Questions posed to rector candidates
- 1. Studies and research
- 2. Doctoral studies
- 3. General governance and the future of the university/Financing
- 4. General governance and the future of the university
- 5. Equal treatment and related issues
- 6. Other
* Questions marked with an asterisk are submitted to only for one rector candidate
1. STUDIES AND RESEARCH
|1.1. Do you agree that the university should aim to provide ‘customer service’ to students? What I mean by this is that students' ‘satisfaction’ with subjects is valued more than the actual knowledge they acquire from courses.
Example: We talk about ‘high-quality’ teaching staff and courses at institute council meetings based solely on student evaluations (i.e. courses with a rating of 4 or higher are ‘high-quality’).
|Toomas Asser: It is not correct really to link teaching quality narrowly with the customer service mentality. I don’t think there is too much of the latter at the university. Student feedback to studies is one of the internationally recognised quality criteria of higher education and it would be wrong to ignore it. However, it is important to deal with the assurance of teaching quality comprehensively, taking also into account data from external and internal evaluation, compliance of curricula with the objectives of the society, etc. The style of chairing the meeting, as described in the question, refers to a problem that I also mention in my goals – work on the competences and attitudes of the university’s leaders and managing bodies requires more attention.
Margit Sutrop: The question presumably refers to the fact that students might complain during their studies but benefit from the acquired knowledge later in life. We've seen that students also give high grades to "difficult" courses that require more effort if they are taught well. If a lecturer or course receives low grades for several years in a row, then the lecturer should probably change their teaching methods. I agree that students' feedback cannot be the sole criterion for assessing quality of studies. The new SIS 2 will create a section for feedback that primarily focuses on the students' own evaluation of their progress. We should continue to improve the methodology of gathering feedback.
|1.2. There is a problem with course volumes in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities. There are many 3 ECT courses, which means that students must complete a lot of courses each semester. Would it be possible to restructure curricula university-wide to change study organisation and increase the volumes of courses?|
|Toomas Asser: Transition to courses that are bigger in volume has been discussed at the university for some time already and I believe there have been positive developments in this question in different faculties. The main responsibility for the content and structure of curricula at the university lies on faculty councils. As members of these councils, students can also have a say in changing the course contents. Curricula development is a continuous process. Student feedback about the unreasonable volume of work is highly necessary and definitely needs to be taken into account. One possibility to centrally manage processes is to establish a minimum volume for courses, e.g. 6 ECTS points. However, faculties may have different practices and arguments for preferring smaller courses. The situation should be analysed together with vice deans for academic affairs and find optimal solutions in the organisation of studies.
Margit Sutrop: If each semester students have to complete 10 3-ECT courses that all conclude with an exam, then that workload is undoubtedly too big. One of our priorities is merging smaller subjects to create courses that are worth more credit points. The key here is to turn to the people who manage curricula, i.e. the heads of institutes and programme managers. The institutes in the Faculty of Humanities have chosen different approaches. Some of them have switched to 6 ECT courses to a large extent. The institutes that offer elective or optional courses to students of other subjects are reluctant to create courses worth more ECTs because if the courses are not obligatory, then students prefer to take classes with smaller volumes. Also, it is pretty difficult for students to refund study costs if they fail a course worth 9 or 12 ECTs – not getting a positive grade means paying quite a hefty bill. If they fail more than one class, then the risk of being deleted from the matriculation register also increases. It is certainly possible to increase the volumes of courses university-wide, too. However, we should thoroughly consider the risks this change would bring with it. Different solutions might suit different subjects.
|1.3. How can we remedy the unfortunate situation with the Estonian sign language interpreter curriculum?
a) Why is your proposed solution the most suitable one?
Toomas Asser: Estonian sign language is a national language, unique for and a part of the cultural space of Estonia. Therefore, the University of Tartu as Estonian national university also bears responsibility for its development. Sign language interpreters are needed in Estonia and they have been educated in the University of Tartu. What exactly is meant by the “situation”? That there are not enough specialists with PhD in the Department of Special Education? Or is it associated with insufficient funding? The latter, unfortunately, is the problem with a number of curricula. If a specialisation has not effectively obtained research and development funding, it must be seriously analysed how to improve its research capability as soon as possible. On the other hand – the funding of curricula must be sufficient to guarantee high-quality teaching. The models used for allocating money to the university in the performance-based agreement must be reviewed and updated. The same process must follow within the university.I am not well enough informed of the discussions to evaluate changes in the curriculum. Teaching the sign language must definitely continue in Estonia. When elected, I will immediately familiarise myself with the organisational aspects of teaching.
Margit Sutrop: This spring eight students should graduate from the Estonian sign language interpreter curriculum. No new students are being accepted into the curriculum. It is being officially closed because we lack the resources, both money and people, to continue teaching the subject. Studies will be carried out as refresher training courses. The first session for sign language teachers was held in autumn 2017 in Tartu. We cooperate with the Ministry of Social Affairs. At the same time, we must continue to develop Estonian speech recognition programmes and speech synthesisers. For example, speech recognition worked quite efficiently during the Mother Tongue Day assembly "The Language of this Land".
|1.4. How does the national university guarantee that there is continued interest in the teaching profession?
A) How important is this issue?
Toomas Asser: It is definitely an important issue! Teacher education is the responsibility area of both the UT and Tallinn University. The University of Tartu certainly wants to continue to be a teacher education university. In the university, the responsibility for educating young teachers is divided between several units and cooperation between the units has definitely improved by now. A good teacher must be good at both speciality knowledge and teaching skills. However, it all comes down to how valued the teacher’s job is in the society. Young people choose their specialisation, keeping the future job and development opportunities in mind. Among our neighbouring states, Finland stands out for having a huge interest in teacher education programmes, young people with the best academic capacities go to study there.
Margit Sutrop: Continued interest in the teaching profession is a very important issue for both the University of Tartu and the country as a whole. Today the percentage of teachers aged 30 or younger in general education schools is around 12%. This is clearly not enough. The Estonian Lifelong Learning Strategy 2020, which I helped compile, has a separate programme – "Competent and motivated teachers and school leadership”, – that contains different solutions to the issue of having too few educational sciences students. The national university and Tallinn University are both responsible for teacher training courses. In recent years, the University of Tartu has thoroughly updated its teacher training curricula. It continues to be a problem that teaching professions are not attractive enough (reputation and salaries, but also workload, work organisation and availability of support structures). This is reflected in the fact that there is little competition for teacher training places and for teaching jobs after graduation. The curricula of kindergarten and class teachers are the most popular. The curricula of high school teachers are the least popular. Since many students are already working, often in schools or kindergartens, there is great demand for distance learning curricula. What can we do? We should increase the number of flexible study options available to working students. The university recently opened an 18-month teacher education curriculum for distance learners. Considering the modest size of the Estonian job market outside the capital, we have to take into account the possibility that schools might find a person who is willing to teach and has the required professional knowledge. The university should allow these people to attend employment-based teacher training. This means that the school and its more experienced employees have a greater role in training new teachers. It is great that students who work at least part-time in schools already qualify for free part-time studies in teacher training curricula.
|1.5. How can we deal with teaching staff members who do a poor job and reward good grades too willingly?
a) How can we deal with teaching staff members who mark assignments with a significant delay?
Toomas Asser: The main guarantee of teaching quality is a demanding attitude to teaching by the university, by teaching staff and by students. Surveys show that feedback students give to teaching staff is not positively correlated to the teacher’s lenient assessment policy. Therefore, low demands from teaching staff will raise the students’ average results but will not be substantially important when evaluating the actual level of the course. Also a course with a lenient feedback may be highly developing for a student. And vice versa. Upon the development of teaching quality, I recommend paying more attention to the content of studies.
a) Teaching staff are often quite overloaded with work and they may have good reasons for the long delays. However, it is important that teaching staff inform students at the time of giving the assignment when the students could expect feedback.
Margit Sutrop: Setting high standards for both ourselves and other people is something the university should definitely value. If colleagues or students notice something in the attitude of teaching staff, they should definitely take action. Collegial feedback is very much appreciated at the university. Students could either communicate their problems to the teaching staff or turn to their representatives, programme managers or heads of institutes, if needed. People in higher positions should analyse where the problem actually lies and whether the issue concerns teaching staff's attitudes, workloads or incompetence. Lecturers might benefit from participating in teaching training sessions.
a) From the students' perspective, it is understandable that quick feedback is appreciated. The lecturer might be hindered by the fact that they are overworked or the number of students awaiting feedback is too large. A remedy to this problem is acknowledging the issue and looking for solutions (e.g. notifying students in a timely manner about when feedback is due; dividing up the groups between teaching staff; or having assistants help the lecturer).
|1.6. There are students who attend courses in Estonian without understanding the language. Do you consider this appropriate?
a) Can students express opinions and/or submit assignments in a foreign language when the course is in Estonian?
|Toomas Asser: A prerequisite for participating in the studies is understanding the content of the course. This is why I do not consider it conceivable for a student to take part in the lecture without knowing the language of instruction. I believe it is possible to choose another language to express an opinion or submit an assignment, if the parties have agreed so.
Margit Sutrop: In general, I am in favour of flexible solutions. As we don't usually have a sufficient selection of English courses to offer, foreign students can also take Estonian courses and do their work in English.
Whether presenting homework and assignments in a foreign language is allowed is up to the teaching staff. They have no obligation to allow this but they needn't refuse it either: it depends upon the specific course and the lecturer's workload. Study regulations do not state any particular rules about these situations. The subject syllabus specifies the language of studies and language required for attaining the study outcomes (mostly concerning study materials). It is crucial that if lecturers agree to accept the foreign-language assignments of one student, they have to allow all other enrolled students to use this right, too. If a student wishes to present their homework in a foreign language on an Estonian course, then they should specify why they wish to do so. If the reason is that the literature is in English and expressing their thoughts in English is easier, then I don't think that is a good enough reason, because acquiring Estonian scientific vocabulary and self-expression skills is just as important as becoming more knowledgeable about the subject matter.
1.7. Do you think that teaching foreign languages on the basis of English is the correct approach?
Toomas Asser: Unfortunately, I do not have enough information to comment on the current organisation of language learning at the university. I know that about 15 of the nearly one hundred language courses currently taught at the University of Tartu are taught on the basis of English. Their advantage is that the languages can be taught simultaneously to Estonian and international students. If, in the case of less commonly taught foreign languages, it is not possible to find teaching staff who can teach on the basis of Estonian, we have to choose whether to find a teacher who does not speak Estonian or not to offer the language course at all. In my opinion, the key issue in language studies at the national university is teaching Estonian to international students. This is done on the basis of both English and Russian.
