The EU calls Estonia “Europe’s start-up hot spot and one of the safest countries in the world,” two reasons that Estonia’s popularity is increasing among international students. From just 885 students in 2007, Estonia – located in northeastern Europe, beside Russia – now hosts over 5,000 international students and posted double-digit growth every year of the past decade with the exception of the pandemic years of 2020 and 2021.
In 2020, when leading destinations such as Canada and the US lost close to 20% of their total international student populations and Australia lost still more, Estonia saw just a -5% drop in degree-seeking foreign students in the country, and even milder contraction in 2021 (-3%). Study in Estonia reports as well that overall numbers for 2021/22 were buoyed by a 20% year-over-year increase in student commencements.
“New education powerhouse”
According to the BBC, Estonia is “Europe’s newest education powerhouse, [outperforming] the major European economies, including the UK, in influential global education tests” such as PISA. Even before COVID, Estonian students were being educated in a system that placed great value on digital learning, with an “e-school system” through which a high proportion of homework and grading was done online.
Estonian master’s programmes are the most popular among international students (2,122 students), followed by bachelor’s (1,466) and then doctoral (757) programmes. The government-run Study in Estonia site reveals that though Russian and Latvian students compose the largest proportion of international students in Estonian universities, there is also a great deal of diversity, with 124 nationalities now represented.
Student satisfaction is high
The country is clearly on the radar of a growing number of international students, not the least because so many students who have studied there are happy with their experience. The 2019 i-graduate International Student Barometer found that 91% of foreign students were satisfied with their study in Estonia’s higher education institutions, and 95% said they chose Estonia “because of the boost it would give to their future careers.”
Eero Loonurm, the Head of Study in Estonia, told ICEF Monitor that the field of information technology is a draw for many students, including master’s programmes such as e-Governance Technologies and Services, Technology Governance and Digital Transformation, and Innovation and Technology Management. Graduates can then look for job opportunities in the country. Mr Loornurm notes,
“We have a lot of amazing start-up companies which are ready to recruit international students. For example, Transferwise (Now Wise), Pipedrive, Bolt and Veriff. [We also] have many international companies that have recruited international students for decades: Skype and ABB are some examples. Employability is a key word here!”
The country’s digital sophistication is compelling, adding to the country’s growing reputation for innovation. Mr Loornurm explains:
“Estonia is very famous right now for its digital services and development. It is the first country to offer e-Residency, a government-issued digital identity and status that provides access to Estonia’s transparent business environment. In our paperless government, all the decisions are done with a digital signature.”
Blanketed by many parts by forest and/or national parks, Estonia is also a nature-lover’s dream and is also relatively affordable. Two Estonian cities, Tartu and Tallinn have been listed by Business Insider as two of Europe’s most affordable cities.
Estonia has a population of just 1.3 million but is larger than Denmark and Holland. Estonia is about 50% forest and has about 2000 islands. Estonians love their forests, bogs and all the creatures that live there such as lynxes, brown bears, wolves, foxes, rabbits and deers. It's right to say that Estonians come with a tree hugging trait. In the spring and autumn time, birdwatching is an extremely popular pastime attracting both humans and vertebrates from all over the world.
You can fly, sail, ride or drive to Estonia from anywhere in Europe. Located in northeastern Europe, this small coastal country is a short ferry trip away from Finland and Sweden, a coach ride away from such European capitals as Warsaw and Berlin, and an overnight train from Saint Petersburg will land you at the heart of Tallinn. Tallinn airport and ferry port are both located in close vicinity to the city centre making short city breaks extremely convenient.
Estonians tend to be at least bilingual, and according to recent studies, are among the best English speakers in Europe. There's an ongoing joke that many visitors tend to think that Estonians speak elvish. This magical sounding language is in fact Estonian, belonging to the Finno Ugric branch of European languages. While the millennials tend to speak two languages fluently on average, the older generation of Estonians are often fluent in Finnish and Russian in addition to English and Estonian.
Over 5 000 foreign students from 120 countries are in 2021 in higher education in Estonia. According to Statistics Estonia, working foreign students and alumni contributed more than EUR 13 million in tax revenue to the country in 2020.
The International Student Barometer shows that 91 % of foreign students are satisfied with Estonia’s higher education institutions. Nearly all students polled (95 %) say they decided to study in Estonia because of the boost it would give to their future careers.
It is Europe's start-up hot spot and one of the safest countries in the world.