The autonomy of Estonian universities is rated as “high” in all four areas.
The only restriction imposed on universities’ organisational autonomy concerns the executive head: the law prescribes that candidates must hold an academic position in order to be eligible for the post of rector. Estonian universities may freely select the external members of their senate.
No major constraints are imposed on universities’ financial and staffing autonomy. They require the approval of an external authority to sell their real estate, but enjoy flexible public funding modalities, may set fees and are entitled to borrow money on the financial markets.
Universities have complete freedom of action regarding staff recruitments, remunerations, dismissals and promotions.
Regarding academic affairs, restrictions mainly relate to accreditation and quality assurance practices. Universities may independently open degree programmes, though only in specific and previously defined academic fields. While they are free to select quality assurance providers, the required mechanisms are prescribed in the form of periodical institutional accreditation and reviews of curricula.
The particularly high level of institutional autonomy in Estonia is seen to be accompanied by considerable accountability requirements. In combination with budgetary constraints caused by major public funding cuts starting in 2008, these have been putting increasing pressure on Estonia’s universities.