Margit Sutrop: The increasing number of foreign students and Estonian students studying English curricula has indeed created a situation where the College of Foreign Languages and Cultures offers many language courses on the basis of English. However, this number is negligible compared to courses offered on the basis of Estonian. To an extent, language courses read on the basis of English are dependent on in-university orders from institutes with English curricula. The college has tried to balance this out by offering courses at the same level in both Estonian and English. For example, this autumn semester basic courses in Swedish, French, Russian and Spanish were offered on the basis of English and Estonian. So-called exotic languages or language courses with fewer attendees (e.g. Chinese, Latvian, Lithuanian and Turkish) are held in Estonian and in English in rotation every other semester. If this question is posed on the basis of SIS data, then it should be kept in mind that many courses (e.g. English at level B1 and higher) have both English and Estonian marked as study languages, i.e. they are on lists of subjects on the basis of English and Estonian. This is because starting from intermediate-level courses, the language of studies is mostly the target language, rather than Estonian or English. Statistics show that 100 courses were offered on the basis of English during the autumn semester this year. 44 of them were courses in the Department of English Studies or English language courses at level B1 or higher. 12 were Estonian courses aimed at foreign students. Additionally, there were French, Russian, Spanish and Italian courses that were taught on the basis of both English and Estonian.
|1.8. The international importance of China is increasing by the year. Should the University of Tartu offer Chinese language courses at least up to B2 level?
a) Can we truly speak of openness to foreign cultures if we have no Chinese language experts?
|Toomas Asser: China is undoubtedly one of the leaders of the world economy, and Estonian society needs specialists who know the Chinese society and language. In the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, good work is done in teaching the Chinese language and culture. I find this work should continue, even more intensively. Of course, it could be up to B2 level. I have heard that the reason for not offering higher-level teaching is not the lack of teachers. Rather, it is the lack of learners. Therefore, the university’s task is to promote learning Chinese (and why nor Japanese or Korean) among students.
Margit Sutrop: You will find information about Chinese courses on the website of the UT's College of Foreign Languages and Cultures.
In the near future, we will definitely develop cooperation with Chinese education institutions and offer more language courses. Since 2003, eight bilateral cooperation agreements between our university and Chinese higher education schools have entered into force. This has made student exchanges possible. This year there are 20 students and three members of teaching staff with Chinese citizenship at the University of Tartu. An interdisciplinary consortium, the Asian Centre, was created in 2016. The University of Tartu will soon open an "Asian and Middle-Eastern Studies" curriculum at the MA level. This curriculum aims to educate citizens familiar with Asian and Middle-Eastern societies, economies and policies who have the required knowledge and wish to contribute to the development of Estonia. Chinese is also studied, of course.
|1.9. Should the permanent teaching staff of the University of Tartu be able to speak Estonian and show an interest in Estonia, our national identity and language?|
|Toomas Asser: Requirements arising from the Language Act apply to all those who have decided to stay in Estonia longer and work in leading positions here. I am sure that people who have long-term connections with the university are not indifferent to the Estonian language and culture. The university offers support for foreign employees for settling into our society. There are possibilities for language learning and also support services for adaptation to life in Estonia. Permanent UT teaching staff should participate and definitely want to participate in the Estonian life and for that, it is important to know the language. We have a lot of positive examples.
Margit Sutrop: This question presumably concerns foreign teaching staff. Yes, it would make sense for foreigners who are permanent residents of Estonia and who work here to learn Estonian at some point. This would help them get by more smoothly, communicate and become part of the Estonian community and culture. The university offers foreign employees, guest lecturers and their families courses in Estonian language and culture. There are different opportunities for beginners, those at the intermediate level and those at the advanced level.
This year the Faculty of Humanities organised a conference entitled "The Language of this Land" in celebration of Mother Tongue Day. As part of the conference, we showed the audience video clips in which foreign employees talked about why they find Estonian language skills important. The interviews are very inspiring, and they provide great insight into why foreigners benefit from studying Estonian.
|1.10. Why is the MA curriculum European Languages and Cultures in English?
a) Isn't building bridges between Estonian and foreign languages important anymore?
b) Why should students study French on the basis of English?
|Toomas Asser: I am not sufficiently informed to comment on the considerations of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities in their choice of the content of the curriculum and language of instruction. I presume the reason may be giving access to both Estonian and international students, who can build their learning path themselves when they start their studies. Building bridges between Estonian and foreign languages is definitely important.
Margit Sutrop: The European languages and cultures curriculum is in English in order to enable foreign students to attend the courses, too. The general subjects must be offered in English. Specialisation courses are already available in English, German, French, Spanish, Russian, Swedish, Danish and Norwegian for the foreign philology curriculum, regardless of whether it is in English or Estonian. Some Estonian students studying foreign philology should attend these English general courses. They can study these subjects together with the Estonian language and literature students in Estonian.
If Master’s-level curricula were allowed to have several languages (like PhD curricula), then this curriculum would be bilingual: in English and Estonian. The University of Tartu has voiced its concern about this issue of bilingual BA and MA curricula to the government. The current Universities Act does not permit having two study languages for MA curricula. Therefore we should decide if the language of the curriculum is Estonian or English, even if it doesn't mean that all subjects are in one language.
|1.11. Is students' half-hearted attitude a problem?|
|Toomas Asser: The choice to study at the University of Tartu should be an aware and informed decision for acquisition of high-quality education and coping well in life. In addition to completing their curriculum, our students might also discover what a (free!) treasure they have come to and make use of the huge values that the University of Tartu can offer – language courses, entrepreneurship courses, teamwork and leadership experience in student organisations, opportunities for sports and cultural activities.
Margit Sutrop: A half-hearted attitude is a problem. I really like the slogan of the student community, "BE MORE", which invites students to be part of academic organisations, to be active, to look for opportunities to develop, to contribute, to be independent and to acquire practical experience.
|1.12. Is a seminar where people sit in silence, sleep or chat online really a seminar?|
|Toomas Asser: See question 1.11.
Margit Sutrop: No. The explanatory dictionary of the Estonian language states that seminars are used to discuss lecture topics, independent reading material or research papers under the supervision of teaching staff.
|1.13. Why are there very few quiet spots where students can rest and study? The study halls at Veski Street are great but a long way away. Student rooms tend to be places where people go to chat.|
|Toomas Asser: I agree that there should be even more rooms with an academic atmosphere for students. I also know that the Rector’s Office is currently discussing this topic and as a rector, I also plan to pay attention to students’ learning environment.
Margit Sutrop: "A long way away" is relative. Under the fifth topic ("People and environment”) in my election manifesto I addressed this in the section "First issue": the university has to become more student-friendly and create more opportunities for them to relax and socialise. There should be rest areas in all university buildings. The new buildings should take this into account at the blueprint level, and we have to consider the possibilities of reorganising the older buildings. Once the library is open, the issue of having no study space should disappear.
|1.14. Assuming that the University of Tartu turns more attention to internationalisation in the future, which curricula should we open up to foreign students?
a) From which countries should students come here to study?
|Toomas Asser: The University of Tartu should not be limited to preferring students from specific regions. All international students are welcome, but they should not be given any concessions compared to our own student candidates. The world is changing fast and we need to open so-called ‘disciplines of the future’, which combine different specialisations and areas of research – for example, IT and entrepreneurship. Only by using knowledge and technology we can make our economy smarter and offer higher added value.
The same is true about the sustainability of our healthcare system, which is increasingly under pressure from the ageing population. When analysing any major problem in the society, the answers can be found by using knowledge and skills. This is why one of the most important challenges is to create a long-term strategic vision that transcends political parties for the development of research and higher education in Estonia.
Margit Sutrop: See clause 1.17 about opening new subjects.
Currently we have foreign students from more than 100 countries. We should be open to welcoming all those who want to learn and meet the standards, regardless of their country of origin. There could be more students from neighbouring countries. We have a duty to educate Finno-Ugric peoples who haven't enjoyed the same success as Estonians.
|1.15. Should foreign students in Estonia take the C1 Estonian language exam at the end of their studies?|
|Toomas Asser: I wish foreign students stayed in Estonia to work and the university should definitely offer them language courses. If they like living in Estonia, they are also motivated to participate in language courses. On the other hand, at international universities where the local language is not English, knowledge of the local language skills is generally not compulsory.
Margit Sutrop: Being awarded a C1-level qualification means that the language is spoken masterfully. Achieving this level is not realistic if the foreign student doesn't study an Estonian curriculum. Enrolling in an Estonian curriculum requires extensive previous knowledge of the language. The university wants there to be a cluster of Estonian subjects in all English curricula. This requirement is included in the new edition of the curriculum statutes. A regulation called "Requirements for proficiency in and use of the Estonian language for officials, employees and sole proprietors" is currently in force. According to this, the C1 level is only required of a limited number of professionals. To become a citizen, being proficient at the B1 level is sufficient. Foreign students have no need of C1-level Estonian by the time they graduate to enter the job market here and be a well-functioning member of society. A student studying the Estonian curriculum who has insufficient knowledge of Estonian (less than B2) is encouraged to enrol in additional language courses. If these are successfully completed, the student's standard period of study is extended. According to the current study regulations, students who do not complete the extensive language training they are assigned can be deleted from the matriculation register. So far no one has had to leave the university due to this. Students who study a foreign language curriculum are not required to take these courses. Narva College has enforced the requirement that students must have C1-level knowledge of Estonian before doing their traineeships.
|1.16. Which strong research fields could potentially develop and benefit society the most in the future?|
|Toomas Asser: All research fields have the opportunity. It is important to have a wider perspective and international cooperation, inter- and multidisciplinarity. Relations with the society and economy are certainly important and should be taken into account when developing the Estonian research policy.
Historically, major leaps in development have not been predictable in science. We must not go over the limit in managing areas of responsibility and research directions. We already know, however, that rapid development can be expected in the field of biomedicine, gene technology, machine learning, artificial intelligence, IT and robotics. It is important to understand that some of these areas may give a surge in the development of any other field of research, from linguistics to archaeology.
