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Organisation of vocational upper secondary education


6.Upper secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary Education

6.4Organisation of vocational upper secondary education

Last update: 27 November 2023

Types of vocational education are related to the levels of the Estonian Qualification Framework (EQF). Initial VET (vocational education and training) programmes are provided at the second, third, fourth and fifth levels of EQF. Continuing VET programmes are provided at the fourth and fifth levels of EQF. For every type of vocational education, learning outcomes, i.e. the knowledge, skills and attitudes acquired as a result of learning, have been described in the Vocational Education Standard.

The placement of a curriculum on the qualification level shall be determined by the placement of a professional standard which serves as the basis of a curriculum on the Estonian Qualification Framework.

Vocational secondary education is vocational training of fourth level, in the course of which a student acquires secondary education with vocational and professional competencies.

Types of Institutions

Vocational training is organised by vocational educational institutions and some institutions of professional higher education. In 2019/20 academic year, there were 37 educational institutions providing vocational training in Estonia, including 26 state vocational educational institutions, 2 municipal vocational educational institutions, 4 private vocational educational institutions and 5 institutions of professional higher education, which provide VET.

Geographical Accessibility

The network of vocational educational institutions has undergone regular adjustments in the light of demographic trends and changes in the business environment. Access to vocation training shall be ensured in all counties.

In most vocational schools, it is possible to study both on the basis of basic and secondary education. In some vocational schools, it is also possible to study according to vocational education curricula (vocational training of second and third level) where no preconditions exist for students regarding their prior level of education and where a student acquires only a vocation. 

In order to ensure access to learning, the students are compensated for the public transport costs relating to the participation in studies and students without secondary education are provided with free school lunch. In addition, a school can grant specific support to students in a difficult financial situation. The students who succeed in their studies are entitled to receive education allowance on the basis of a ranking list in the amount of 60 euro per month. Most of the vocational educational institutions have dormitories that provide students with accommodation at a favourable cost.

Vocational schools may, as an exception related to the organisation of studies, carry out vocational training in basic school and upper secondary school. This offers students acquiring basic education or general secondary education an opportunity to acquire basic professional and vocational knowledge and skills. Basic school and upper secondary school studies may be opened at vocational educational institution in non-stationary form of study, provided that studies based on vocational secondary education curriculum are also conducted at the school. Opening of non-stationary study is decided by the owner of the school.

Admission Requirements and Choice of School

To be admitted to vocational education programme of level 4, incl. vocational secondary education one needs to have basic education. Persons with no basic education may commence studies according to curricula where no preconditions exist for students regarding their prior level of education (EQF level 2 and 3 programmes). The prerequisite for commencing continuing training of level 4 is the acquisition of profession corresponding to the qualification level 3 or 4 or the corresponding competencies and basic education.

Persons without basic education and aged 22 years or older may exceptionally commence studies according to the curricula of vocational secondary education if they demonstrate competencies corresponding to the level of basic education. The existence of the required competencies is assessed by the school. The prerequisite to enter initial training curriculum corresponding to qualification level 5 is the acquisition of secondary education; in continuing training, additionally, the acquisition of profession corresponding to the qualification level 4 or 5 or higher, or the corresponding competencies.

The state and local authorities must provide all interested persons with the opportunity to acquire vocational secondary education. The admission procedure is provided for in the regulation of the minister responsible for the field. 

Age Levels and Grouping of Students

In general, vocational secondary education students are 16–21 years old. Due to demographic changes, in vocational education the proportion of students pursuing vocational secondary education has shown a steady decline while that of adult learners has increased (out of the total number of students, about 32% are over 25 years of age). The changes in distribution of students by age prove that vocational training is increasingly popular among adults. The share of learners aged 25 and older has increased from 20% in the 2011/12 academic year to 41,7% in the academic year 2019/20. In the academic year 2019/20, more than 10,000 students enrolled in vocational training were aged 25 or older.

There is no upper age limit for admission to a vocational educational institution. The students who pursue studies according to the curricula of level 2 or 3 where acquired basic education is not required must be at least 17 years old since persons up to 17 years of age are subject to compulsory school attendance. The size of study groups in vocational educational institutions is not regulated and may be decided by the school. Due to the practical nature of studies, the most common group size is from 15 to 20 students. Where necessary, a school, in cooperation with the owner of the school, ensures that students with special educational needs are provided with study in small groups.  

Forms of Study and Organisation of the School Year

In vocational training, a school based form of study and workplace based form of study (apprentice study) have been used. The part-time study form is also available. It is most suitable for working people as it offers learning opportunities with a higher share of independent work.

In vocational school an academic year consists of at least 40 weeks of study and learning capacity of 60 vocational education credits (EKAP, or vocational education credit point, based on ECVET is used as the unit of academic volume,1 EKAP = 26 hours spent by a student on studies). An academic year shall include at least eight weeks of holiday.

An academic year begins 1 September and ends 31 August of the following year, whereas the organisation of studies in a vocational educational institution is flexible and a school may organise admission of new students throughout the year. 

Organisation of the School Day and Week

The timetables of a vocational school are drawn up by the school, no common requirements have been established therefore. A study week equals 40 hours of study where the share of face-to-face teaching depends on the implementation plan of the curriculum modules.