The responsibility of the agency is to conduct institutional accreditation of higher education institutions and quality assessment of programme groups.


Section 2.2: Quality Assurance System

Study programme
Regularity (years)
(at least once every seven years)
(at least once every seven years)
Internal X X
Further information:
Higher education institutions have an obligation to undergo the institutional accreditation at least once every seven years or within the term specified by EKKA. The institutional accreditation is an external evaluation during which the management, administration, academic and research activity, and academic and research environment of higher education institution are assessed.
Quality assessment of programme groups takes also place once in seven years, unless EKKA has set an earlier deadline based on the results of the previous evaluation. Within the assessment process of programme groups it is assessed if the programmes correspond with the current legislation and with the national and international standards, including the quality of theoretical and practical training, the qualifications of the teaching and research staff, as well as the availability of the necessary resources. On the basis of external assessment, the Government of the Republic grants the higher education institution the right to conduct studies according to the programme belonging to the respective programme group.


From 2012, only institutions of higher education that have received a positive result in the assessment of their study programme groups and to which the Government of the Republic has granted the right to conduct studies may provide higher education in Estonia. Evaluation of higher education studies (professional higher education, Bachelor’s, Master’s and doctoral studies) takes place per study programme group, with one group containing all of the study programmes in the same field of specialty.
Assessment may result in an institution of higher education being awarded an indefinite right to provide studies or the right to do so for a fixed period, or it may not be granted the right to provide studies at all:

  • The indefinite right to provide studies means that the committee assesses that the quality of studies has been ensured for the study programmes in the study programme group.
  • A fixed-term decision means that the institution of higher education must find solutions to the problems highlighted by the committee and undertake the assessment again within three years. It is important to know that in different institutions of higher education the amount and extent of problems varies greatly.
  • A negative decision means that the institution of higher education may no longer provide studies in the study programme group in question and that students cannot complete their studies there. The institution must ensure that the students can continue their studies at the same institution in a different study programme or at a different institution.

All assessment decisions and reports can be found in the EKKA database (in Estonian).


Chapter 3: Credit System in Higher Education

Section 3.1: Description of Credit System

Since 01.09.2009, European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) is fully implemented as a national credit system. One ECTS credit corresponds to 26 hours of student work. The workload of one academic year is 1560 hours or 60 ECTS credits.


Section 3.2: Credit Transfer System(s)

ECTS – European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System


Section 3.3: Additional Information

Competences acquired outside formal programme (for example previous study results and work experience, informal learning, participation in other institution and programme) shall be assessed by the higher education institutions.


Section 3.4: Application of Credit System in Higher Education Institutions Obligatory?



Section 3.5: Number of Credits per Academic Year/Semester

The workload of one academic year is 1560 hours or 60 ECTS credits (30 ECTS per semester).


Section 3.6: Number of Credits per Higher Education Cycle

The study load of Bachelor’s study and Professional Higher Education programmes is from 180 to 240 ECTS credit points. The exception is midwifery studies and nursing studies with additional specialisations, the volume of which is 270 ECTS credit points.

  • The study load of Master’s study is from 60 to 120 ECTS credit points.
  • The study load of the Bachelor’s study and Master’s study together as well as studies in professional higher education and Master’s study together shall be a minimum of 300 ECTS credits.
  • The study load in integrated Bachelor’s and Master’s programmes is 300 ECTS credit points in most programmes, or 360 ECTS credit points in medical studies and veterinary studies.
  • The study load of a Doctoral study is 180 to 240 ECTS credit points by law, but in reality all doctoral programmes are 240 ECTS credit points, 180 ECTS credit points of which comprise doctoral thesis.


Section 3.7: Description of Credit Unit

Upon implementation of the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System, ECTS, one credit point corresponds to 26 hours of study by a student, including learning activities such as participation in lectures, seminars, practical work etc.


The national framework and its qualifications are based on learning outcomes and the qualifications are linked to ECTS credits.



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