Margit Sutrop: All viable research fields have something to contribute to society. As we don't know which area will give us this important new knowledge, we need to – metaphorically speaking – water all of the seeds we've planted. Great breakthroughs are made on the basis of strong baseline studies.
|1.17. Which MA-level curricula in English would it be wise to offer (assuming that the field can contribute to competitive research and there is demand on the labour market)?|
|Toomas Asser: We already have good examples of such curricula.
Margit Sutrop: Master's curricula in English are opened for four reasons: to meet the needs of the job market; to obtain additional resources; to introduce our research achievements to the world; and to ensure the subject remains viable. I believe that additions to the current 20 MA curricula are very welcome. But it is the institutes and faculties that have to give us input about whether there is any need for an English curriculum.
|1.18. In March, there was a discussion in the Ministry of Education and Research (HTM) that focused on the sustainability and development of legal education and research. Will you as Rector stand uncompromisingly for the University of Tartu retaining its position as the sole governor of this area of responsibility?|
|Toomas Asser: As rector, I will stand for it that legal education at the University of Tartu and in Estonia developed in the best possible manner and pursuant to the needs of the society. Estonian law is a national field of science and a national discipline. Besides the Republic of Estonia, the Estonian law is researched or taught nowhere else in the Estonian language. The University of Tartu is Estonia’s national university. Obviously, Estonia’s national disciplines are and will be at the heart of the activities of the University of Tartu.
Whether Estonian law is also taught at other Estonian public universities is a political issue, which is also connected with the availability of public funding and high-level academic staff. Unfortunately, there may be shortage of both. A particularly serious problem is whether we have enough high-quality academic staff. Teaching the national disciplines of the national university should be the cornerstone of Estonian education and research policy, which is why legal education and research at the University of Tartu must not suffer on account of other public universities.
Margit Sutrop: Yes, I am willing to stand up for this principle, and to do so uncompromisingly. I think there is hope for us, since this position is supported by professional organisations of lawyers as well as the Ministry of Justice.
|*1.19. Tallinn University of Technology (TTÜ) is slowly heading towards opening curricula in medical studies. When do you estimate the first doctor will graduate from TTÜ? (Question for T. Asser)|
|Toomas Asser: In the context of medical studies in Estonia, TTÜ has a much appreciated supportive role as a provider of technological solutions. Teaching therapy specialisations in more than one place in a small country like Estonia is not justified or feasible.
|*1.20. In the interview in Postimees, you said that it is important that universities stop replicating subjects. Please spell out ways to do this. (Question for T. Asser)|
|Toomas Asser: There is unreasonably much duplication in Estonian universities. If we could agree about the division of work, each university could focus on its strengths and act more efficiently. The most important possibilities for eliminating duplication is reasonable agreements between universities and the Ministry of Education and Research, reviewing the principles of division of activity support, but also preventive activities in forecasting the labour market’s future needs and on that basis, reviewing the curricula.|
2. DOCTORAL STUDIES
|2.1. Starting from the 2018/2019 academic year, PhD students at the university of Tartu will receive 400 euros in stipends from the university, in addition to the doctoral stipend from the government. A doctoral stipend that actually allows students to get by will hopefully be beneficial to all parties. Do you think rewarding additional stipends is sustainable? Is the financing plan suitable?|
|Toomas Asser: I have always emphasised that the vagueness of PhD students’ status needs to be solved in Estonia. Today outstanding young people decide against an academic career due to economic reasons. Doctoral students have the status of a student, with only the doctoral allowance and stipends for income. Actually, doctoral students are not students but specialists who hold a master’s degree and are engaged in research. When they work, doctoral students must paid a salary with all social guarantees. In my opinion, people admitted to doctoral studies should be employed by the university to work as junior research fellows, and the extension of the employment contract should depend on passing the annual progress review, taking into account differences between disciplines. The transition from student’s to employee’s status needs time but this would have an invaluable impact on Estonia’s success.
Margit Sutrop: The university has taken it upon itself to pay successful doctoral students 1060 euros to allow them to fully commit to their PhD studies and graduate within the standard period of study (currently only 24% graduate within this period + 1 year). However, it is important that the government fulfils its promise to double the doctoral allowance from 422 euros to 844 euros. We hope to receive 5 million euros in additional doctoral allowances from the government in 2019. This would mean that 840 euros of the stipend are accounted for. The university would only have to pay the extra 220 euros and we could use the remaining money to increase employees' salaries. It is also crucial that we offer Research Fellows and teaching staff with PhDs salaries that exceed the amount of the doctoral allowance.
|2.2. What is your opinion on the fact that banks don't issue loans based on doctoral stipends and contracts for services and that additional project-based stipends are not considered when calculating parental leave rates?
a) Do you intend to remedy this situation? It is common knowledge that one of the reasons why PhD students work part-time is that they cannot repay their loans and raise a family.
b) Making the status of PhD students equal to that of researchers in Europe would make this process remarkably easier. Is awarding PhD students researcher status an achievable goal in the foreseeable future?
|Toomas Asser: See the question 2.1.
Margit Sutrop: Providing PhD students with social guarantees is necessary. They must also have the opportunity to take out loans, receive parental benefits and save for their retirement. We should discuss whether making PhD students employees is a solution that suits all parties. As of 31 December 2017, the university employed 152 junior research fellows, 125 of whom are doctoral students. As of 10 November, there were 1196 PhD students. The university employs 15 members of teaching staff, 44 assistants, six teachers, eight research fellows, 212 junior research fellows and 176 non-academic employees. It suits some PhD students to get paid by another employer and receive a stipend in addition. If we make doctoral students university employees, we also restrict their chances of earning additional salaries, but at the same time the probability of them graduating within the nominal period of study would increase. If it turns out that PhD students being awarded employee status is the best solution, we will need to address two problems. We will need additional finances for paying salaries, as taxes are added to all costs. Secondly, some changes will need to be made to the Higher Education Act.
Estonian legal documents define PhD students solely as students: we cannot apply the Employment Contracts Act to them. We cannot make employment conditional on whether a doctoral student passes an evaluation. According to current legislation, if doctoral students are employed for a fixed time, it must be taken into account that in the event of termination of the contract before its normal expiry date (e.g. not passing an evaluation), the remuneration should be paid out in full. At the moment, employment contracts for a specified term can be extended twice, after which they transform into an employment contract for an unspecified term, and this is not an option for PhD students. We should look for solutions and revise all of these details.
|2.3. Will something be done in regard to the ‘unemployment’ of PhD students in the future? For example, they could be employed as junior researchers and paid a salary instead of a stipend. What solutions can you offer?|
Toomas Asser: See the question 2.1.
Margit Sutrop: This question is presumably about the fact that there are not enough jobs for people with PhD degrees after graduating. On the one hand, this issue concerns financing research. If the government fulfils its promise to increase funding for research and development to 1 per cent of GDP, then the university will be able to offer more job opportunities to employees with PhDs. 70-100 million euros from the state budget should be allocated to the university. The University of Tartu has set an objective of obtaining 30% of research funds from external projects by 2020. It is important to fully develop the services of the Grant Centre and support our researchers in applying for external grants. On the other hand, this is a question about valuing PhDs in society. A PhD should be an advantage in applying for jobs outside of universities and research institutions as well. The public sector and entrepreneurship should also adopt the idea that people with doctoral degrees are valuable manpower, as they have problem-solving, critical thinking and information-processing skills. In addition, those who have been awarded a PhD but do not intend to pursue a career in research should show initiative, establish their own companies and create jobs themselves.
|2.4. How will you ensure that PhD students and junior research fellows pursue their studies and careers at the University of Tartu in the current situation? (Our working group has at least three PhD students who feel that the research fellow position has no prospects. Research fellows themselves are forced to leave because the head of the working group cannot maintain their salaries.)|
Toomas Asser: As I have already explained in my public statements, I and many of my academic colleagues share the opinion that the vagueness in the status of doctoral students, which currently prevents young people from choosing an academic career, needs to be solved. Doctoral students have the status of a student, with only the doctoral allowance and stipends for income. Actually, doctoral students are not students but specialists who hold a master’s degree and are engaged in research. When they work, doctoral students must paid a salary with all social guarantees. In my opinion, people admitted to doctoral studies should be employed by the university to work as junior research fellows, and the extension of the employment contract should depend on passing the annual progress review, taking into account differences between disciplines. The transition from student’s to employee’s status needs time but this would have an invaluable impact on Estonia’s success.
Margit Sutrop: See the previous point about increasing research funds. We should also use base financing resources for this.
3. GENERAL GOVERNANCE AND THE FUTURE OF THE UNIVERSITY/FINANCING
|3.1. In general, many people agree that Estonian universities are under-financed: salaries are not competitive, if money is scarce the library cannot afford access to all databases, etc. What do you intend to do about this issue?|
Toomas Asser: The competitiveness of salaries at the university must be in the focus of managers of all levels. Indeed, we have not been able to increase the amounts for the library collections, but we have found money for the most actively used databases, despite the annual increase in prices. As rector, I plan to continue cooperation with leaders of the Ministry of Education and Research who confirm they are willing to negotiate with major European publishing houses to introduce the Open Access/Open Science principles, similarly to several other European countries.
Margit Sutrop: To me, improving the university's financing scheme is crucial. As Rector, I will be willing to champion increasing both government funding and the university's own income (both private and external funds). I want to make sure that the university's ranking among higher education and research institutions improves. I touched upon these topics in the "Research and development" section (first and second issue) in my election manifesto.
|3.2. What steps will you take to guarantee that the university library has sufficient resources? The current collection development funds are patently ridiculous and even the minimal amount of scientific literature is hard to acquire. It isn't sustainable if entire fields of research only exist thanks to book donations from foreign colleagues.|
|Toomas Asser: To my best knowledge, the library receives a direct support from the state budget and the acquisition of reference books is basically directed by the library council. Therefore, no field of reseach should be left completely without specialist literature. It may seem unfair for some units that the faculties’/units’ contribution to the university’s general fund is taken into account when developing the collections. However, distribution of benefits based on agreed principles is definitely more reasonable than distribution without any principles.
For a top-level university, the existence of a high-level scientific library is indispensable. In the present-day world a large proportion of scientific literature is available online and therefore, ensuring as extensive as possible access to electronic databases is even more important than the availability of reference books in the physical form.
