3 Visions for the Future of Universitas Tartuensis

On May 31 the university will elect a new rector to lead the way in the following five years.

The University of Tartu is facing many external changes and challenges: higher education reform is underway, universities will lose the option of charging tuition, the principles for research funding will be altered, and the demographic gap in the student-aged population is approaching.

Under these circumstances, three candidates are running for the position of rector: Professor of Applied Geology Volli Kalm, Professor of Cell Biology Toivo Maimets and Professor of Biomedical Technology, academician Mart Ustav.

Toivo Maimets, Mart Ustav, Volli Kalm

UT Rector candidates in 2012, from left to right: professors Toivo Maimets, Mart Ustav and Volli Kalm. Photos by Andres Tennus.

All three candidates were nominated by the UT Faculty of Science and Technology, and were officially supported by a number of university professors. Volli Kalm has the backing of 36, Mart Ustav 26, and Toivo Maimets 22 professors at the University of Tartu.

The rector will be elected by 347-member electoral body, which includes members of the university council and senate, members of all faculty councils, and professors and senior researchers.

Rector candidates have published their election programmes (in Estonian) and gave interviews to the university journal and other public media. The following is a summary of the candidates’ views on a number of key issues, based on these texts.

1. People vs. Buildings

All candidates agree that people are the most important university resource. So far a lot of EU funds have been invested into state-of-the-art buildings and infrastructure at the expense of human resources; however, that’s what these funds were meant for. In 2014 a new funding period will start, and the candidates hope that new rules will be more flexible in this respect and will allow for more investments in human resources.

Mart Ustav’s programme foresees “fair pay”, whereas lecturing and writing original textbooks, in his view, should be valued as much as scientific work is.

Volli Kalm calls for a “specific plan to achieve more competitive salaries for university staff”, and he also mentions that the funding of research and teaching is equally important.

Toivo Maimets goes into detail, saying that the average salary of a lecturer, assistant professor and professor should comprise 2, 3 and 4 average Estonian salaries accordingly.

He also makes use of the “academic lifecycle” concept, meaning that efforts should be made to give young researchers confidence in their career prospects, while normal living standards should be ensured for senior staff after retirement. Along these lines, Maimets proposes to consider introducing a university retirement pension.

2. Universitas and humanities

All three candidates have placed the universitas principle, where very different and diverse university units cooperate, integrate and create synergy, at the core of their programmes. Kalm and Maimets specify that different units have to be evaluated differently, based on their particularities.

Again, all candidates address humanities and the problem of the so-called ‘small disciplines’ where expenses are high, such as in teaching languages. While the current financing model undermines humanities except for the more generously funded 10 national professorships, the candidates believe that these problems should and can be solved.

 3. Financing

The contenders stress the importance of bringing in more external funding. Maimets says that the university should help find specific projects, compile applications, and acknowledge successful applicants. Kalm and Ustav also mention the private sector as an important resource.

Ustav goes into more specifics, saying that the university needs to establish a service that would deal with project development, negotiation, and project management. His specific goal is to double the external funding for research and development in the next five years.

Kalm also aims for reorganising the administrative work in a way that “supports and motivates fundraising in areas where there is growth, primarily in the private sector and EU funds”.

Backed by extensive experience in the private sector, Ustav gives much attention and detail to cooperation with businesses both locally and internationally, fostering entrepreneurship among university students and staff, fundraising for professorships in business related fields, and acting as a valuable partner in the country’s innovation programmes.

Kalm also mentions a centre for cooperation with businesses in his election programme.

4. Academic republic vs. boot factory

As Toivo Maimets has phrased it, the question is whether our ideal university is functioning similarly to a business enterprise or an academic republic. He refers to ex-Rector Jaak Aaviksoo who used to claim that managing a university is no different from managing a boot factory: the council sets strategic goals, and the units fulfill their tasks and do the reporting.

According to Maimets, in an ideal university the initiative comes from academic staff who formulate tasks, and the management fulfils them. In an academic republic, staff is broadly involved in decision-making.

In their election programmes, Kalm and Ustav support the management model that involves university people into decision-making processes on different levels and on a larger scale than the current, recently introduced management model suggests.

