The Estonian state has been looking for possibilities to make doctoral studies more attractive and ensure better engagement of the students in their studies. The core of the plan is that instead of a stipend, the doctoral students engaged full time with their studies would start getting a wage equal to the local average wage. Two more options would remain open for more flexibility in organising one´s work and studies.
For many years, the stipend for doctoral students in Estonia has been rather low, counting €660 at the moment. Additionally, the stipends do not count for future pensions and ensures only very low parental benefits. Therefore, to make ends meet, many students have needed to work in parallel with their studies. Too often, this has caused long extentions of the studies, as well as quite high drop-out rate.
Indrek Reimand, Undersecretary of the Ministry of Education and Research, noted that in order to ensure the Estonia´s competitiveness, we need more people with doctoral degrees. "It is necessary to ensure the continuty of academic staff and make sure more researchers would work also in enterprises as well in the public sector - for better, knowledge-based policy creation," said Reimand. "We would increase the effectiveness of doctoral studies if the studies would be linked more closely to the needs of society and doctoral students would have a stronger and clearer position in it."
Therefore, the main idea of the reform is that the majority of doctoral students (in universities and in positively evaluated research and development institutions) would get a status of junior researchers, becoming paid employees with a wage that is (at least) equal to an Estonian average.
The second option would be that the doctoral student would have an employment contract with another employer, such as a private company or a public sector institution, in a field related to his or her doctoral thesis. In case of doctoral studies conducted outside the university, also sometimes called industrial PhD, the doctoral thesis is completed considering the needs of the company. The main goal is to collaborate with top specialists from outside the academic world and to promote closer and longer-term cooperation between universities and companies.
Carrying out a doctoral thesis in co-operation with the employer ensures doctoral students a clear content and scope of tasks. This reduces the time taken to complete the studies and increases the number of successful graduates. The main content of the employment contract would be R&D activities in the same field as the doctoral student's doctoral thesis and in accordance with the study and research plan.
In addition, the possibility is maintained where the doctoral student would not enter into an employment contract for research. It is intended for those who are pursuing doctoral studies alongside to their main job in any other field (not compatible with the previously described model), or if the doctoral student does not wish to enter into such an agreement. In this case, the person continues to have the status of a student, completing the curriculum according to the individual plan, but would not have any right for a stipend.
The Ministry of Education and Research has sent a draft to the official coordination circle and is hoping to put the reform into full force in fall of 2022.
https://www.hm.ee/et/uudised/doktorioppe-umberkorraldused-teevad-doktorandi-tudengist-teadustootajaks (in Estonian only)
Photo by L. Laanisto