Margit Sutrop: I agree that collection development funds are too small. I feel it is definitely possible to obtain additional funds for books and magazines. If the percentage of base financing increases, we could think about allocating some of those funds to buying access and licences to scientific literature and databases. We should engage with current database providers at the national level and try to negotiate more favourable conditions for the Estonian research community. We should revise the principles of fund distribution for buying the materials necessary for studies and also keep in mind the curricula of different subjects. Book donations should continue to be accepted as part of the additional acquisition process. This will allow us to get hold of monographs no longer on sale.
|3.3. The University of Tartu promotes itself as the number-one university in Estonia and the Baltic States. Do you think such promotion is appropriate in a situation where the university hasn't even had a library for several years? In other words, the university lacks a crucial component, without which a higher education facility shouldn't even be called a university.
a) In May 2017, the Rector said he would almost bet his life on the library restorations being finished within a year. When will the library actually be opened, i.e. not only part of the building? When will we be able to use all of the collections?
|Toomas Asser: Renovation of the library has not disrupted the provision of library services. It is true that the delayed construction works have complicated our everyday life in the university. However, also during the renovations we have ensured access to literature, temporary reading rooms for students and extensive possibilities for using electronic sources. The Rector’s Office confirmed – and I trust their words – that the library will be opened for users to an adequate extent by the end of April this year. The repairs of different halls and repositories should not impose critical restrictions to the use of collections. When full access is restored in October this year, all restrictions will be finally completely removed for students and other users.
Margit Sutrop: The delay in finishing the library renovations has indeed been a big problem. Mistakes were made in planning the work and entering into the contract with the construction company. In hindsight we know that these could have been avoided. Fortunately, there's light at the end of the tunnel. The university library will partly open on 25 April 2018, if all goes as planned. The remaining rooms will be available to us from the beginning of the autumn semester. The books from the public collections on the third floor have been available for borrowing the entire time. The collections that have been packed up to date will gradually enter circulation. The most frequently used collections, which will be stored on the new public repository floor, will be available at the beginning of the autumn semester. Old collections will be available for borrowing partially in May 2018 and partially by the beginning of 2019. The speed at which collections and the entire library can be opened up to the public unfortunately depends heavily on the time it takes to finish the renovations. You can borrow all books that are part of the library's collection but unavailable due to construction free of charge by means of interlibrary loans (ILL).
|3.4. How can we increase and/or reduce the university's spending?|
|Toomas Asser: Each operation in the university has its reasonable costs. High-quality work requires adequate funding and it would not be reasonable to merely demand general saving. We have to consider available information and the goals of the university and staff. Of course, there are aspects where costs should be increased – good work requires competitive salary, research-based higher education and teaching of doctoral stduents demands different investments than for e.g. vocational education, etc.
There are definitely costs that can be saved. I am not sure if all the current expenses should remain. We have to review the number of support staff both centrally and in faculties, and find possibilities to reduce bureaucracy. We have to estimate the staff numbers necessary to keep our curricula in work. I see ample opportunities in increasing interdisciplinary cooperation and elimination of duplication. As a rector, I plan to take all these steps based on information, carefully, together with colleagues and the decision-making bodies of the university. And finally, it is important besides cost optimisation to obtain more income both from the state budget and as competition-based external funding.
Margit Sutrop: There are certainly many ways to govern the university more prudently. I mention this in my election manifesto's fourth topic on governance, concerning the third issue of administering support structures. We could cut costs by revising the labour division in support structures: which tasks should be performed centrally and which at the level of faculties and institutes. We should systematically reduce bureaucracy by making sure that all acts of coordination and signing are actually necessary. People should be trusted more. I consider it important that the university hires competent employees and trusts them. We should also analyse utility costs, as there might be reserves.
|3.5. Do you have any specific suggestions for changing the methods of distributing operating subsidies within the university and between universities?|
|Toomas Asser: The sustainability of each specialisation we teach is based on top-level research in this discipline, the needs of the society and, finally, also a critical number of students. To what extent teaching quality is taken into account when distributing activity support has been changeable. We need to establish principles and indicators that would be more reasonably related with the content and quality of teaching than, for example, our students’ studying in foreign universities and the number of international students in our university. We have achieved the target numbers for internationalisation of studies and now we need to think how to achieve that the time our and international students spend abroad would be well used. Upon the distribution of activity support between universities and within our university, we have to carefully estimate the actual cost of specialisations and on that basis, also our capability to provide high-quality teaching of the specialisations.
Margit Sutrop: In distributing money between universities, the government should give greater consideration to the legitimate role of national university (which in addition to studies and research means serving society) that the University of Tartu fulfils. The university could first and foremost obtain extra funding by re-organising higher education in general, but we should also work towards better performance indicators and a higher percentage of targeted financing.
During fund distribution it should be taken into account that university studies are based on research. Performance-based financing makes up 17% of governmental operating subsidies. Six indicators are assessed: number of students who graduate within the standard period of study; entering the job market or pursuing studies; the proportion of students studying curricula in the university's area of responsibility out of all students; studying or doing traineeships in a foreign country: the amount of foreign students; and private sector income. The problem, however, is that these indicators do not actually assess the quality of education because they pay no attention to who the teachers are (scientific degree, publications and practical experience), what is being taught and how it is being taught.
Within the university our funds distribution should be based on the cost of teaching different subjects. The key to arriving at an agreement is discussion: we should agree on the general principles for dividing up operating subsidies by taking into account the costs of studies and the needs of different subjects (how much laboratory equipment is necessary, whether teaching is conducted in small groups, etc.).
|3.6. What is your opinion of the recent plan to re-establish tuition fees?
a) If this project actually went ahead, how would you guarantee that students with lower incomes could still make ends meet and focus entirely on their studies at the same time?
|Toomas Asser: Free degree studies is one possibility to ensure we have well-educated people in the Estonian society. The university certainly has an opportunity to receive external income from students for education. This topic is actively discussed currently in the society and I wish to give my contribution to this discussion. Speaking of the partial introduction of student-funded education, I think the most important perspective is to offer opportunities mainly for adult learners (in the form of requalification and continuing studies) to obtain paid higher education beside work.
Margit Sutrop: In a situation where higher education is underfunded, it is understandable that people are looking to incorporate private funds into the university's finances once again. At the same time, switching to paid higher education would be a complete change of direction. The report of the task force for compiling a scheme for the long-term financing of higher education and research and re-organising the procedures of different institutions has not been made public yet, but the version published on 3 April 2018 concludes that the large proportion of working students is evidence that it is highly likely that these students are capable of partly covering their study costs. With limited government resources it seems to make sense to increase students' own contribution. We now need a thorough analysis of the impact. This should address how making studies (partly) paid would influence Estonian youngsters' decisions to remain in Estonia, rather than acquire higher education in countries where it is free. Secondly, we should make sure that stipends and study loans give all students a chance to pursue their studies, regardless of their socio-economic standing. a) Yes, it is important that all smart and eager young people have the opportunity to study at the university, even if they don't have a lot of money. The current programme for needs-based stipends is inadequate and the loans being offered are too small. We should redesign the stipend system and offer the opportunity to take out long-term study loans that cover living expenses.
|3.7. Are you in favour of retaining free higher education?|
|Toomas Asser: See the question 3.6.
Margit Sutrop: Free higher education is great as it guarantees that everyone has the chance to study at the university. However, it has its downsides as well, which is why we should first analyse the impact of the 2013/2014 higher education reform: what improved and what didn't, and how we can perfect the existing system. The ministry should firstly remove strict limitations (that full-time Estonian studies must be free) and allow subjects with market demand (law, economics, etc.) to charge students fees (although some students who meet certain criteria would be exempted from these costs). The ministry could also allow us to open more part-time curricula (so that we could combine work and studies) because having a lower quality of studies due to students working while studying is problematic.
In January 2018, the National Audit Office initiated an audit to assess whether the higher education reform had fulfilled the set objectives (increasing the involvement of different social groups, helping students graduate within the standard period of study and increasing the effectiveness of higher education institutions). We already know that free higher education has not made students give up working. According to 2016 Eurostudent data, the percentage of working students has even increased over the last 10 years. There is no direct connection between the probability of a student working and the socio-economic background of their parents. Students do not solely work due to economic reasons, but also to get work experience and attain a higher standard of living.
|3.8. Do you think students should pay for higher education?|
|Toomas Asser: See answer to question 3.6.
Margit Sutrop: See also answer 3.6.
|3.9. In our department, the average financial limit for ordering literature in 2018 is 111 euros per member of teaching staff. This means that each lecturer can order either 1.5 German or 0.75 English academic books (average prices) for research and teaching purposes. What steps should be taken to resolve this pressing and indeed shameful situation?|
|Toomas Asser: I would not go along with such judgments. I have already commented on this topic to the extent of the information at my disposal, which is surely insufficient.
Margit Sutrop: I agree that the funds for ordering literature should be many times greater. In order to solve this problem, we must apply for targeted grants (in Estonia and foreign countries). We should also review resources within the university (e.g. whether we could use some funds from the increasing base financing of research money in the library). The distribution of book funds between different structural units should be analysed. Currently, funds for buying books are divided up between structural units based on their contribution to the common fund. Therefore the funds for buying books are directly dependent on people's abilities to find suitable projects. However, the need for these funds might differ across units.
|3.10. To what extent are you aware of UT's debt and how do you plan to incorporate this knowledge in decision-making?|
|Toomas Asser: Loan issues are decided in the UT by the council and as a council member, I have been informed of the topics of the university’s liquidity and borrowings for six years now. The general liquidity of the university is quite good. In March we approved the 2017 budget implementation report that showed a surplus of 23 million euros. Last year, the university’s financial situation also made it possible to postpone taking a loan of approximately six million euros, which had been planned for 2017 in the budget. As the university is currently working on several large construction objects, e.g. the library, sports hall and Delta, we cannot avoid borrowing in the coming years. The council has confirmed that the loan burden must not exceed the limit set down in the Financial Strategy - 25% of the total budget.
Margit Sutrop: I am aware of this and of course will consider it in making decisions. Decisions to take out loans and renovate buildings are made by the university's Council. This decision-making body has been very responsible. The Council follows the financial strategy to the letter. It states that debt should not exceed 25% of revenue for the financial year. As revenue is increasing, we could find ourselves 35-40 million in debt. The university's liquidity is good at the moment. It is problematic that construction works has turned out to be more expensive than expected. We must learn from our mistakes.
