Tallinn University of Technology, Estonia: Exit policy and changing attitudes
Tallinn University of Technology (Tallinna Tehnikaülikool, TUT) is one of the largest universities in Estonia. Founded in 1918, it is a public legal entity, providing interdisciplinary higher education and training in technology. The university comprises eight faculties, 33 departments and 110 chairs, along with one university research centre and nine faculty research centres, as well as nine affiliated institutions.
TUT has over 10,000 students and 1,573 employees, 51.2% of whom are male employees. Academic staff (teaching and research staff) comprise 53.2% of the total workforce, of whom 13.6% are professors, 17.3% associate professors, 11% assistants, 17.2% lecturers, 21.5% senior researchers and 18.6% researchers. The average age of employees is 48.8 years among academic staff, 55.9 years among professors and 58.8 years among associate professors. Some 530 employees (33.7%) of TUT’s workforce have a PhD or an equivalent qualification, while 245 employees (15.6%) have a master’s degree.
The staff turnover rate at TUT is very low, between 1% and 2%. Nevertheless, many professorship, associate professorship and assistant positions are not filled. TUT’s workforce is ageing, as academic work does not tend to attract younger workers. Older workers are highly regarded by the organisation. As TUT’s recruitment regulations do not permit people over 65 years of age to apply for the positions of professors, associate professors, assistants and researchers, many ‘extraordinary positions’ are created for existing older members of staff, extending their post for an additional one to three years.
At TUT, social dialogue takes place through the trade union; however, there is also informal social dialogue, and guidance is provided by the personnel department.
Good practice today
This case study mainly focuses on the oldest employees at TUT, i.e. professors and associate professors, and the exit policy pertaining to these workers. After 10 years in their position, professors due to retire have the right to request the status of ‘professor emeritus’. If the Council of TUT approves the request, the professors are entitled to retain 75% of their salary for the rest of their lives, as supported by the Estonian government. A professor emeritus has no obligations, although in TUT they offer lecturing and tutoring of younger lecturers and researchers. In total, TUT has 40 professors emeritus.
In recognition of the value of other long-term employees, the TUT constitution introduced a new stipulation that entitles associate professors who have held their position for at least 15 years to request the status of ‘associate professor emeritus’ after retiring. If the request is approved by the university council, they will also receive financial support from TUT for the remainder of their lives. The primary purpose of this measure is to retain the knowledge and experience of older employees in the university. Employees who have worked for 25 years at TUT also receive a gold medal in recognition of their long service.
At TUT, there are no legally binding age-supporting initiatives or policies. Nevertheless, the university’s recruitment, wage policy, promotion, career management and flexible working practices in relation to academic staff all take into consideration previous experience and the amount of research and development these employees have carried out, particularly publication of their work in international publications. Generally, people over 45 years of age perform better in this sector.
TUT has more than 150 extraordinary positions, of which more than 50% are filled by people who cannot apply for the selected position due to their age. This practice exists for two main reasons: first, there is a lack of suitable candidates in the labour market; second, it gives older employees the opportunity to earn a salary to supplement their pensions.
There is no gender dimension to this practice, although women tend to participate more in non-academic positions and men more in academic positions. Traditionally, TUT has employed more male lecturers, as the ‘technology’ dimension of the courses has tended to be more associated with male occupations; today, however, both sexes are equally represented.
A large number of young scientists are employed in some of the newer areas, like gene technology, as 40 years ago such sciences did not even exist. Certain areas tend to be more popular among younger people, whereas others, such as mechanical engineering, tend to be unpopular among this group.
Altogether, about 30% of TUT’s workforce are of pensionable age. The extraordinary positions give the older workers the opportunity to work for as long as they are able. Many of these older lecturers become involved in teaching pre-study courses (courses for secondary school students), giving them the opportunity to apply their experience and motivation. At times, however, the older employees can experience problems in adapting to newer technologies required in teaching, for example, using data projectors and PowerPoint, or working with new databases.
In the future, the university plans to implement a ‘lifetime professors’ system. Accordingly, if the professor is selected twice in a row, he or she will be made a lifetime professor. This means that such positions will no longer be necessarily age-related.
Development of the case study
The aforementioned practices have not changed considerably over the years. Certainly, due to the ongoing tendency of younger people to take up non-academic positions, the average age was much younger 10 years ago and there were far fewer extraordinary positions in the university. Also, only the possibility to obtain the status of professor emeritus existed during those years. The more recent initiative to appoint an associate professor emeritus makes it easier for more people to exit active employment, but to still maintain a link with the university while retaining a part of their income.
Contact: Hedvi Valgemäe
Source: TUT Annual Report 2004