UTSU in October

Cancel 2020

On the one hand we can rejoice that the National University reached 100 years just last year and that we got to celebrate it all together in a dignified manner. But this year will leave a bitter taste in the mouth of the student union, as our 100th birthday this spring was overshadowed by the corona crisis and it will stay that way this time as well. The National University 101 anniversary ball, which had the UTSU jubilee celebrations entwined in it, is cancelled. But small delights remain – as Estonians always find a way.

UTSU alumni and historian Toivo Kikkas and the university’s lector of Estonian history Janet Laidla gave utsu an amazing gift, by piecing together 120 pages of UTSU history in the book “100 aastat üliõpilasesindust Tartu Ülikoolis” (in English: “100 years of student representation in the University of Tartu”). You can feel proud with us and the authors at the book presentation on the 30th of November at 16:00 in the big hall of the university library. The university’s new ring, cap and chest badge will also be presented. Yes, they are finally ready! It will be worth a visit, as there is lots of new and interesting info to hear.

The celebrations continue on the 1st of December, when we invite you to participate in the formal ceremony that begins at 12 and after that in the dance performance that was created to honour all of us via UTTV. The broadcast that starts at 14 will bring us Raul Markus Vaiksoo’s play “Oh, otsigem…”. With popcorn or fancy snacks, join us behind your screens and let’s feel special on our big day. 

But that’s not all! At 17 the traditional torchlight procession begins, which will start in front of the Vanemuise 46 building, where torches will also be given, and ends in front of the main building.


Involving Private Funding

On the 12th of October a seminar for involving private funding took place, it consisted of two blocks: involving private funding in degree studies and training and services based on the university’s scientific work and research and the target groups interested in them. The first block ended with a panel discussion led by the Vice-Rector for Academic Affairs Aune Valk with the participants being the deans of all the faculties and the chairperson of the student union Karl Lembit Laane.

Aune Valk explained in the beginning of the panel, why is it even necessary to talk about paid higher education. She claimed that according to various calculations, higher education has a deficit of about 80 million euros per year, but the additional funds received next year are only 7 million euros. For the first reason to involve private funding Valk pointed out that both the state and the person benefit from higher education, but since the state contributes a big majority to higher education and the difference of wages in jobs requiring a secondary education or a higher education is marginal, the state is in some way getting losses from its contributions. So, by her assessment the one contributing to the funding of higher education should be the one benefitting from it – the student. The second problem is reducing admittance in the first level of higher education. “If we don’t get more money, then our choice has been to reduce the amount of free student places and if possible, to increase the amount of paid student places,” pointed Valk to a worsening accessibility to higher education. The third problem is the wages of the lecturers, which is sometimes lower than a teacher’s salary.

The chairperson of the student union Karl Lembit Laane brought up the latest data from the EuroStudent survey, which found that 68% of students regularly work and together with their studies the volume of their working week is 60 hours. “This automatically means that we are putting an even bigger burden on a student, who already might not be able to carry it,” he said, pointing to the negative effects of making higher education completely paid from a student’s perspective. Laane explained that while the reasons for creating structural barriers may differ, the result is the same, pointing to the worsening accessibility to higher education previously brought up by Valk.

Strategy Drafts and Rector’s Office

In connection to the University of Tartu’s development plan that enters into force on the 1st of January, three other strategy documents are being composed:

  • The university’s financial strategy;
  • The spatial development strategy;
  • The principles of Estonian and internationalisation.

The Student Union Board discussed their proposals with the members of the Rector’s office on the 29th of October. We gained the most success in the spatial development strategy, which will include our proposals regarding the student organisations’ right to use the university’s buildings for their activities. We want that the students’ need for rooms for group work, studying and spending time between lectures would be taken into account when the existing buildings’ rooms program is changed or when new buildings are being planned. We also want the Maarjamõisa region to have a park area with recreational, sports and leisure facilities and servicing buildings. At this point, the Board would like to specifically thank the former member of the Student Council of the Faculty of Medicine, Kaspar Plaat, who brought our attention to this need and also convinced the Dean’s office of their faculty to stress this need as well.

