Previously, during the Soviet Period, education had been free at all levels – from nursery school to Doctoral studies. In early capitalist Estonia, private schools began to appear, seeking money in exchange for instruction. It became apparent that supply had met demand and there were those who didn’t consider it strange to pay for their education and who did so either from their own pockets, those of their parents, or their employer.
There were several common misunderstandings about fee-based education, which did not prove to be true in real life – although the exception proves the rule even in this case. For instance, it was believed that a student had an easier time if they paid, since the school would surely turn a blind eye to the student’s academic results – if the student left, the school would not receive any money. Secondly, there was talk about stupid people attending private school, since they were unable to get into the state-run temples of education – in exchange for money they would be eventually be guided through their studies.
Marje Habakuk admitted that over the years all sorts of people have passed through the school – including those who weren’t satisfied with the demands made by instructors, with the justification being – “but I paid you”! During the 1990s, the parents of some children came and asked why their little one isn’t able to move on to the next course – after all, they had paid so much. ‘We never had much to say to them. We have never made concessions in terms of price because EBS is a fee-based school,’ confirmed Marje Habakuk.
Madis Habakuk was also specific: “Students have one right in this house – the right to choose whether to come here to study or not. We have had students say to their instructors that “we are paying, which means that we should pass our exams”. The claim is completely unsubstantiated. If we were to do so, then we would simply be a diploma mill. That is a dead end street, a university like that has no future,” he explained.
Madis Habakuk wrote quite a bit about money and the education that could be received in exchange for it. One of the articles on that topic appeared in the Õpetajate Leht in 1997. Habakuk noted that richer students actually do end up in private school and justified it in this way: “Private schools teach primarily economics and law. Each student must have certain prerequisites in order to be successful in the future in their selected field. In that regard, the tuition is a test – if you are able to earn so much money, then you are probably suited for the field of business. Some people are simply magnets for money, while some are not,” admitted Habakuk, and emphasised that, without a doubt, the paying of tuition does not give the student a right to receive a diploma.
The relationship of the tuition at EBS to the average national salary has changed greatly over the past couple of decades, moving in the direction of being more affordable to the person looking to study. In 2018 the cost per semester for bachelor’s study is EUR 2200 and the average monthly salary in Estonia is over EUR 1300.
In 1990 one wouldn’t have made it through EBS’s doors with only two month’s salary. The average salary in Estonia in 1996 was just over EEK 3000. In the same year the daytime tuition for bachelor’s students for the fall semester at EBS was EEK 12,400, with the cost of the Master’s programme being EEK 1000 less. The sum was equivalent to the amount charged by the other big player on the private education market – Concordia University – with the two being the most expensive among the schools offering an education in economics and business.
The tuition for a semester of bachelor’s study at EBS is an amount equivalent to two month’s average salary. Twenty-two years ago it would have cost four months’ average salary.
Now, 20 years later, it is interesting to remember the fact that some schools, like Concordia, only accepted tuition payments in US dollars and not Estonian kroons. EBS settled in kroons. Throughout the existence of EBS, discounts in tuition have been given to the more talented and active students – to receive a discount they need to demonstrate success in their studies as well as service to their community. Especially talented young people are offered the opportunity to study free of charge.
From time to time EBS has also looked into where students receive the money to pay their tuition. In 1996, the majority of the tuition for bachelor’s students was paid by their parents – 65% for first year students, 59% for third year students. Less than 10% of bachelor’s students paid their own tuition, with employers financing about one-fifth of students.
Four years later the picture was a bit different: the share of parents had dropped into the 20% range and more than half of students paid for their own studies or with the help of their employer. There was also a combination of the different possibilities, where the payment of tuition was a combined effort between the student, their parents and their place of employment.
If the word “private” no longer brings forth any emotions in the financial world, then the word still has a label on it in education. State (more precisely public) universities are, in the eyes of many officials and people active in public life, more trustworthy and more familiar. At the same time it can be freely said that, at least in the case of an education in economics, as has been shown in the state accreditation process for bachelor’s study curricula, this understanding does not hold up.
If, however, one were to compare learning environments (classrooms, number of computers per student, educational material used) between the two, private universities enjoy a significant advantage over public educational institutions.
Even so, the claim continues to resonate that a regular person has no reason to attend a private university; that the tuition is expensive and students are accepted, not based on what they know but on how fat their wallet is. It is hard to agree with such claims. True, the majority of our students work alongside their studies in order to be able to pay the tuition and not demand it from their parents.
It is true that the tuition of many students is paid by their current and future employers, who are hoping to find a truly qualified workforce for themselves. We are convinced that our students are set apart from others by their greater entrepreneurship and ability to break through, than by their material standing.
Why have we developed much faster than the majority of public educational institutions? For example, the state has lacked sufficient resources to expand educational opportunities in fields which today’s students find attractive. Secondly, private educational institutions are not burdened by the many bureaucratic and other inherent obstacles, which inhibit the speed of changes and rapid reaction to changes in the surrounding environment.
Thirdly, certain quality monitoring systems are coded into private education, which in many instances do not function as efficiently in public universities. It is in the interests of the students to receive a high quality and competitive education in exchange for the money they have paid and for the educational institution to only provide a “quality” product, since no one wants to purchase a poor quality education.