4. GENERAL GOVERNANCE AND THE FUTURE OF THE UNIVERSITY
|4.1. Candidates for rector tend to make great promises about developing democracy within the university etc. Reality can, unfortunately, differ greatly from these ideals. For example, SIS II has essentially been developed ‘top-down’ – somebody somewhere just decided that files (slides etc.) cannot be added to subject descriptions and that's it. As a result, introducing Moodle to employees and essentially shoving it down their throats is very time-consuming. Do you intend to avoid such practices in the future or do you think that top-down governance is the right method for the university?|
Toomas Asser: I will not distance myself from democratic foundations in university governance. All who are interested in and well informed to have a say in development activities must have an opportunity for that. I have had no contact with the development of ÕIS2. I do hope, and the current leaders of the university confirm it, that the university’s information systems are developed in the most up-to-date ways, both in terms of the content and technology. The university’s activities are extensively covered by IT systems; which is a great value that we may not even notice in our everyday work. I do believe that all developments must take into account user convenience and compliance with other systems.
Margit Sutrop: One of the important governance principles I follow is that changes should be carefully discussed with those who will be affected by them. We should definitely consider how support structures could better account for the needs and opinions of the university's academic community. The issue is that these support structures are very diverse and if, for example, representatives of the faculty are involved in these decisions, they might not represent all structural units and interested parties. So we should also pay attention to making it possible for all units and interested parties to be represented without this creating additional work where gauging opinions is concerned.
We asked for input about SIS2 from faculties, and faculty representatives were involved in development. We continue to welcome everyone to try it out.
|4.2. In your opinion, to what extent should students be involved in governance?|
|Toomas Asser: Students are involved in governance in all modern universities. High-quality governance decisions would not be conceivable without knowing the expectations of our largest body. The involvement of students in the University of Tartu is quite good. We have students acting as members of the decision-making bodies of all academic units and faculties, as well as central committees (Budget Committee, Academic Committee, Academic Affairs Committee). Students give a valuable input to governance decisions during their monthly meetings with the Rector’s Office. During the amendment of the statutes it was agreed that students would not be involved in the work of the university council. This was due to the 5-year term of office of the council, which is given by the government and which may not be well suited with the period of studies of student representatives. Having been a council member for more than six years I do not consider it a great problem, because students have always had an opportunity to discuss important topics with council members and give their input.
Margit Sutrop: The university is meant for students, which is why it is important for them to participate in governance and make their voices heard. Today there are five student representatives in the university's Senate. Additionally, students participate in the councils of institutes and faculties. Seeing things from students' perspective has always been very interesting to me, and their creative and ambitious ideas are more than welcome. Together we can definitely make them come to life. We should work on three things: how the representatives could become aware of other students' opinions so that they don't only account for their own ideas; how we could motivate students to participate in governance and how we could value the work of students representatives more; and how we could ensure that student representatives are competent, since the -composition of the student body is constantly in flux, it is hard to pass knowledge on.
|4.3. How can we ensure that the heads of units are competent and that we all have a positive work environment?|
Toomas Asser: The competences and skills of leaders and managing bodies of different levels at the university have not received enough attention so far. All our leaders are, first of all, academic leaders and the administrative role of a head of unit has been given as a recognition. Outstanding academic achievement, however, does not automatically guarantee skills for coping as a head of unit. The university can contribute much more to supporting and developing the leadership skills of our leaders, raising these competences in young active colleagues, and offering a motivation package for combining administrative and academic work. Actually, as a rector I would also like to open a discussion of the possible employment of professional managers for the main units of the university.
Margit Sutrop: In support of professional governance, the university is offering an array of refresher courses and development programmes in 2018. Both experienced senior executives and those who have yet to begin work in leading positions will find suitable offers. Developing the competences of senior executives should constantly progress, because dispositions are hard to change.
There is an interesting paradox at the university: governance is considered unimportant (as it seems to restrict academic freedom), but at the same time everybody wants good working conditions, a positive environment and feedback on their work. I think it's important to address this conflict, as people should be aware of the fact that valuing good governance is the key here. Good practice in leadership entering into force was a big step forward here.
|4.4. Should a decrease in the number of students result in a reduction in teaching staff numbers?
a) If so, how could we achieve this?
|Toomas Asser: Decrease in student numbers requires the university to respond in terms of both the curricula, courses and the number of teaching staff. These changes cannot be made automatically. A smaller number of learners does not mean that we need proportionally fewer teaching staff. However, I agree that both the curricula of the university and the number of teaching staff necessary for teaching the curricula must be reviewed.
Margit Sutrop: Yes, because this is the only way to pay teaching staff decent salaries.
a) We can compensate for the reduction in the number of students by contributing to research projects or offering refresher training. As research financing is an issue in Estonia right now, we should focus on negotiating new foreign research, development and entrepreneurship contracts. Work contracts of unlimited duration make it easier to lay people off, but I hope it won't come to that. If downsizing is absolutely necessary, then it would be great if those who are out of work at the university could find exciting new challenges outside the university themselves. Executives have a great responsibility here to notify people in a timely manner, if this need arises: we should motivate people to look for new jobs and thank them for their contribution to the university.
|4.5. Who are the Vice Rectors on the candidate's team?|
Toomas Asser: The Rector’s Office members will have the best competence available in the university, from a broad range of disciplines. Also deans, who have been members of the Rector’s Office for more than two years already, give a valuable contribution.
Margit Sutrop: The Rector's Office should employ representatives of different faculties who have experience in governance and interdisciplinary cooperation, and who are familiar with the operating principles of the university and the government. I think it makes sense to aim for stability in the composition of the Rector's Office because this guarantees the university's sustainable development and efficiency. Neither Rectors nor Vice Rectors have time to adapt and learn: work begins immediately. There are so many developments at the national level that the university must always be ready to take action.
|4.6. Should the divisions of the University of Tartu which offer services at a price higher than the market price (e.g. University of Tartu Publishing (printing PhD theses), Multimedia Service (printing posters) and the Centre for Academic Writing and Communication (proofreading service)) remain university units or should we outsource services?|
|Toomas Asser: Beside the market price, also connection with the main activities of the university and assured quality is important. Speaking of publishing doctoral dissertations and articles, quality requirements are different from usual printed matters, and higher costs are often justified to achieve a top-level result. I agree that the relevance of and need for all support services should be periodically and critically reviewed.
Margit Sutrop: This is an important question and first we must analyse the current situation. We have to make sure that the prices are not boosted due to companies' monopoly-like status. Both cost-efficiency and the availability of services must be guaranteed.
|4.7. What do you think the role of academic organisations will be in the future of the university?|
Toomas Asser: Academic organisations, societies, fraternities and sororities are a part of the historical image of the university, as well as the university’s eager cooperation partners. Thanks to academic organisations, the university does not have to worry so much about, for example, the lack of transferrable skills, leadership and teamwork skills, social responsibility, communication and using social networks in our formal education. The processions and Valpurgis Night celebrations of academic organisations are great examples of the atmosphere of an academic city. If student organisations are willing to actively cooperate and contribute to the development of the university, my doors as a rector will be open to them.
Margit Sutrop: I am a member of the Estonian Women Students' Society myself, and based on my experience I dare say that academic organisations play a major role in keeping the academic mentality and traditions alive. Because people of different generations (through alumni), with different interests and from different countries (members in foreign countries) come together in these organisations, they are very important in broadening members' horizons, and they teach discipline and governance. Academic organisations should have a greater role in bringing together our university and society, since alumni are already active on the job market and occupy important positions in society. We could also promote lively discussions about societal problems and seek solutions via alumni. Currently, this initiative mostly comes from academic organisations, but the university's Rector could also call for discussion.
|4.8. When, if ever, will the University of Tartu start paying decent stipends to its students (i.e. start developing student-friendly education policies together with the government)? How is it that there are tens of millions in the university's budget for building and renovating, yet students are left to their own devices? I guess they should all appreciate Kafka's Hunger Artist... I don't know exactly how many people benefit from the 100-euro achievement stipend, but overall the situation ‘is simply embarrassing. If students have to work instead of studying (it's estimated that a third of all students work full-time), then our quality of education will degrade to a point where we cannot even call ourselves a university anymore.|
|Toomas Asser: I completely understand the students’ concerns. This will definitely be one important question that I intend to raise in the Ministry of Education and Research, in Universities Estonia, etc. The achievement stipend for students with excellent study results should be considerably higher.
Margit Sutrop: I completely understand the students' concerns. I myself worked while studying. The needs-based allowance system is inadequate and insufficient. It is a big issue that students are forced to combine studying and working. I highlighted this as the first issue in the "Studies" topic in my election manifesto. In the long term, working during studies lowers the quality of the results because universities are expected to educate students who graduate within the standard period of study. I have promised that as Rector I will support student representatives' demand for social guarantees, i.e. to find opportunities to award more stipends and offer loans that allow students to fully commit to studying.
|4.9. How many Vice Rectors should the University of Tartu have? Which areas of responsibility should they govern? If you are elected Rector, which of the current Vice Rectors should be part of your team and why?|
|Toomas Asser: The current areas of responsibility seem to have enough foundation, extent and relevance to have three vice rectors involved.
Margit Sutrop: There should be three or four Vice Rectors, depending on how the workload is divided up. Besides studies and research, there are two other important areas to govern: the university’s ties to Estonian society, and internationalising. Once the Vice Rectors’ duties become clearer, it will be possible to assess who meets the job requirements the best. Who specifically will continue in their existing position and who will be added to the Office will be decided after the election. I would discuss all of my proposals with the Deans: it is crucial that the entire Rector's Office works as one team that stands up for the interests of the academic community.
|4.10. The Rector has many duties: they must represent the university and Estonia in the world, develop relationships with partners, fight for financing in Estonia, govern a very large organisation and solve day-to-day problems. All of this can only be accomplished with the help of a strong team. What will you dedicate yourself to most – international cooperation, Estonian issues, organisation governance or solving day-to-day problems?
a) Would you continue your research work, governing the centre or practising medicine?
|Toomas Asser: The most important roles of the rector have been very clearly worded in the council’s expectations to the new rector. I imagine there are also an enourmous number of day-to-day problems that the rector has to face, but the rector must be able to avoid getting entangled in them – the rector has to trust the team to solve them or delegate them to appropriate specialists. Of course, now and then it is necessary to deal with smaller problems, which may not seem so small for those involved. The rector’s presence in the internal governance of the organisation is very important. Listening to, involving, encouraging people is part of a top-level leader’s job. In internal management processes I see a great development potential in ensuring possibilities and support for the improvement of management quality at different levels.
