The share of older students in vocational and higher education is increasing

Riina Leinbock

In the academic year 2017/2018, there were 153,300 students acquiring general education, 24,100 vocational education and approximately 46,200 higher education in Estonia. Compared to the previous academic year, the number of students in general education increased by 4,100; in vocational education it decreased by 900 and in higher education by 1600.

The lowest level of education ‒ pre-primary education ‒ can be obtained in preschool childcare institutions. In the academic year 2017/2018, 66,900 children attended 628 preschool childcare institutions, or approximately 700 fewer than the year before. In 2003‒2014, the number of children in preschool childcare institutions was constantly increasing, but since 2015 has decreased. The decline from the previous academic year was the biggest among 5 and 6-year-old children in kindergartens. 88% of all 3‒6-year-old children attended a preschool childcare institution.

In the academic year 2017/2018, there were 517 general education schools with full-time tuition – 351 basic schools and 166 secondary schools. The number of basic schools increased by 8 over the last decade, whereas the number of secondary schools decreased by more than 60. Due to the consolidation of the schools network, the average number of students per school has increased in recent years: in 2017/2018, there were on average 360 students in a basic school and 130 students in a secondary school. The number of secondary schools has progressively declined and the number of basic schools has increased in recent years, which has led to that only 32% of all general education schools were secondary schools in the academic year 2017/2018. Before the academic year 2013/2014, this indicator had been close to 40% for years.

Full-time students in general education, 2007‒2017

In the academic year 2017/2018, approximately 153,300 students were acquiring general education, 147,800 of them full time and over 5,000 students part time. The number of full-time students increased by 4,100 over the year, the most (4.3%) in grades 4‒6. The basic school students totalled 125,700 in the academic year 2017/2018, which is 3.6% more than 10 years ago and nearly 13% more than 5 years ago. The interim decline in the number of students was replaced by an increase again. The number of first-graders has been increasing for some ten years and surpassed the margin of 15,000 in the last three academic years. Over the decade, the distribution of students between stage I (grades 1-3), stage II (grades 4-6) and stage III (grades 7-9) has considerably changed. The number of those studying in stage I and stage II increased, whereas the number of students in stage III decreased rapidly at first, but during the last four years, the rapid decline was replaced by a moderate increase. This rapid decline led to a rapid decrease in the number of those who have acquired basic education, which has stabilised at approximately 11,800 by now. The number of secondary school students had been decreasing since the academic year 2005/2006, but started to increase in 2016/2017 and reached 22,100 by this academic year, which is approximately 670 students more than in the previous year. In 2017, the number of secondary school graduates still decreased. The above changes were due to changes in the population age structure.

24,100 students were acquiring vocational education in the academic year 2017/2018. The total number of students in vocational education has been gradually decreasing for a long time already, notwithstanding some fluctuations. The number of graduates has been increasing during the last three years. This growth has been due to the implementation of new study programmes, which have shorter nominal study periods, and a decline in the number of dropouts from educationa. The share of students obtaining vocational education after basic education has increased rapidly. In the academic year 2017/2018, 76% of all students in vocational education were acquiring vocational education after basic education and 20% after secondary education; 4.4% of the students were in vocational education without basic education requirement. In the academic year 2013/2014, when the share of students in vocational education after basic education was the smallest so far, the respective figures were 55%, 43% and 1.4%.

Over the last decade, the share of 25-year-old and older students in vocational education has increased from 15.1% in the academic year 2007/2008 to 36.7% in 2017/2018. There are now nearly 8,900 25-year-old and older students in vocational education. At the same time, the share of younger than 19-year-old (incl.) students has dropped from two thirds to 46%. This change indicates the increasing willingness of the adults to learn something new and to improve their competitiveness in the labour market. Male students have been somewhat more numerous in vocational education than female students for some years already. The highest percentage of male students of the last decade (56.6%) was in 2009 and 2010, which has dropped to 52.3% by now.

Education attainment, 2007‒2017

In the academic year 2017/2018, higher education in Estonia was provided by 20 higher education institutions, 6 of them were private schools. The number of higher education institutions was the biggest in 2001 and 2002 (49 educational institutions), and since then has diminished year over year. The decrease in the number of young people is a reason why the number of students has also decreased considerably. In the academic year 2017/2018, approximately 46,200 students were acquiring higher education in Estonia, or by one third fewer than in the peak year of 2010/2011 (over 69,000 students). The rapid decline concerned above all the bachelor’s students and students in professional higher education; the number of master’s students has been quite stable. The number of graduates has also decreased due to the decline in the number of graduates from bachelor’s courses and professional higher education (or first stage of higher education), but changes are slower here. In the academic year 2016/2017, 9,600 students graduated from institutions of higher education, approximately two thirds of them graduated from the first stage of higher education.

As the number of younger students is decreasing much faster than that of older students, the share of older students in higher education has increased over the years. Ten years ago (in the academic year 2007/2008), 63% of the students were younger than 25; by the academic year 2017/2018, their share has fallen to 52%. In the same period, the share of 25‒29-year-old students increased from 16% to 21%, and the share of 30-year-old and older students from 21% to 27%. A similar trend is characteristic of the higher school entrants: 10 years ago, 72% of those admitted were younger than 25 years old, whereas in the autumn of 2017, only 62%. In 2017, already one fifth of the entrants were 30 years old and older, including 35% of the entrants to master’s programmes (excl. integrated studies). Female students accounted for 59% of all students and 63% of the graduates, according to most recent statistics. The female predominance in higher education has somewhat diminished over the past decade, especially among the graduates.

The most popular fields of study were business, administration and law (23%), followed by engineering, production and construction (16%), and humanities and arts (13%). The new admissions demonstrated that the ranking of most popular fields of study was the same.

aAge data hereinafter are based on