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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Main types of provision


8.Adult education and training

8.4Main types of provision

Last update: 27 November 2023

Continuing education may be targeted at developing professional skills or key competencies or developing the skills required for pursuing hobby activities. In addition, division by target-group (for example, labour market oriented training programmes targeted at unemployed persons) is applied.   

Continuing education with the purpose of professional development allows improvement of professional knowledge and skills to increase competitiveness in the labour market. Professional training for adults is provided by many private educational institutions, vocational educational institutions, higher education institutions and professional associations. Professional training costs are usually covered by the people themselves or their employers. There are groups whose training costs are covered by the state (e.g., teachers, officials, unemployed). Since 2011, a lot of funding from the European Social Fund has been channelled into training.

In case a person himself or herself covers costs related to his or her formal education or further training, pursuant to the Income Tax Act, he or she has the right to deduct his or her training expenses from the income; in continuing education, such right can be exercised only with courses provided according to a curriculum complying with the professional standard or the continuing education curriculum.

According to the Adult Education Act, the person participating in professional education and training is granted study leave for up to 30 days. During the study leave granted for participating in formal education or continuing education with the purpose of professional development, an employee shall be paid average wages for 20 calendar days. For the completion of formal education, additional study leave of 15 calendar days shall be granted for which study leave pay calculated on the bases of the minimum wage is paid.     

The Vocational Educational Institutions Act provides for funding of state-commissioned vocational training, which aims at creating prerequisites for reshaping labour force according to the needs of the changing labour market. Planning of state-commissioned professional education and training is based on the forecast of the need for training drawn up on the basis of the OSKA analyses; the forecast of the need for labour developed by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications; data from the Töötukassa regarding regional need for labour; data from Statistics Estonia, etc. State-commissioned professional education and training is drawn up by the Ministry of Education and Research in cooperation with the associations representing employers and employees and others. A request to provide state-commissioned continuing education shall be submitted to the vocational educational institutions and institutions of professional higher education providing vocational training and is approved by a directive of the Minister of Education and Research. It is planned to extend the request for state-commissioned continuing education to the institutions of higher education in 2020.

The scheme for state-commissioned continuing education has been set out also in the Adult Education Act, which gives an opportunity to commission trainings for adults, pursuant to the scheme, from different continuing education institutions, and allows also other ministries to submit a request for the provision of state-commissioned continuing education if required.  

Trainings addressing key competencies may be relevant professionally (e.g., computer training or foreign language courses) or, where provided as part of informal education, contribute to life-long learning.  Trainings addressing the key competencies support a learner in coping in the constantly changing working and living environment by contributing to a continuous development of the learner. These, mainly project-based, trainings are provided by various educational institutions providing further training; they are not systematically funded by the state. 

Provision to Raise Achievement in Basic Skills

In Estonia basic skills (literacy and numeracy) are, as a rule, acquired during formal studies at general secondary education level where enough flexible opportunities have been created for participating in courses or acquiring skills by individual subject. Due to the small number of adults with poor literacy and numeracy in Estonia, no systematic provision of trainings in this area has been developed. More attention is paid to the development of key competencies, which create prerequisites for continuation of one’s studies and copying in the labour market.   

Provision to Achieve a Recognised Qualification during Adulthood

There is an eight-step qualification framework in Estonia, which covers both formal education and professional qualifications.

In Estonia a recognised qualification can be acquired in two ways:

  • Completing degree studies through formal education (general education, vocational education and higher education)

An adult has the opportunity to study at all levels of education. Both general education schools and vocational schools (non-stationary studies) and higher education institutions (open universities) provide flexible forms of study. Pursuant to the Vocational Education Standard, vocational educational institutions have adopted flexible forms of study, allowing acquisition of a profession or a partial profession also through short-time formal studies provided within the adult education system (from 15 EKAP, i.e. Estonian vocational education and training credit points) 

Apprenticeship, which also provides flexible learning opportunities to adult learners, has received considerably greater attention in the last years. In 2015-2023, the state has planned to create nearly 7,600 apprenticeship places with the support from the European Social Fund. In the academic year 2018/2019, the number of participants in the apprenticeship was 1,700, which is 7% of the total number of vocational students. Apprenticeship is provided by more than 400 different enterprises.     

  • Proving of professional skills and competencies through passing vocational examinations

Estonia has an occupational qualifications system, which links education system and the labour market, supports lifelong learning and development, assessment, recognition and comparison of professional competence. The occupational qualifications system supports enhancement of the competitiveness of employees in Estonia and is a support structure for the education system – the content and quality of the vocational training complies with the needs of the labour market. Estonian Qualifications Authority (Kutsekoda) is an important party to the occupational qualifications system, which creates and develops a unified and organised occupational qualifications system and creating prerequisites for achieving comparability of the qualifications of Estonian employees and recognition thereof by other states    

Generally, completing non-formal education training does not provide an officially recognised qualification, but it is recognised upon passing vocational examinations at the vocational and higher education level through VÕTA. An increasing number of non-formal education curricula are linked to occupational standards and, thereby, contribute to passing of vocational examinations.  

Employment trainings

The goal of employment trainings is to provide knowledge and skills necessary for becoming employed. Employment trainings are provided for those who are seeking employment and are registered with Töötukassa (Estonian Unemployment Insurance Fund) as unemployed, as job seekers holding a notice of redundancy and seeking employment or as job seekers at pensionable age who are not employed.   