With the principles of Estonian and internationalisation, we put the most emphasis on the matter that the council members who don’t speak Estonian should also be able to participate in the council’s work. Our proposal was that the possibility for translating should be guaranteed in the Council and that if more than half of the composition of the Council don’t speak Estonian, the Council’s work should automatically be in English. The responsibility for creating these conditions would be on the Council meeting’s organiser. In some way this was expressed in the updated draft as multilingualism, but we have pointed out that this should be specified, in order to avoid possible indirect discrimination against the people who don’t speak Estonian. 

We didn’t have much luck with the financial strategy, although our proposals were more modest. Our main wish was that the university would mark down in the document the creation of a supportive environment for student organisations and development of a quality management system. 

The strategy drafts will go to the university’s Council for supplementing and approving (assumedly on the meeting of the 30th of November, where the student union’s chairperson has asked to participate as well).

Student Parliament Meeting

The hard-working composition of the student parliament met again on the 8th of October. The student union office members were also present as everybody introduced their yearly plans to each other. 

The action plans of the faculty representatives had goals ranging from increasing the sense of unity to guaranteeing the possibility of e-learning and digital options to the students.

The student union’s chairperson is continuing steadfastly, emanating from their election promises: the university should not take the student’s will to study, UTSU shouldn’t take the representative’s will to represent, UTSU can’t stay distant from the student body and UTSU’s interests in the communication with organisations outside the university can’t stay unrepresented. These activities are supported by the development team and communications specialists.

The keywords on the educational landscape are training the teaching staff, feedback system, quality management system and legislation reform.

UTSU and the Counselling Centre

Since last year we have increased our cooperation with the counselling centre, since there are plenty of places for cooperation and the goal -to increase the wellbeing of the students- is the same.

In October, we discussed designing teaching arrangements in a way that would reduce discontinuation of studies. As one solution we see the rethinking and reworking of the physical learning environment, on the other hand it is important to favour cooperation between students both in the subjects and across curricula. We also discussed the advocacy of students with special needs. Sadly special needs are still stigmatised in the Estonian society and there aren’t many students with special needs, who use the opportunity to meet the counselling centre. The Special Needs Advisor for the counselling centre Sille Sepmann admitted that those who reach her are only the ones who’d like help and that the actual number of students with special needs in the University of Tartu is unknown; a student with special needs is not obligated to notify the university about their disability or special need. This year one of UTSU’s stronger focus points is the wellbeing of the students with special needs and access to quality education both regarding the physical learning environment, but also the teaching arrangements. We hope that the Senate will soon change the compensatory arrangement for tuition fees in a way that would make it possible to free the students with partial or complete incapacity for work from paying the tuition fees. Fingers crossed!

Monitoring the Study Buildings

Hopefully you’ve noticed some pictures in our Instagram stories about visiting the different UT buildings. Helo Liis, Õnnely, Trine and Kristin are mapping the accessibility of the buildings for students with special needs and the various possibilities for study and recreation areas. The proposals on how to better utilise the university’s rooms will be presented to the Rector’s office.

There are examples of both good and bad. By our assessment there are very exemplary study and recreation environments in Physicum. But with Ülikooli 16 we don’t consider the room solution to be the best.

Together with the institutes’ representatives we’d like to know what are you missing in your study buildings. Let us know about your thoughts and wishes by forwarding them to your student representatives. You can find their contact information here and pictures here.


Judicial Training

On the 26th of October a judicial training for the student representatives took place. We went through the changes that should be implemented in the founding documents of UTSU. We hold the position that there are misunderstandings in our documents and we would like to resolve these conflicts. At the judicial training we discussed the points that need reform in our opinion and tried to word them in a logical manner. If you too have proposals for change in regards to our founding documents or the university’s acts, contact the UTSU legal advisor Riin Tamm.

