How happy are international students at UT?

In autumn 2019, the International Student Barometer (ISB) survey was conducted at the University of Tartu (UT) to collect international students’ feedback about their studies and the level of support they receive at UT.

In total, 639 students (55% master’s, 29% bachelor’s, 14% PhD students and 2% exchange students) participated in the study, with 532 completing the full survey. As a part of the survey, students were able to provide open comments. Let’s check what international students really think about the different aspects of their study experience at UT 😀

Arrival experience 

At the Lennart Meri Tallinn Airport. Image credit: Anna Branets

92% of international students reported to be satisfied with their arrival experience at UT. The international students highly evaluated the finance (98%) and accommodation (93%) offices, pre-arrival information (93%), formal welcoming (93%), meeting the staff (92%), and local orientation (91%).

In comparison to the results of the previous ISB conducted in 2017, the arrival experience satisfaction rate has increased (87% in 2017 vs. 92% in 2019). In addition, the overall result at UT is higher than the global ISB (89%). Students put special emphasis on the orientation activities and pre-arrival information in the comments: 

I was really amazed with the friendly welcome and the number of lectures we had during the orientation days. I like that these lectures were from completely different perspectives. Of course, I cannot help mentioning a welcome pack. It was a pleasure to receive and use different things from it. Very useful! Also, we had an orientation day at our faculty. It contributed a lot to the understanding of the study process, requirements, courses, and so on.

At the orientation days at UT. Image credit: Andres Tennus

“The Welcome Guide seemed to be very helpful during the first days.

It was a warm welcome and clarifying on the structure of this university, and that is all a university should do.

All the information is sent by email; that’s why it was easy and quick.

Having a tutor and with the help from her almost everything went well.

At the same time, there were several comments with different suggestions to improve the organisation of students’ arrival. For instance, some students commented that the timing of the orientation days was not suitable for them, while another suggested conducting it online. 

I couldn’t register for some orientation activities, as the places were limited. Also, I had to choose between some activities as they were at the same time. I think that the amount of time slots for different excursions could be increased and the schedule could be edited to avoid overlapping.

The only part of this experience I was dissatisfied with was the introduction to clubs and societies. I was disappointed to find that the English-speaking clubs were in the minority and not useful to me. I was happy with everything else – everything was explained clearly and I had fun.

[University] Needs to arrange pick-up.

There should be more orientation programmes that help people from different ethnic groups. For me as a Muslim it was very hard to settle down.

Learning satisfaction 

90.1% of international students are satisfied with their learning process at UT.  In comparison to the average ISB ranking worldwide (87%), UT has a higher score. Moreover, we are the first university in Estonia in learning satisfaction among international students.

In general, students pointed out that studying is hard and it takes more time than expected; however “the instructors at UT are doing their jobs to the best of their abilities.” Therefore, 95% of international students expressed a high level of satisfaction with expert lecturers at UT. Such categories as assessment (94%), learning support (93%), performance feedback (90%), and marking criteria (90%) were also highly evaluated.

It’s a fantastic opportunity to experience a different type of learning. Of all the experiences I had here, the academic was the one that I enjoyed the most; the grades are given accordingly with the work we have and I really feel and felt throughout the semester that if I work hard I would be rewarded accordingly.

All the learning facilities and resources are available. The professors and staff are very helpful. The lab has different equipment available for students to use. Professors explain the courses very well and provide the practical activities if required.

Democracy and Governance students in the classroom. Image credit: Karl Oliver Tomson

My teachers are very competent and supportive but possibly overspecialised. They know everything relevant about one field but little about everything else.

I felt definitely engaged with my studies. Interestingly, sometimes cold Estonian weather helped me to concentrate better on the topic.😀”

The recurrence of the tests makes us work continuously, which is a good thing.

Several students pointed out some difficulties related to their personal experience, different backgrounds of students in the same group, and the lack of English language skills of some teachers. They suggested increasing the number of elective courses, using bigger classrooms and more:

Sometimes I wish it would be encouraged to interact more within the students of the course (introduce themselves, etc.).

Some courses are assigned a smaller amount of ECTS than is actually required from students during the course.

The opening hours of the library at the University of Tartu are considerably shorter than similar universities elsewhere. In particular, I feel that the reduced hours at the weekend and lack of night-time study facilities make the library an unsatisfactory resource, despite being otherwise an impressive and useful facility.

There are learning methodologies that can be implemented by lecturers to make the activity in class more participative and dynamic.

Living in Tartu

88.5% international students said that they are satisfied with their life in Estonia, namely in Tartu, and with the living conditions. Most of the students appreciate Tartu as a nice place to stay and to live: 

I feel at peace in Tartu. It took me a while to get used to a non-campus university environment, but I think being intertwined with the city centre is helpful in keeping the experience vibrant.

Arch bridge and Tartu Town hall. Image credit: Riina Varol

Overall, I am very satisfied with the place I am living in. It reminds me sometimes of my hometown, but here everything is way better. I feel safe at any time of the day, I enjoy the infrastructure, I love the people around me and in the city genuinely. Everything is easily reachable and available. Anything that’s unclear to me is explained by the staff or I can always find it via the web.

Sparkling environment.

Good quality of life.

Somewhere between happy and challenging. But it has been an exciting experience so far.

Seems to be cheaper than other EU countries.

Some students brought up that they are not happy with the living conditions in the dormitories and the price for it. Several students reported that it is difficult to find Estonian friends, others pointed out  the lack of job opportunities during studies and after graduation. 

I have been lucky to have a good roommate; it all depends on your luck.

Tartu was a very pleasant place to live last year – it’s a beautiful little town. It was hard for me to meet Estonian students in our department, but I was able to find some local friends in other departments.

Living in a dormitory is better than in an apartment from the point of view of getting new acquaintances.

Dormitory conditions could be better.

In my classes there are mostly students from other countries, and even if there are Estonian students, they are not really open or talkative, so it’s much easier to get along with foreigners. There aren’t many job opportunities for people who don’t know Estonian, so it’s difficult to earn extra money. But, overall, I am happy with my life in Estonia so far.

The most unhappy moment is to live with non-matching people in the same flat…

Support during studies 

91% of international students reported that they are satisfied with the support provided by the university. The rest of the students said they would like to have more support with accommodation, at their department, have better eating places, etc. 

I did not evaluate the English of support staff, because from my point of view there is no precise answer that I would like to provide – I faced cases when the staff speak really well and can support you properly, and sometimes it is difficult to communicate and takes time trying to explain/receive information. It also applies not only to support staff, but in some cases to others as well.

More academic support.”

Support services and employees were always helpful for me, with their good English and smiley faces.

As I am an exchange student at the University of Tartu, I mostly go to the Study Abroad Office. I am really satisfied with their kindness, and my coordinator always solved all my problems immediately.

Happiness and recommendation 

International Student Ambassadors 2019. Image credit: Karl Oliver Tomson

Last, but not least, the students were asked to evaluate the level of their happiness and if they would recommend UT for studies. 93% of international students said that they are happy at UT and 89% would recommend studying at UT. We also take first place in Estonia in terms of happiness and recommendation and have a higher score than the worldwide ISB ranking (79%). 

The University of Tartu is a great chance for everyone to invest in their future.

Further info: Anna Branets (, International Marketing Specialist at the University of Tartu

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