Eesti Töötukassa provides employment training for the unemployed free of charge. Trainings are provided only in case it has become evident, during the process of job seeking, that becoming employed requires acquisition or improvement of specific knowledge and skills.    

The duration of unemployment training may be from one day to one year; and the training may be carried out at the location of the training provider or it may be in the form of distance learning (e-learning). A decision on the choice of training is made in cooperation with a consultant and is focused on the knowledge and skills that make it easier to find employment. On the basis of a training card, Töötukassa reimburses training expenses in the total amount of up to 2,500 euro (including VAT), which may comprise one or several trainings. The training expenses of a training card are reimbursed within two years.

1 May 2017, Töötukassa commenced the provision of services aimed at preventing unemployment. The services preventing unemployment are targeted at the employees who need support in changing jobs or preservation of an employment due to the lack or obsolescence of skills. It is now possible for the people who are employed use their training vouchers to participate in the labour market oriented trainings in order to develop their Estonian language or ICT skills. With main professions, courses offer the possibility to increase expertisein the fields where, according to studies, demand for labour exceeds supply over the coming years.

A service aimed at supporting the acquisition of qualification can compensate an employed person the expenses related with the acquisition of theevidence of formal qualification. The evidence of formal qualifications, the related expenses of which acquisition are compensated for, include professional certificate, certificate of competency, certificate and document certifying the right to drive.

Pursuant to the Labour Market Services and Benefits Act in force, an unemployed person ceases to receive unemployment benefit if the person becomes a student enrolled in stationary study or full-time study at an educational institution unless the person enrolled in full-time study or in stationary vocational training has been employed for at least 180 days during the last twelve months or is on academic leave. The 2017 amendment introduced an allowance for participation in formal educationas one of the preventive services. The allowance is targeted at employed and unemployed people of working age without vocational or professional education or with one that has become obsolete (vocational or professional education has been acquired at least 15 years earlier) and who have difficulties finding a new job or who are at risk of losing their jobs due to gaps in skills. The allowance is paid to those who pursue studies on free study places in vocational education, professional higher education or Bachelor’s study. The size of the allowance depends on whether the person commencing studies is employed and has income or not, and is 130 to 260 euros per month.

Informal education

Informal education is provided by training centres providing informal education, folk high schools, culture centres, museums and many other community centres. The most popular courses held include courses in art and culture, language courses and economic studies and computer training courses.

Informal education is payable by the learners. The state funds informal education on a project basis through different funds (support of the Council of Gambling Tax for smaller initiatives, European Social Fund calls for proposals), in which case the course is free of charge or partially payable by the learner.

Eesti Vabaharidusliit (Estonian Non-formal Adult Education Association, ENAEA) is an organisation that promotes non-formal education in Estonia. The association is a non-governmental umbrella organisation, which unites education-oriented non-profit organisations, citizens’ associations and educational institutions providing informal education, 67 different organisations in total. The mission of EestiVabaharidusliit is to inform the society about informal education and support its members in creating a learning environment necessary for the development of the civil society.     

Other officially funded learning opportunities for adults

Officially funded learning opportunities are described above. In addition, several authorities intermediate funds from the European Social Fund (also for trainings).   

In 2015, the Ministry of Education and Research established the requirements for allocating support from the European Social Fund resources for the implementation of the programme “Promoting adult education and increasing learning opportunities for adults”, under which work-related courses for adults are organised in vocational educational institutions and institutions of professional higher education providing vocational training. Only those professional education and training courses that are organised by vocational educational institutions and institutions of professional higher education which also provide state-commissioned formal education are subject to funding under the programme. Provision of state-commissioned formal studies provided within the adult education system is regarded a quality indicator. Nearly 36 educational institutions in total across Estonia provide trainings under the programme; trainings are carried out in nearly 25 different curriculum groups.     

The objective of the professional education and training is to improve the professional competitiveness of people, develop the habit of learning and direct new target groups with previous low course participation rates to education. Continuing education with the purpose of professional development is targeted, first and foremost, at adults with lower education level, without professional education or with lower or outdated qualification. In 2015−2020, more than 53,000 adults in total participating in free courses can acquire a certificate of competency.   

The courses are funded through state-commissioned education on the basis of established unit prices.

With the use of the funds from the European Social Fund, the Ministry of Education and Research finances, through an open call for proposals, also the return into basic and general secondary education of adults who have left school early and the successful completion of these studies. The support is targeted at the educational institutions providing general education in the form of non-stationary studies; the educational institutions have the opportunity to develop a suitable selection of measures/actions based on the needs and specificities of their region and by taking into consideration the opportunities and development needs of the educational institution itself.

With the support of the European Social Fund, the Ministry of Education and Research also funds the open call for proposals for the development of key competencies of adults and improvement of attitudes towards learning. The priority areas include development of learning skills, promotion of social skills and development of entrepreneurship, provision of Estonian language training for the non-Estonian population, and the improvement of foreign language and digital skills. Preference is given to the projects focused on the training of lower-skilled people; the objective is to improve key competencies of 20,000 people by 2020.

Legal references

Adult Education Act

Income Tax Act

Vocational Education Standard

Labour Market Services and Benefits Act