The role of the leader of a national university is mainly dealing with the strategic policies of the university and the society. The rector of the University of Tartu is the spokesperson of the academic community, who contributes to identification, analysis and solution of the key problems of the society. The rector of the University of Tartu is also the leading force in directing the research and higher education policies, and as an influential opinion leader, the UT rector is able to explain the role of universities in ensuring the success of Estonia to the government. Together with our important international partners, the rector of the University of Tartu does the same on the European level.
Margit Sutrop: In principle, all of these tasks must be carried out, but urgent issues should be attended to first. For example, right now it seems that action at the national level is the most important.
a) I am aware that as Rector I could not continue to govern the Ethics Centre and do research work.
|4.11. What is fundamentally lacking or what are the main issues in UT’s support structures that have led you to believe they need extensive reforming?|
|Toomas Asser: The quality of the University of Tartu’s support structure is high and this guarantees the flawless administration of research and studies. We do not need an extensive reform but we need to review some fundamental key issues. For example, whether the process of support services is optimal and corresponds to our needs, whether it fully supports our researchers and teaching staff or whether there is too much bureaucracy in certain services. I am sure that we can digitise our support services even further and thereby offer a better service. One development opportunity is reviewing the management principles – how to encourage younger researchers take on a leadership role, whether management as an extra task is the optimal solution and whether development programmes for leaders could provide even better management courses?
Margit Sutrop: Nothing is fundamentally lacking. The people in our support structures are mostly true experts who are very committed to their professions. In many support structures, it seems as though they work 24/7. The issue here is that the academic and non-academic spheres are constantly contrasted. "Support staff" is a better term because the employees in support structures have to assist the university in achieving academic objectives. If elected Rector, I would like to help make all university employees feel that they are equal members of the academic family. I said in my election manifesto's fourth topic "Governance", third issue, that we should discuss who should perform which tasks and how we should distribute assignments between the central level, faculties and institutes. We should improve decision-making processes concerning the development of support structures. Right now many support structures are asking for additional funds from the budget every year. This is mostly turned down, even though there may be cases where hindering important developments could affect the university as a whole, making the allocation of funds entirely justified. At the same time, money is scarce and if we provide funds for new projects, we should also think about the things we have to give up. A strategic approach is crucial here.
|4.12. Describe your leadership strategies.|
|Toomas Asser: To be task-oriented, thereby taking interpersonal relationships into account – listen, gather information, rely on evidence, and make the decision at the right moment. The rector’s decisions must take into consideration the world’s best experience in providing higher education and rule out subjective preferences or short-term interests. The surgeon’s decision-making skills do not consist in rushing to cut anything there is to cut, but in the courage to make a decision NOT to operate on the patient. Even if there is immense pressure to perform the surgery, the best surgery is no surgery. If the plan is not perfect, it is often reasonable to acknowledge that it is better not to do the deed. Even in the most complex situations, the participants must have the option to maintain their dignity to go on. I value the principles of teamwork.
Margit Sutrop: I am a leader but also a team-player. I like generating new ideas and discussing them with my team. I am open to counter-arguments and willing to look for consensus. The key to managing change is to spell out the problem that needs solving, map the situation and weigh up different ways of resolving the issue, considering all possible impact. Working with people, I find it important to empower them, to find each employee a position that suits them best (even if they don't know it) and to promote cooperation.
|4.13. Describe the leadership culture in the Rector's Office.|
|Toomas Asser: Leadership culture will develop over a certain period of time and needs everyone’s contribution.
Margit Sutrop: See my answer to question 4.12.
|4.14. Which attitudes would you certainly want to change in governance?|
|Toomas Asser: Changing attitudes in a large organisation is a long-term process that requires the contribution from all. I hope that in five years, when I end my term of office, I will be able to say that university governance has become even more cooperative, interdisciplinary, professional and appreciative at all levels.
Margit Sutrop: It is paramount that people have an open mind and that they wish to grow. For example, if somebody comes up with a new idea, we shouldn't immediately say that it serves no purpose or is impossible, but elaborate on the factors that could make realising the idea possible. I wish there was more collaboration, more consideration for others and less pulling the rug out from under their feet. It is of the utmost importance to stop creating opposition between faculties: people should realise that we are powerful only when we are united.
|4.15. In the worst case scenario, what will the position of the University of Tartu be in Estonian society and the research and higher education community in five years’ time?|
|Toomas Asser: I do not think it right to create worst-case scenarios at such a scale. I would rather focus on always having higher ambitions than our possibilities are and on working in the name of broadening our possibilities. I also consider it important that the University of Tartu and our research and teaching staff would stand for the research and higher education of the entire Estonia, valuing the unique strengths of all our higher education institutions.
Margit Sutrop: In the worst case scenario, the University of Tartu ceases to exist as a universitas, since many curricula have been opened in Tallinn, Tartu becomes uninhabitable because of the smell from the cellulose factory and no one wants to work or study here anymore.
|4.16. Should Rail Baltica be constructed according to the current conditions and the route currently agreed upon?
a) How will this influence the development and future of the University of Tartu?
|Toomas Asser: It would definitely be better for Tartu if the transport connection between Tartu and Tallinn were better. Academic mobility is the only option for science, and the transport connection has a key role in it.
Margit Sutrop: The main disadvantage of Rail Baltic is that it won't pass through Tartu. We should continue voicing our concerns about the negative effect that isolating Tartu and Southern Estonia will have on Estonian science and education and on its culture and economy. Having no fast connection (not only Rail Baltic, but also airport) contributes to the marginalisation of Tartu. As a result, people and investments are drawn to Tallinn.
|4.17. What decisions, changes and developments does the university expect from the Estonian government?|
|Toomas Asser: We expect the Higher Education Act and the individual acts of the universities to be adopted as soon as possible. We consider it important that the university’s autonomy and freedom to decide will be retained in the law. I deem it necessary to start a discussion on the status of doctoral students – they should have the legal status of employees, not students. Also, it is important to guarantee flexibility for academic staff through fixed-term contracts and allow exceptions from the current Employment Contracts Act.
Margit Sutrop: Ensuring that higher education, research and doctoral students are sustainably funded, re-organising the student stipend and loan system and managing the division of labour among universities.
|4.18. Please outline the biggest challenges the University of Tartu as an institution faces in the next five years.|
|Toomas Asser: We have to consolidate curricula and courses and open new strategic fields of study, which guarantee that our graduates would also cope in the labour market when the second era of machines or the fourth industrial revolution will have drastically changed the role of and the need for human work. We regard it important to move forward in such areas of research in which we in Estonia and in the university have an advantage over the rest of the world – gene technology, biomedicine, data science, e-government, IT. At the same time we have to guarantee high-level studies and research in Estonian national sciences.
Margit Sutrop: Changes in the financing model of research (the increased importance of base financing), underfunding of higher education and research, redistributing areas of responsibility between universities, the reduced amount of Estonian student candidates, the end of funding from structural funds of the European Union, and emigration.
|4.19. What chances for growth are there in a situation where most potential degree-level and refresher training students are in Tallinn, yet studies are mostly conducted in Tartu?|
|Toomas Asser: Several curricula are already taught in Tallinn and I think in certain areas of study we may even increase our presence in Tallinn. Demand for our professional teaching staff and top-level science-based continuing studies is very high, so the expansion of our presence in Tallinn is just a question of time.
Margit Sutrop: One option is that we do decide to teach some subjects in Tallinn. This decision should be made when higher education in Estonia is reorganised, since we depend on the choices made by the universities located in Tallinn.
Another option is to think about whether there is something that could be done to attract more students to Tartu. Students don't want to relocate from Tallinn to Tartu if they want to combine work and studies. If there was a chance to commit entirely to full-time studies, then Tartu would remain attractive as a university town and we shouldn't worry about a lack of interest in Tartu. Therefore, we should think about how we could make living in Tartu appealing: reorganise the stipend and loan system so that it covers study and living costs. Maybe build more budget-friendly dormitories and eateries that offer tasty but cheap eats?
|*4.20. In the interview in Postimees you said that by attracting more PhD students we could rank more highly internationally. Please describe how a greater percentage of doctoral students would contribute to a better international reputation. (Question for T. Asser)|
|Toomas Asser: Doctoral study becomes increasingly more international. In 2017, the percentage of international doctoral students by faculties was: in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities 24%, Faculty of Social Sciences 14%, Faculty of Medicine 7% and Faculty of Science and Technology 16%. These percentages have increased over years in all faculties. This means that we admit more and more doctoral students who come from other countries. Therefore we need an even better support structure. On the one hand, doctoral themes deal with and develop new, front-line areas of research. On the other hand, doctoral students have great possibilities for international mobility. These two-directional movements (out of Estonia and into Estonia, Estonians, foreigners) increase UT’s openness and thereby its international reputation and level. In the given situation, the number of doctoral students is, rather than a separate indicator, an opportunity to direct the international reputation of the university. In the last five years, UT has admitted an average of 75 visiting doctoral students per year; during the same period we have sent on average 26 doctoral students per year to other universities. This is where we have room for improvement.|
5. EQUAL TREATMENT AND RELATED ISSUES
5.1. How does the University of Tartu help welcome non-national residents in Estonia?
Toomas Asser: The University of Tartu guarantees equal treatment to all citizens of Estonia and other countries permanently resident in Estonia, who apply for admission to the university. Young people who complete their studies at Estonian higher secondary school and are citizens of other countries are successful in admissions and I believe that most of our academic units have a lot of good experiences with the successful participation of such students. There may be problems with their Estonian language skills which may not be sufficiently good for participation in research-based studies – in this case students are entitled to a year-long intensive Estonian language course. As far as I know, this opportunity is not widely used. The possible reason is that students fear “losing” a whole year or hope to improve language proficiency quickly in a professional environment.
Margit Sutrop: Non-citizens residing in Estonia can apply for a place at the University of Tartu by presenting their national examination or academic test results. Academic tests can be taken in Estonian or Russian (depending on the applicant's mother tongue).