International Students’ Work Group

We managed to have an international students’ work group meeting right at the end of October – we were glad to see that despite the complicated epidemiological situation and the pranks of the hybrid solutions there were interested parties both within UTSU and outside. We had the leader of Study in Estonia, Eero Loonurm visit us, with whom we took a critical look at two large topics: what should the social guarantees’ system for international students look like and how to shape Tartu into a safe living and studying environment for the international students. We reached the conclusion that there are never enough good experiences, pointers and success stories and the media coverage, that’s pessimistic at times needs a positive alternative. This is where UTSU could be the process’ ringleader!

The PhD Students’ Work Group

It can be difficult to find motivation on the dark October evenings, but our PhD students had enough fervor! At the work group’s meeting we went over the topics of the quality, management and principles of supervising with a fine-tooth comb and exchanged ideas on how to support both the supervisors and the supervised in creating and maintaining constructive work relationships. We hope that the proposals will make it into the university’s legislation or good practices. In addition, the Institute Student Council of Molecular and Cell Biology (TÜMRI) organised a discussion night for their institute’s PhD students, where they can share their troubles and ideas. We hope that TÜMRI’s enthusiasm is contagious! 

Sirelin Sillamaa: “The PhD students meeting was very productive for the representatives and I hope all the participants feel the same way. It was very important to come together and exchange experiences and discuss different topics, as this gives us the opportunity to get a more real picture of the reality of what still needs fixing and what doesn’t. We also hope that this event will increase the cooperation and communication between all the institute’s PhD students.”

At the discussion night “What happens to my feedback?” Daisy Volmer (MV, programme director and teaching staff), Aet Kiisla (SV, teaching staff) and Kai Budrikas (LTT, student representative) shared their thoughts on the importance of feedback and using it. It was confirmed that the students’ feedback to the subjects and curricula is a valuable input for developing the studies and finding solutions to problem areas. All the participants agreed that the semester feedback helps develop the subject courses and curricula in the long run, but the direct feedback given during the semester makes it possible to make immediate changes and according to the needs of the students (and the situation). In relation to the discussion night, feel free to read the article in the UT journal.

UTSU Presents: Participation Café

A fine example of student representation

On the 22nd of October the student representatives from the institute of philosophy and semiotics organised a participation café, where both the institute’s students and the teaching staff were participating. A participation café is a form of an event which promotes involvement and its goal is to discuss relevant problems and finding solutions to them. Four tables discussed the representatives’ most burning issues with coffee and cake: study quality (teaching methods, e-learning); applicability of the studies; the development of the institute, community and physical space; what gives support and what promotes discontinuation of studies. The institute’s student representative Kristin Nugis said: “We organised this event so that we could show the teaching staff and the members of the institute council that the students care about the topics related to the university”. The institute’s students and management agree: more joint activities and organising are necessary.

18% of the institute’s students joined the event.


Development Fund

As you’ve previously read, we have more forcefully started to work on the University of Tartu study buildings’ study and rest rooms in general, but we would also like to support students in carrying out their own and a bit smaller ideas. 

The UTSU board approved on the 14th of October the decision to create the UT student union board’s development fund. The purpose of the fund is to shoulder student projects that are created for the common good of the student body – that is connected to the UT learning environment or developing the student body and the student councils. The project that UTSU supports has to have a clear goal and a justification on what are the benefits of the project to the student body or the University of Tartu in general.

First ones to receive funding for their project — a microwave oven — were the students of the Institute of Estonian and General Linguistics. Take a look at the opportunities and bring your ideas to life!


Bowling and Pool

The staff of UTSU’s Office try to fit some relaxing activities into their schedules that are otherwise full of intense work and this time we chose to see who’s the best of the best in pool and bowling. Who won? Pool and bowling, of course.