Government agrees funding for lifelong learning strategy

For several years, the social partners have highlighted the need to increase public financing of lifelong learning policies in order to increase the participation rate closer to the Lisbon Strategy targets by 2010. In January 2008, three Estonian government ministries signed an agreement on the financing principles of lifelong learning for the period 2007–2013, which provides support to both employers and individuals for participation in lifelong learning measures.

Views of social partners

In its action plan for 2004–2007, the Confederation of Estonian Trade Unions (Eesti Ametiühingute Keskliit, EAKL) pointed out the need to provide a supporting context for the development of lifelong learning, to modernise the vocational education system and to create a national system of training and retraining of workers. The trade unions have encouraged the use of the European Social Fund (ESF) to create such a system. In 2007, EAKL reported that, although some initiatives have been taken, the vocational training system still needs more finances in order to increase the employability of workers and flexibility of the labour market. The latest action plan for 2008–2011 declares that the vocational education system should be further modernised and a public financing system for continuous vocational training should be developed. Moreover, EAKL emphasises that the proportion of the ESF funds used to support continuous vocational training should be further increased.

The Estonian Employers’ Confederation (Eesti Tööandjate Keskliit, ETTK) has also highlighted the need to develop lifelong learning policies in its manifesto for 2007–2011 (EE0702019I). According to the manifesto, in order to increase workers’ participation rate in lifelong learning (7% in 2007) to meet the target set in the Lisbon Strategy (12.5% by 2010), public investment needs to be increased. For example, according to Statistics Estonia (Eesti Statistika), in 2005, 51% of companies claimed that they did not provide training for their workers due to the high expense involved. ETTK has also emphasised that the higher tax rate associated with personal income tax (21%) and payroll tax (33%) for employers in relation to training expenditure should be abolished. The confederation further argues that education on information and communication technologies (ICT) among all age groups and in all types of educational institutions must be promoted.

In addition, the social partners participate in the Adult Education Council (Täiskasvanuhariduse Nõukogu), which is an advisory body to the government with responsibility for setting up the national priorities for adult education and forwarding these to the government for approval. The social partners are also represented in the sectoral professional councils which are bodies for cooperation aimed at developing professional standards in the sector and reconciling educational outcomes and labour market demand.

Government initiatives

In November 2006, the government adopted the Lifelong Learning Strategy 2005–2008 (295Kb PDF), which aimed to broaden the learning opportunities available for adults. These opportunities included, for example, the development of the adult education financing scheme, access to learning for people with disabilities and of ethnic minorities, as well as the development of the vocational qualification system.

In October 2007, the Minister of Education and Research, Tõnis Lukas, approved regulations to launch state-financed study places for adults in vocational education establishments and define principles for organising adult training in vocational education institutions.

In January 2008, an agreement was signed by the Ministry of Education and Research (Haridus- ja Teadusministeerium), the Ministry of Social Affairs (Sotsiaalministeerium) and the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications (Majandus- ja Kommunikatsiooniministeerium, MKM), which sets out the principles of financing continuous vocational training for the period 2007–2013. According to the agreement, the various ministries each have their own responsibilities as follows:

  • MKM is responsible for financing the employer-provided training;
  • the Ministry of Social Affairs has responsibility for the training of unemployed and disadvantaged groups in the labour market, which is provided by the Estonian Labour Market Board (Tööturuamet);
  • the Ministry of Education and Research is accountable for adult training provided by educational institutions. The ministry considers the agreement to be an important step in the development of lifelong learning policies.

The agreement also indicates that subsidies for adult training will be increased during the agreement’s duration. Furthermore, the training provided by employers is financed only from ESF funds while the training provided by educational institutions and the Labour Market Board is financed by both the national budget and ESF funds simultaneously.

Currently, the ESF funds are allocated to the development of lifelong learning policies through the government-initiated pilot project to create a public financing system for adult vocational training. In the framework of the project, the government and the ESF will jointly finance the vocational training of adults to the amount of EEK 21 million (about €1.3 million as at 28 February 2008) from 1 September 2007 to 31 May 2008 in all regions of the country. The project covers the training of more than 9,000 persons nationwide.

Commentary

According to Statistics Estonia, the participation rate in lifelong learning has increased from 6.3% in 2000 to 7% in 2007. However, the participation rate is higher among women, younger age groups, native Estonians and those who are highly educated. Accordingly, the participation rate in lifelong learning among the most vulnerable groups in society is still lower than among those in a better position in the labour market.

Kirsti Nurmela, PRAXIS Centre for Policy Studies

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