When asked whether being in the shoes of the rector in office Alar Karis they would have introduced the new management model, Maimets said no, Ustav replied that he probably wouldn’t see a reason for this change, and Kalm, while not willing to criticise the current rector, questioned the role of external members on the university council, as to whether their role was restricted to giving advice to the university, or also to representing the university’s needs and interests in society, the parliament, and the government.

5. The international position of the Alma Mater

According to Mart Ustav, the university’s sphere of influence should cover, besides Estonia, also Latvia, Lithuania, Finland, Sweden and the southwestern part of Russia.

Volli Kalm notes that the “university should act strategically to bring in the necessary people,  students and professors alike, from Estonia and abroad”. In his view, the university should work to increase the range of internationally competitive study programmes and modules.

Similarly to Ustav, Kalm also uses the term ‘sphere of influence’, stating that the university’s social and economic sphere of influence should extend significantly beyond Estonian borders; however, it has to be defined in terms of each particular field, discipline, and faculty.

Maimets focuses on the university’s influence within Estonia. In his view, the university should act as an opinion leader and change initiator in society, and speak up on broader issues like school reform, ACTA and intellectual property, not just higher education and science.

5. Administration, teacher training, Open Access

Maimets has offered that the university’s administration should undergo international evaluation in the same way as teaching and science regularly do. This would give professional arguments for judging the administration’s efficiency and reduce tensions between the academic and administrative units.

All candidates agreed that a solution has to be found for the burning issue of teacher training, ensuring effective cooperation within the university.

Volli Kalm would develop the university’s career service into an active unit seeking and negotiating opportunities for student internships and jobs. Also, Kalm is supportive of the Open Access to improve visibility in research and innovation.

Rector candidates will debate on these and other issues on May 24 starting at 4 pm. UT Student Council is organising a debate with the rector candidates on May 22 at 6 pm. Both events will take place in the university Assembly Hall and will be in Estonian.

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2 Responses to 3 Visions for the Future of Universitas Tartuensis

  1. siiri123 says:

    Dear colleagues,

    I would also like to add here my election program in English. Hope it will be useful.
    With all the very best wishes,
    Toivo Maimets



    In the next years the University
    needs important changes, which come from two types of reasons. First, there
    will be changes in outside environment: research financing system is already
    being reorganised, the Higher Education Reform is about to start and at the
    same time the number of possible student candidates entering the University is
    decreasing because of demographical situation. Second, different problems
    inside the University have accumulated over the years and, if unsolved, will
    create unneeded tensions and become obstacles to further exploitation of the
    possibilities of the University. One can mention here, as some examples, the
    tensions between different disciplines and faculties, balancing between
    research and teaching or between the resources dedicated to the academic and
    support structures of the University.


    The main aim of the leadership of
    the University for the next years is to pro-actively influence these changes
    and maximally use the possibilities they offer. At the same time the stability
    and harmonious development of different disciplines needed for efficient
    everyday operation of the University and fulfilling its mission must be

    During the next five years the University must become an “academic republic”,
    creatively networking different disciplines, being a leader of the important
    societal processes in Estonia, possesses excellence for the global research
    arena and is the best place for self-determination and professional development
    of its members.

    To achieve this, I will rely on the
    following principles:

    I. Universitas –  ”academic
    republic”, which values and integrates its various disciplines.

    1. The
    strength of the University is in the divergence and collaboration of its
    different disciplines. The University consists of various faculties, institutes
    and other structural units, which are all contributing in different ways into
    the research, activities of the national university, teaching and serving the
    society. Their quality cannot be evaluated by the same standardised criteria,
    but all successfully working units are vital for the University.    

    Collaboration between different
    structural units, the synergy and new original ideas coming from that, is a
    unique for the University internal resource, the possibilities of which are so
    far greatly underused. Networking should be preferred to academic hierarchies,
    both inside the University as well as in its international activities.

    2. Crossing the
    borders between disciplines and enhancing their collaboration is an active
    process, which needs additional resources. For that we need to both better
    support the particular areas, but also create additional financial and legal
    possibilities. For example, interdisciplinary and inter-university curricula,
    research and development projects.