Students who have graduated from a non-Estonian school or taken the national exam in Estonian as a second language must complete an Estonian language test before enrolling in order to verify that they are capable of studying in Estonian. If their language skills are at the B2 level or lower, or their exam score in Estonian as a second language is less than 80 points, then the student is obliged to take extensive Estonian language training courses that match their current level. If the student has never studied Estonian before, then they must take 60 ECTs in the language.
Language courses are run by the College of Foreign Languages and Cultures and Narva College. It is also important for foreign students to participate in student and professional organisations and communicate with their course-mates. Speaking the language gives them more opportunities to do so.
|5.2. How does the University of Tartu help welcome citizens of foreign countries?|
|Toomas Asser: Currently, the University of Tartu has 23 English-taught curricula open for admisson and naturally, the university is interested in having as many as possible talented students studying according to these programmes. The university also often supports their studies with tuition-waiver scholarships, which release the student from the obligation to pay tuition. I believe the university needs a more principled approach to the practice of giving tuition-waiver scholarships. What we need to take into account is educating people for the Estonian labour market, the university’s and Estonia’s international reputation and the achievement of the university’s financial goals with the help of tuition fees.
Margit Sutrop: Admission documents can be uploaded via Dream Apply or brought to the admissions office by 1 June, i.e. different deadlines for providing the documents apply to foreign students (applying to I and II level Estonian curricula, except "Informatics for Non-informatics Specialists" students). You can apply for English curricula at the first level of study until 15 April. You can apply for English curricula at the second level of study until 15 March (with the exception of analytic chemistry, which is open until 11 January 2018)
The relevant results of applicants from foreign countries are re-evaluated: the grades from the previously attained level of education, IBO school results, European School results, SAT results and Estonian language level examination results.
This applies to both Estonian citizens whose previous education was carried out in a foreign country and to foreigners applying for Estonian curricula.
See the previous answer for language requirements. Candidates for doctoral studies (Estonian), dentistry and pharmacy must have at least B2-level Estonian.
We also organise an orientation week that introduces UT's study organisation, UTLib, etc. for foreign students.
|5.3. How does the University of Tartu help develop a multicultural and tolerant environment?|
|Toomas Asser: The University of Tartu is an international university – it is the only conceivable way – and we make efforts to have new colleagues and students from other countries join us. Naturally, because of that we are interested in developing Tartu as a supportive living environment. We ourselves as colleagues and citizens can support the newly arrived and create a tolerant atmosphere, and in addition, the university as an organisation can contribute to strengthening and maintaining the good level of the living environment in Tartu. We can keep in contact with the city government so that all the local authorities, residents, companies and universities would strive for a tolerant environment. In case of problems, the university provides counselling and support to international staff and students. Very popular are events at which other cultures are introduced.
Racist remarks, intolerance and attacks towards those who are ‘different’ are not acceptable. This is something I will also stand for as a rector, with all the possibilities that are at the university’s disposal.
Margit Sutrop: Tartu will definitely become more open and tolerant if it is ready to welcome more students and citizens of different nationalities. If we have employees and students from more than a hundred countries, then the people of Tartu will get used to people from different parts of the worlds and with different cultural backgrounds.
It is important for the university to ensure the well-being of its members and guarantee that they have good working and studying conditions and are protected from unfair and unequal treatment. The university has compiled guidelines for equal treatment. https://www.ut.ee/et/vordse-kohtlemise-juhend.
|5.4. Where do you stand on racial issues in Tartu?
In recent years there have been repeated attacks against students of other races in Tartu. It is well known that university students with ties to extreme right-wing organisations have publicly promoted racist ideas in Tartu. Do you intend to address this issue and what do you think about students from your university publicly promoting extreme right-wing ideas and inciting violence?
|Toomas Asser: In recent years there have been repeated attacks against students of other races in Tartu. It is well known that university students with ties to extreme right-wing organisations
have publicly promoted racist ideas in Tartu. Do you intend to address this issue and what do you think about students from your university publicly promoting extreme right-wing ideas and inciting violence?
Margit Sutrop: The university can promote tolerance and be a role model. According to the Constitution of the Republic of Estonia, we have freedom of speech and religion, no one can be discriminated against based on their nationality, race, skin colour, gender, language, origins, political beliefs, etc.
We can alter people's attitudes by making the public aware of the problem and raising the levels of education. If people with racist views directly incite violence, then we have recourse to Penal Code §151. This also applies to UT students.
Fortunately, racist attacks have been few and far between, and according to police data, the number of such incidents has not increased.
|5.5. Should the university change its work organisation to make the most of women's potential, to support their research careers (especially during the period when they are starting families) and to create suitable conditions for achieving leadership positions? How could this be done?|
|Toomas Asser: The proportion of women is already higher among both students and younger academic staff. In the top academic positions, indeed, the male colleagues prevail. However, recent years’ information show positive signs of the decrease in the wage gap between male and female employees. It would not be right to establish quota in the academic world, but the university can definitely offer more support for combining career and family responsibilities. The keywords are, above all, the flexible organisation of work and encouragement of female colleagues to apply for responsible positions. I see more and more positive examples among the younger generation of colleagues. I also believe that the new career model that is in preparation will favour offering promotion opportunities for capable colleagues.
Margit Sutrop: The university is in favour of combining family and career life and offers academic employees flexible work schedules. However, we should definitely take into account that both men and women with families might be busy at certain times when assigning meeting times.
In order to support women's careers, it is important to create equal conditions and show them that they should believe in themselves more (empowering). Role models are very important. We always stand on our forerunners’ shoulders. The more women can reconcile their professional and personal lives, the more people will believe it is possible.
|5.6. How should we deal with a professor who has harmed the university's reputation in a public debate? Researchers shouldn't be silenced but the university's reputation is important as well.|
|Toomas Asser: I believe that in case of a public debate, the audience can make a difference between the position of the university as an institution and the individual experts who work at the university. Our staff members should refrain from harming the university’s reputation, but we must support the involvement of scientists with their expert knowledge in public discussions.
Margit Sutrop: I would like to quote the words of acting Rector Prof. Tõnu Lehtsaar (Idea Mornings meeting): "The responsibility of academic employees, and actually all of us, to voice our opinions on important topics is stated in the university's development plan and code of practice for research. It is important to acknowledge the impact of our activity and our passivity."
|5.7. At the moment, only long-serving employees whose respective units initiate them are rewarded with stipends of Associate Professor emerita/emeritus and Professor emerita/emeritus. The stipends must be confirmed by the structural unit's council. Somebody has to prepare documents fixing the remuneration, a council must decide if the candidate is worthy of the stipend, etc. Why couldn't this process be simplified by rewarding the stipend, for example, to all those who have worked at the university for at least 20 years? This would rule out the chance of some long-term employees who have not been on the best terms (lately) with the leadership being left without compensation. Why are only Associate Professors and Professors deemed worthy of the emeriti stipend? Employees of other professions have also contributed to the development of the university (e.g. there are surely some Senior Research Fellows who have received more project funding than some Associate Professors).|
|Toomas Asser: At the moment we really have a regulation which says that the emeritus status is only given to outstanding and long-term employees of the university on the proposal of the academic unit. This topic needs attention in the course of updating the career and a system needs to be implemented in the university that supports the dignified exit from academic work of all outstanding academic leaders.
Margit Sutrop: I agree that stipends for Associate Professor emerita/emeritus and Professor emerita/emeritus should be awarded to all those who have applied for the remuneration. This could be conditional on reaching retirement age and having worked at the university for at least 10 years (full-time jobs).
|5.8. Is there nepotism in the University of Tartu?|
|Toomas Asser: Due to the smallness of Estonia, situations of nepotism cannot be eliminated. Many university employees are also politicians or entrepreneurs. It is important to avoid conflicts of interests and this is why the code of conduct for research integrity has been developed and seminars organised. I definitely demand that governance of the university must be transparent at all levels and it must not be guided by factional interests.
Margit Sutrop:I cannot rule this out. But if there really is nepotism, we must address it.
|5.9. What are your plans to ensure that students with special needs have a better experience at the university and prospective special needs students choose the University of Tartu?|
|Toomas Asser: Ensuring easy access to buildings, incl. by making investments through the capital budget, the availability of sign language interpreters at meetings, making agreements personally with people with special needs so they can participate in the university life – this is the minimum that the university can do. A lot has been done already, in some aspects improvements are possible. There are also national support measures to ensure access for learners with special needs (e.g. Archimedes scholarship programme, etc.) Read further about the university’s support system.
|5.9. What should be done to ensure that disabled people can also find jobs with suitable workloads at the university and feel satisfied among other employees (i.e. that their special needs are taken into account and their expert skills are used to the greatest extent)?|
|Toomas Asser: The university continues to invest in ensuring better access to buildings. I believe the university can also provide special equipment that is necessary for work. However, more work needs to be done with the prevailing attitudes in order to create a tolerant culture. All in all, each case of employment is individual and the Human Resources Office can help with solutions here.
Margit Sutrop: It is of the utmost importance to notice those in need and know how to offer help. The more people know how to help, the less likely it is that they will insult someone with their offer and the more supporting the environment will be. We should definitely monitor practices as well and see whether we actually value equal treatment and tolerance and if all of us play a role in ensuring a supporting environment.
The leader's responsibility is certainly important, too. Good practice in leadership states: “A well-managed, diverse staff supports constructive cooperation, creativity and innovation and the work and leisure time balance of employees in the best possible way. The organisation of work should take into consideration an employee’s family-related duties or other important duties or special needs: for example, it should be seen to that meetings end during working hours, that working premises and tools are adjusted to the employee’s special needs, etc."
|6.1. Academic staff are given either 42 or 56 leave days, depending on their occupation. Could we align the leave days of non-academic staff with those of academic workers? This would increase the university's popularity among job-seekers, and non-academic employees would feel a sense of equality.|
|Toomas Asser: The number of leave days is prescribed by Employment Contracts Act and, in the case of academic staff, Universities Act and Organisation of Research and Development Act. I believe that, taking into account the actual tendencies in the labour market, we could ask whether members of the University of Tartu are ready to discuss establishing an equal 35-day leave for everyone. Academic work is periodically more intensive than that of the support staff, but it could be appropriate for the university’s people to be ready to open such a discussion, i.e. to keep pace with time and the needs of the society.
The working conditions, work environment, and culture may be even more important in terms of equal treatment. It is important for the support staff to feel that their contribution is necessary for the university. In terms of employee benefits, we do not distinguish between academic and non-academic staff at the university. Everyone has access to free training opportunities, partners’ concessions, joint events and good work environment, sickness benefits and counselling services.
