Estonia has a well-earned reputation for innovation and technological excellence, and studying a PhD in this Baltic nation represents a fantastic opportunity to take advantage of its dynamic research landscape.
An Estonian PhD will equip you with the tools to succeed as a researcher in any number of fields, with English-language programmes available in plenty of disciplines. And, to make Estonia even more appealing – there aren’t any tuition fees for doctoral programmes, regardless of your nationality.
This page will give you an introduction to PhD study in Estonia, covering essentials like funding, visas, the university system and visas.
Estonia might be a small (and relatively young) nation, but it punches well above its weight in terms of technology and start-ups, playing an important role in the development of companies like Skype and TransferWise.
One important aspect of Estonia’s national identity is its commitment to the idea of a ‘digital society’ – the Estonian government has long invested in digital solutions for its citizens, becoming the first country in the world to enable electronic voting. Nowadays, many important services in Estonia can be conducted entirely online.
Studying a PhD in Estonia is a fantastic chance to immerse yourself in its innovative start-up culture – who knows, perhaps your own research will eventually lead to the creation of a successful tech company like Skype?
These are just a handful of the reasons you should consider pursuing doctoral study in Estonia this year:
|Oldest University||University of Tartu (1632)|
|PhD Length||4 years|
|Academic Year||September to June|
For the latest information on the impact of coronavirus on studying a PhD in Estonia, please read the Estonian Ministry of Education and Research’s COVID-19 guidance page. Here you can find updates regarding the resumption of contact learning and more.
The higher education sector in Estonia is relatively small, with six public universities and one private university. Doctoral students will enrol at one of these research-centric universities.
There are also 13 professional higher education institutions that offer more vocational qualifications.
Estonia is a member of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) and its universities follow the Bologna Process, which means that PhDs are considered ‘third-cycle qualifications’ – just like elsewhere in Europe and many countries worldwide. As such, you’ll need a Bachelors and a Masters to be able to apply for a PhD in Estonia.
Some doctoral schools in Estonia are led by inter-university consortia, generally offering interdisciplinary PhDs that encourage cooperation between universities – both within the country and internationally.
Estonia’s seven universities are based in its two biggest cities: Tallinn and Tartu. Tallinn is the financial and political centre of Estonia, combining a fairy-tale, UNESCO-listed Old Town with ultra-modern architecture.
By contrast, Tartu is considered the cultural centre of Estonia, home to the country’s oldest university and a thriving student population.
|University||THE 2021||QS 2021||ARWU 2020|
|University of Tartu||251-300||285||401-500|
|Tallinn University of Technology||801-1000||651-700||-|
|Information in this table is based on the latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings, QS World University Rankings and Academic Ranking of World Universities. Visit their websites for more information.|
Most Estonian PhDs will take four years to complete, consisting of 240 ECTS credits. During the PhD, you’ll be expected to complete an extended, original research project, as well as certain professional development modules. You may also have the opportunity to do some teaching within your department and take part in seminars.
At Estonian universities, PhDs usually follow into one of the following two categories:
As part of their drive towards internationalisation, universities in Estonia are offering increasing numbers of English-language PhDs – you can find links to these programmes on the official Study in Estonia website.
You’ll typically be assigned a supervisor by the relevant university department, who will offer their expertise and guidance during your research. If you’re proposing your own research project, this may be the academic who you contact with your research proposal during the applications process.
A four-year Estonian PhD is usually worth 240 ECTS credits. The breakdown of these credits is normally along these lines:
As you’d expect, the doctoral thesis plays an important role in your PhD. It’ll be assessed on its originality, technical competence and the extent to which it answers your research question. You may also have to give a presentation based on your research findings.
As we’ve already covered, there are no tuition fees for PhDs in Estonia, which is great news – you won’t have to pay anything, no matter what your nationality is and whether you’re an EU citizen or not.
There are lots of different scholarships and funding options for PhD students in Estonia, aiming to encourage the brightest and best research students from around the world to study in this vibrant country.
These are some of the funding opportunities on offer:
Visiting doctoral students in Estonia can apply for a Dora Plus scholarship of €660 a month, payable for 10 months.
PhD applications in Estonia are processed through the country’s centralised DreamApply system, rather than the universities themselves. The deadline for applications is usually between June and July for PhDs beginning in September, but it varies from institution to institution.
When applying for a PhD in Estonia, you’ll need to show that you satisfy some typical entry requirements and provide relevant documentation. This is what you’ll usually need to supply:
You may also have to take part in an entrance interview, either in person or via Skype.
Your research proposal is an important part of the application process and you can expect to be quizzed regarding its feasibility and your research methods during the interview.
You’ll need to show that proficient in the English in order to study a PhD in Estonia (sometimes even when you’ll be studying in Estonian!).
There are exceptions if you’re a native speaker or if you’ve already studied in English at a university in an English-speaking country (or, indeed, in another EU / EEA country).
These are the standards you’ll typically have to meet if you’re taking an English language test:
In general, you’ll need at least B2 proficiency in English according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.
If you’re an EU citizen, you should apply for a temporary right of residence within three months of your arrival in Estonia. You can do this by visiting your local government authority and registering your address in Estonia. Within one month of doing this, you’ll also need to apply for an Estonian ID card.
Non-EU citizens (this includes EEA and Swiss nationals) should apply for a temporary residence permit for study from their nearest Estonian embassy or consul. You’ll usually need to bring the following documents with you:
Once you’ve arrived in Estonia, you’ll need to register your address with the local government authority.
For more information, please visit the Estonian Government’s page on residence permits for study.
Studying a PhD in Estonia is a fantastic opportunity to experience one of the world’s most cutting-edge digital societies. And, with the Estonian government keen to retain talented international students, there are great post-PhD possibilities – particularly if you’re a wannabe entrepreneur. Estonia prides itself on the fact that it only takes around 20 minutes to found a company here.
on-EU students can stay in Estonia for up to nine months after finishing their PhDs and can use this time to look for a job and apply for a temporary residence permit for work.
Last updated - 15/10/2020