    3. The
    University of Tartu must become much more active partner in communicating with
    the society, opinion former and leader of changes, initiator of processes, not
    only the one reacting to them. Public opinions formulated by the University are
    important for the society in all areas, not just in (higher) education and

    4. Problems
    of the units are problems of the whole University and, if needed, the solutions
    must be sought for together. For example, the problems of teaching costs of
    “small courses”, problems coming from the decrease of earnings from tuition
    fees, extraordinary costs of non-standard structures or exploitation costs of
    new and more expensive buildings.


    II. The quality of academic research-based higher education.

    5.  The University of Tartu is a research
    university – it is based on the unity of research and teaching. Over the years,
    the University has developed excellent research in many areas, which is at top international
    frontline. Continuous support to these must now be accompanied by taking also
    more care of professional teaching activities and valuing them accordingly.

    6. The
    research or education reform targeting the quality of these activities cannot
    be created from outside University, as it has the best competence in these
    areas. The University must create a comprehensive quality system for higher
    education, which can be a guide for Ministry and other universities.

    7. Research
    and teaching must be more efficiently connected with each other. Young
    researchers must be involved in teaching activities since early days of their
    career. The teaching staff must get time and conditions for performing
    successful research. At the same time, the choice of instruments used to assess
    and value the creative work of teachers should be considerably widened.

    III. Dignified position of members of the University, salary and working

    8. The
    people who care of their University are its most precious resource. Every
    member of the University has the right and obligation to be involved in the
    processes of decision-making. To achieve it, the meetings of university
    governing bodies (Council, Senate, rectorate) with Faculty Councils must become

    9. The
    academic quality of teachers and researchers is of utmost importance for the
    development of the University. The assessment of quality must be based mainly
    on principal expert evaluations and less on formal criteria.  Together with the increase of academic standards
    the University must also support the personal development of its members and
    shaping their academic advancement. Attention must be paid on the whole
    academic career, starting from motivation and certainty of young starting
    academics and finishing with dignified conditions of retirement. It is time to
    consider the employer’s pension scheme.

    10. All
    possible internal and external resources must be mobilised to achieve the
    levels of salaries as two, three, or four times of average salary in Estonia
    for lecturers, assistant professors and professors respectively.


    IV. The best conditions of personal development and self-determination
    for our students.

    11. Demographic
    situation in Estonia increases the competition for the best student candidates
    and this competition will occur – contrary to the one in research – first of
    all inside Estonia. To increase the competitiveness the attention should be
    first of all paid to the quality of our education, but also to the overall
    reputation of the University and the quality of living environment. As for the
    latter, a good collaboration with Tartu city authorities is self-evident. For
    all students with bachelor degrees Tartu should be the first choice for their
    master studies.

    12. Systematic
    contacts with Estonian young people studying abroad must be established in
    order to make Tartu as a natural place for further career after their

    13.  The increased share of students participating
    in the elections of Student Council is an indicator of its increased importance
    and value. The Student Body and its leading organisations must be supported by
    creating for them working conditions well comparable with those of other
    universities. The opinions of students about changes of regulations and laws
    are very important and desired.


    V. Financing

    14. The
    University must more actively speak up at the level of the country in the area
    of financing research and higher education, being an active leader of these
    discussions. The University has plenty of expertise for defining strategic
    trends and targets for the whole society.

    15. Bringing
    external resources, both national and international, into the University must
    be encouraged by assisting in the formulation of applications and rewarding

    16. The
    structures supporting the academic activities of the University must use as
    much resources as needed and as little of them as possible. The assessment of
    this balance is a professional activity based on expert evaluations and the
    responsibility for its implementation must be personal. The supporting
    structures must undergo periodical international evaluation procedures,
    similarly to the research projects and curricula of the University.

    17. All
    university property, including estate property, must be carefully taken care of
    and developed. At the same time it should be kept in mind that without
    dedicated people this property will never create anything new. Overall shaping
    and design on the budget must start from the interests of the main activities
    of the University – research and teaching – and support them in the most
    efficient ways.

    Toivo Maimets

    May 2012

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