Margit Sutrop: Leave days are fixed by law: the Rector holds no sway over these regulations.
|6.2. What would the position of rector give you personally? (Considering your previous experience but also your expectations about being rector.)|
|Toomas Asser: I dedicate my full attention to the forthcoming elections; I would like to understand the diversity of the university more comprehensively and define for myself the rector’s role in maintaining and developing the diversity of the university. As rector, I want to strengthen the position of the University of Tartu and increase the contribution of the university and its researchers under the wise leadership of the Estonian society. On a personal level, I hope I am fully satisfied with achieving these goals in five years.
Margit Sutrop: I am happy when I can apply my experience and knowledge – managerial, international communication and social discussion experience – to the university's governance. I have acquired all of this experience throughout my life up to this point.
|6.3. What communication skills do you feel are especially important in such a position?
a) How would you rate your own communication skills?
|Toomas Asser: I hope to be successful as rector with my well-balanced leadership style, listening to different opinions and keeping strategic objectives in mind.
Margit Sutrop: I think that the skills of self-expression, listening and understanding people and controlling your emotions are important. I am working on developing all of these competences, but I have already acquired certain skills.
|6.4. You have said that the only reason for running for Rector is that you were recommended to do so. Is that a good enough reason to nominate yourself?|
|Toomas Asser: I disagree with this interpretation. I have said that the supportive attitude of many colleagues who are important for me has been a great recognition and a supporting factor to my being ready for the rector’s office. To decide, I needed clarity in what it means for me to abandon the medical profession and my current job. For me, assuming the role of the leader of the University of Tartu and Estonian society is such an important responsibilty that just the positive pressure from bystanders would not be sufficient for me to make the decision. I have an inner desire to develop the university, higher education and science. So far I have done this as the dean of the Faculty of Medicine and a member of the council of the university. I feel and know the university as a whole and want to foster life, apply my knowledge and experience.
|6.5. Do you consider any of the previous Rectors of the University of Tartu to be role models?
a) If so, in what way have they inspired you? If not, why not?
|Toomas Asser: I sincerely believe all the rectors have been fully committed to their office. Each of them have their part in the history and the current good situation of the university. Considering the complexity and the extent of responsibility of this profession, I feel and highly esteem the contribution of all of them. What inspires me is their skilful use of the circumstances and possibilities of different periods. I appreciate humanness and honesty.
Margit Sutrop: There is something to learn from all of the previous Rectors I have personally known. I have admired Peeter Tulviste's charisma and sense of humour, Jaak Aaviksoo's high-flying thinking and rhetoric skills, Alar Karis' knowledge of how to communicate with politicians and Volli Kalm's awareness of all university matters and his respectful attitude towards older colleagues and caring stance towards students.
|6.6. Volli Kalm initiated Idea Mornings during his second term as Rector. Will you continue holding these meetings or not? Why?|
|Toomas Asser: Unfortunately, I haven’t personally participated in Idea Mornings, but Volli Kalm’s initiative that he introduced last autumn and overviews of the meetings that have taken place so far have given a pleasant impression. The initiaitive started by Volli Kalm with the aim of creating a common information space for colleagues of various units who may not have found a good moment or place to introduce their ideas, and broadening the opportunities to have a say in topical issues is definitely worth continuing.
Margit Sutrop: We should continue this tradition if people are interested. People probably need to communicate with the Rector directly. The large number of questions for the candidates goes to show that people are wondering about these issues and probably want to offer solutions, too.
|6.7. What solutions can you offer to the childcare problem the university as one of the country’s biggest employers faces? There are many parents among both students and teaching staff. At the same time, not everyone can use the childcare facilities offered by the city, because they live outside Tartu or need the service during evening lectures or on weekends.|
|Toomas Asser: The university must and can help its members to flexibly participate in work and studies and the best opportunity for that is close cooperation with Tartu City Government, to have our needs and expectations taken into account in providing the service.
Some years ago when there were serious problems with places in childcare facilities in Tartu, the university cooperated with both the city government and private companies to solve the childcare problems of the university employees, particularly international staff members. It seems the problem with childcare places has eased considerably now. For the development of childcare services, the government has given local authorities nearly 46 million euros from the 2014–2020 structural funds. I believe this measure will largely solve childcare problems in Tartu.
Margit Sutrop: The university doesn't have the funds to found a separate kindergarten in the near future. But the University of Tartu could start a practice kindergarten or childcare facility where educational sciences students could test their skills and the students could leave their children. For this we would need proper rooms and financing. Perhaps we could cooperate with existing kindergartens. This definitely deserves consideration.
|6.8. Should UT focus more on important social issues by initiating and financing applied research in the social sciences?|
|Toomas Asser: Not only researchers of the Faculty of Social Sciences, but all researchers of the University of Tartu can, in addition to fundamental research, contribute to the society through applied research projects and offering their professional expertise. The university’s technology transfer is already quite extensive, from counselling ministries and local authorities, to healthcare development and large business contracts. The University of Tartu is the key leader of development in Estonia - this would not be possible otherwise than by provisionally dealing with the major tasks of the society.
Margit Sutrop: The university should pay more attention to important topics in society. We could cope with smaller initiatives on our own, but high-volume research projects require external funding.
|6.9. What do you think of your opponent's election manifesto? Does it establish their objectives, ways of achieving them and possible obstacles to overcome?|
|Toomas Asser: Margit Sutrop has been involved in the governance of the University of Tartu for a long time and her ideas for setting the targets for the university give evidence of her good knowledge of university governance.
Margit Sutrop: My opponent's election manifesto gave me a sense of security: the university would continue on its chosen path under his governance. How he would avoid any curveballs thrown at him will become clearer later, as his manifesto doesn't describe potential obstacles.
|6.10. Will you withdraw from your other duties if you are elected Rector? If so, to what extent?|
|Toomas Asser: I have to give up surgery and the position of head of Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery. A surgeon’s job involves unexpectedness and to maintain your competence you need a sufficient workload, which cannot be achieved or kept beside any other job.
The rector’s working hours are 24/7 and I plan to fully commit to this work. Two jobs of such intensity and responsibility are not compatible with one another. My readiness to take the office of the rector of the University of Tartu is a well considered decision and I intend to take this responsibility with full commitment. My clinical and academic work will be taken over by my younger, also top-level colleagues.
Margit Sutrop: If I am elected Rector, I will give up my current positions.
|6.11. Are there suitable successors for your current positions? How will the units you are currently tied to operate if you are elected Rector?|
|Toomas Asser: Fortunately, we have a younger generation, so there will be no break in continuity.
Margit Sutrop: If I am elected, then we must have a competition for the Dean's position. Until then, one of the Vice Deans will act as Dean. I have one-and-a-half years left as Dean and since I have been elected twice already, a new Dean would have to be chosen within a year or so anyway.
In transferring my leading tasks in research and development projects at the Ethics Centre, I can rely on my younger colleagues in the chair of practical philosophy as well as on other partners from other faculties. The project managers at the Ethics Centre have become independent experts, so they can continue working even if I face bigger challenges. My work as a professor of practical philosophy will come to an end, so teaching and supervising tasks will have to be divided between colleagues. Fortunately our Philosophy Department is in good shape – we have many adept young people with PhDs and three new professors were inaugurated at the start of the year.
|6.12. Lately there has been a lot of talk about financing research and the importance of science in society. The discussion has mainly centred around applying scientific results to the economy, how much every euro invested in research is actually worth, etc. Do you agree that in addition to this type of direct economic function one of the main aims of research is to gain knowledge, broaden our horizons and satisfy people's curiosity?
a) Should explaining these functions and supporting such research be one of the university's tasks?
|Toomas Asser: I agree with the statement in the question. Naturally, the national university is in charge of both academic fundamental science as well as science-based technology and knowledge transfer. Upon ensuring the development of the society and economy, the keyword is knowledge transfer from universities and science-based higher education. Neither is possible without fundamental research.
Margit Sutrop: Yes, I agree with both points. Very good and important ideas!
|6.13. How do you rate your management skills?
By management I mean:
a) taking into account different (often financial) interests when making governance decisions and administering meetings;
b) taking into account personal sympathies and antipathies;
c) promoting a sense of unity among the members of the Rector's Office (in order to represent the university as a whole).
|Toomas Asser: At the management meetings of both the Neurology Clinic and Faculty of Medicine, my teams have always worked with dedication and aspiring for cooperation. Also in the top management team of the university, the feeling of a common goal is inevitable, and I am sure it is achievable.
Margit Sutrop: As Dean I have had to keep these issues in mind. I am very happy that our faculty makes big decisions based on consensus, and that there is a communal and cooperative atmosphere. I have also taken different interests into account when governing the interdisciplinary Ethics Centre. Therefore I believe that by pursuing the same style of governance I could create a cooperative atmosphere in the Rector's Office, too. The interests of the university as a whole should always be kept in mind when making decisions.
|6.14. What does the University of Tartu mean to you?|
|Toomas Asser: The University of Tartu is the development leader of a modern, rapidly developing society, and national traditions and ideas.
Margit Sutrop: The birthplace of Estonian intellectuals and the flagship of Estonian research.
|6.15. Please name some foreign universities with competences suitable for partnering with the University of Tartu in research and studies. What are some universities with comparable rankings?
|Toomas Asser: The University of Tartu is regarded an equal partner among the top universities of Europe. This is confirmed by our position as a member of the Guild and a partner to LERU. Cooperation, naturally, is not limited to members of these networks; it is not possible or reasonable to direct research cooperation on an institutional level.
Margit Sutrop: The University of Tartu currently has 72 partner universities in 26 countries. They are all suitable partners, but we actively cooperate with far fewer universities. Some comparable universities (in terms of size, budget, history and function, which I assume the person asking the question is referring to) are Charles University in Prague, Uppsala University and Vilnius University. We have a lot to learn from Dutch universities, who are very successful as international research institutions (first place in receiving research funding from European funds per person) and serving society.
|6.16. What is the biggest challenge Estonian society will face in the next five years?
|Toomas Asser: How to achieve that Estonia’s development objectives were bigger and superior to the short-term party policy, and thereat valued knowledge and skills - the only resources the use of which increases and improves them.
Margit Sutrop: Migration (stopping the emigration of Estonians and welcoming those who return to their home country).