The migration conference held at Kumu in Tallinn on 29 March 2019 was opened by Estonian Minister of the Interior Katri Raik and Nordic Council of Ministers’ Office in Estonia director Christer Haglund. Tuomas Martikainen, the head of the Migration Institute of Finland, described in his presentation the migration trends of the future around the world and the factors influencing them. He remarked that although migration is difficult to predict, it is most keenly affected by three factors: growth in the global population; urbanisation; and climate change. Earth is currently home to more than 7.5 billion people, and by 2050 there will be almost 10 billion. The majority of population growth is taking place in Asia and Africa. Europe is one of the few places where population numbers are falling. The low birth rate in a number of European countries is considered dangerous from the point of view of economic sustainability. Taking all of this into account, many experts feel that international migration to Europe is both likely and necessary. Nevertheless, the preferred destinations of the majority of migrants at present remain the United States and Canada.
Minister of the Interior Katri Raik underscored the importance of student exchanges to Estonia. The majority of foreign students in the country are from Finland, Ukraine and Russia, half of whom are undertaking Master’s or Doctoral studies. However, just 20% remain in Estonia for any length of time after graduating. The University of Tartu’s Vice-Rector for Academic Affairs Aune Valk explained that boosting the study migration of Estonian students is a significant challenge. The number of foreign students at the university has risen rapidly in recent years, with IT courses being the most popular among them. Almost 80% of IT graduates remain in Estonia to work here and they are warmly welcomed on the labour market.
The second panel at the conference discussed international study migration in Finland, Sweden and Estonia. Birgit Lüüs, the deputy director of the Citizenship and Migration Policy Department of the Estonian Ministry of the Interior, outlined the changes in Estonian legislation favouring study migration as well as the services that have been created to simplify migration. Irma Garam, representing the Finnish National Agency for Education, described Finland’s policy in regard to study migration, while André Bryntesson, a research assistant in the Education Department of Uppsala University, focussed on the Swedish experience. Eero Loonurm from the Archimedes Foundation showcased Estonia’s success in ‘recruiting’ foreign students over the last decade. The panellists agreed that every country wins from students remaining there after graduating and that all countries are looking for ways of making it easier and more attractive for them to do so.
“There are currently just over 20,000 foreign students in degree studies in Finland, representing 7% of the entire tertiary student body in the country,” Garam explained. “Almost half of them are from Asia.” Finnish youngsters are also going abroad to study in greater numbers – mostly to Sweden, Estonia, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. The number of students coming from other countries has significantly dropped off in Sweden since 2011, when enrolment and tuition fees were introduced. Of those there are, 20% are still in the country two and five years after graduating. Studies have shown that it is wrong to assume that foreign students are a burden on society, since the tax revenue generated by those who remain in the country after their studies exceeds the costs of their education many times over. According to the data of the Archimedes Foundation there are currently 5047 foreign students of 125 different nationalities in degree studies in Estonia. In this regard the country is similar to its neighbours: as in Finland and Sweden, the lion’s share of these students come from outside of the European Union. While the majority of foreign students in Estonia are Finns (almost 1400), just 10% come from other Member States of the EU.
The third panel at the conference focussed on the experiences of foreign students in making the transition from their studies to working in the European Union. European Migration Network consultant Norma Rose opened the discussion by talking about possibilities in finding work opportunities for foreign students and presented the results of a recent study into the willingness of foreign students to remain in their host country. Leading the recruitment of talent in Hannover and Tampere, Theda Minthe and Mari Taverne spoke about the experiences of their regions. Katri Kuuse, the Head of Personnel with Ericsson Estonia, outlined her company’s needs and practices.
The issue of students joining the labour market is important at the national level in many countries. In addition to challenges connected to the labour market, the issue is a significant one in the promotion of international partnerships, since foreign students serve as ambassadors to their host countries. Around 530,000 first-time residence permits for the purpose of studying were issued in the European Union in 2018. However, Germany alone hopes to find 260,000 workers for its labour market each year among immigrants, which is a very big challenge. It is particularly important to foster opportunities for dialogue between employers and students.
For example, around 2000 foreign students find their way to the Tampere region in Finland every year, and not even the tuition fees introduced in 2017 have significantly reduced their numbers. Attempts are being made to open up access to the labour market for foreign students, who wherever possible are being brought together with local entrepreneurs at the end of their studies for this very reason. The city, universities and government agencies are all involved in this undertaking, as well as representative bodies of entrepreneurs. Estonian companies also face an acute shortage of skilled labour, and foreign students are seen as one way of solving the problem.
The conference ended with a discussion in which the Undersecretary for Cultural Diversity with the Estonian Ministry of Culture Piret Hartman talked about the role of education in integration and Margus Pedaste, an education technology professor at the University of Tartu, and education science researcher Laura Kirss gave a comprehensive overview of the ‘Unified Estonian School’ concept, which brings students from different cultural backgrounds into schools with Estonian as the language of instruction. Education plays an invaluable role in integration, and cultural diversity should be viewed as an opportunity in terms of the sustainable development of society. According to surveys, 68% of the Estonian-speaking population of the country and 64% of Estonian residents who speak other mother tongues agree that people who speak different languages could study together.
Margus Pedaste outlined what ‘Unified Estonian School’ means. “With the support of the European Fund for Regional Development we’ve been able to look into issues surrounding the development of unified Estonian schools,” he explained. “We’ve reached an understanding about what our schools should be like. Studying at a unified school would take place with everyone together and in Estonian. Every student is important, and it would be based on the principles of contemporary approaches to teaching and learning. The shaping of Estonia’s identity would be supported in such schools, but at the same time the cultural identity of each student would be valued as well. Unified schools would have to enable students to make something of themselves in the best possible way.”
You can watch the conference in full lenght on Postimees homepage.
Prententations and in-depth overviews of the conference can be found here.
Pictures of the event can be found here.