Data from the 2021 census shows that the share of people with higher education in Estonia is increasing and the share of people with basic education is decreasing – one fifth of the country’s inhabitants have a master’s degree, and Tartu and Viimsi, a municipality in the outskirts of Tallinn, stand out for their particularly high concentration of highly qualified people; the level of education of native speakers of Russian is slightly higher than that of native speakers of Estonian.
Triinu Aug, a leading analyst at Statistics Estonia, noted that compared to the previous census, the share of people with higher education has increased and the share of people with basic education has decreased. The proportion of people with a secondary education has remained stable.
“Secondary education is the highest level of education for 43% of the population aged 15 and over, and higher education for 37%. 20% of the Estonian population has a basic education or less,” Aug said.
“It is logical that the highest level of education is related to age – older people have had more time to complete various levels of education. For example, the proportion of people with a basic education is lowest in the 55-59 age group. Again, half of people aged 90 and over have basic education or less because they simply did not have access to higher education when they were young.
Tertiary education is generally completed around the age of 25. Therefore, the share of the population with higher education remains around 40% until the age of 70, after which the proportion begins to decline.
Metropolitan areas have the largest share of people with higher education
Population and Housing Census data reveals that 21.4% of the Estonian population between the ages of 25 and 64 has a master’s degree. 17.4% have vocational secondary education and around the same number (17.2%) have general secondary education.
Thirteen percent of the population have a baccalaureate and 10% have followed vocational training after high school. In the 25-64 age bracket, the share of people with only primary education (1.1%, 7,752 people) is about the same as that of people with a doctorate (1 %, 6,805 people).
The highest proportion of people with higher education is found in urban areas, where 49% of the population aged 25 to 64 have higher education. In the urban settlement regions, 47% of the population has a higher education diploma and 30% in the rural settlement regions.
Compared to counties, as expected, the highest concentration of 25-64 year olds with tertiary education is found in Harju and Tartu counties, at 52.6% and 46.1%, respectively. The lowest proportions of people with higher education were recorded in Järva (25.5%) and Jõgeva County (27%).
Regarding the share of people with higher education in the municipalities, the rural municipality of Viimsi stands out with 62.5% of 25-64 year olds with higher education.
“The rural municipality of Viimsi also has the highest proportion of people with a master’s degree – 38%. However, if we look at the share of the population with a doctorate, the city of Tartu is the undisputed leader, with 4% of people with a doctorate. The Estonian average is 1%,” said Aug.
Estonia, a destination for highly skilled immigrants
On average, the educational level of native speakers of Russian is slightly higher than that of native speakers of Estonian. Compared to Estonian speakers, they have a lower proportion of people with basic education and a slightly higher proportion of people with secondary education.
Among the population with another mother tongue, the share of people with a basic or secondary education is much lower – 4.6 and 25.4%, respectively – while the majority (70.1%) have a higher education .
“Compared to previous censuses, we have 35% more people with another mother tongue and with higher education than 20 years ago. This means that Estonia is increasingly a destination for highly skilled immigrants,” noted Aug. This statistic does not include war refugees who arrived in Estonia after the time of the census – December 31, 2021.
The Population and Housing Census relates to the highest level of education attained by people living in Estonia. However, regular surveys conducted by Statistics Estonia have shown that in addition to formal education, people are increasingly active in lifelong learning. According to the Estonian Labor Force Survey, participation in lifelong learning increased by 54% in 10 years and more than tripled in 20 years.
Participation in lifelong learning is higher among women and the better educated. Estonia’s lifelong learning participation rate of 18.4% is significantly higher than the EU average of 10.8%.