EUROSTUDENT VII results in Estonia

Estonia, 09 August 2021

How would you describe the social dimension of Estonian higher education based on EUROSTUDENT VII?

HE in Estonia is not equally accessible for different social groups as vulnerable groups (students without tertiary background, ethnic minorities, people with impairments) are under-represented. Additionally, students without tertiary education background tend to study more in non-universities (vs. universities) and ethnical minorities more on the first level of HE, i.e. at universities of applied sciences or BA (vs. MA) which does not promote the social mobility in best possible way.

Estonian students work a lot during their studies (more than in EUROSTUDENT VII countries on average), with the main reason behind this being the need to cover their living costs. One third of the working students in Estonia feel that they have difficulties in their studies due to working.

Therefore, EUROSTUDENT data show that in Estonia there definitely are some shortcomings that need to be addressed in order to improve the social dimension of HE.

What has changed compared to EUROSTUDENT VI or previous years?

The under-representation of students without tertiary education background (measured as the share of students whose father does not have HE) has increased compared to EUROSTUDENT VI. However, at the same time the share of students whose both parents are without HE, has also slightly increased.

The share of students indicating to have a mental health problem has increased three times (from 3% to 9%) compared to EUROSTUDENT VI.

What are the most surprising or important results? You can show us data! Which stakeholder groups (e.g. students, student housing providers…) might they be the most surprising for?

In Estonia it seems to be quite widely believed that HE is equally accessible for all. Therefore, knowledge that in reality it is not, can be quite surprising for many Estonians.

Additionally, we seemed to think of working as something that is mainly positive for students, as it enables students to receive work experience, and from EUROSTUDENT survey it is also known that working students in Estonia tend to have less mental health problems. However, the EUROSTUDENT VII study showed that the situation is more complex, i.e. besides the positive aspects there are also the negative ones, such as that a relatively high share of Estonian students have problems in their studies because of working, or that while there are other reasons why Estonian students work, the main reason is still the need to cover the living costs.

Also, it is surprising that the share of students with mental health problems has increased 3 times compared to the previous EUROSTUDENT wave. EUROSTUDENT VII was the first time we asked some specific additional questions regarding mental health problems from Estonian students and the results are quite surprising. For instance, approximately half of Estonian students say that they are often or constantly worrying about many things (47%), and having fatigue or loss of energy (45%). Roughly a third perceives often or constantly feeling of tension or inability to relax (37%), decreased concentration (34%) and feeling of sadness (30%).

All these surprising insights are very important for the policymakers to know (besides the researchers, of course 😊) in order to develop policies to persistently provide students with support that is of better quality and in better accordance to the actual needs of student population.

What makes you happy about the results? What makes you worried?

The share of students whose both parents do not have HE has slightly increased – it would have been good if this increase would have been bigger, but still, even a small increase is positive. Additionally, the share of delayed transition students has increased a little bit which indicates the growing success of lifelong learning trend in Estonia – this is very positive as well!

Under-representation of vulnerable groups in Estonian HE is something that is very worrying. The knowledge that working a lot causes problems in studies is worrisome as well. And of course, the fact that the share of students who say that they have a mental health problem has increased 3 times compared to EUROSTUDENT VI is quite alarming too.

What was the biggest challenge in conducting the survey and how did you tackle it?

The EUROSTUDENT questionnaire is quite long which means that it takes a lot of time for the students to fill it out. It may be one of the reasons why the participation rate among students remained quite low at the beginning of the field phase. There were two main strategies we used in order to raise the response rates. Firstly, we convinced HEIs to provide us with the contact details of students so that we could contact the students ourselves, instead of asking the HEIs to do that (and we came to an agreement with quite a noteworthy share of Estonian HEIs which was pleasing). This way we could ensure that students receive not one, but several invitations to participate at the survey (i.e. sending reminder invitations for students who had not participated yet). Additionally, we used the expert knowledge and skills of behavioral scientist working in Praxis in order to design the invitation in a way that really convinces and attracts students to participate. And lastly, we used some small material incentives (gift cards) to attract students to participate and to compensate their effort they did by answering to the meticulous questionnaire.

How are the survey results used in your country? Are there any concrete actions already planned?

The Estonian Ministry of Education and Research is very well aware of the results of EUROSTUDENT VII survey and has shown the preparedness to work with some of the problems the survey addressed. For instance, the inequality of access to HE among different social groups is something that the ministry has said to work with in the context or Estonian new educational strategy.