Elvin Abbasli: TalTech needs to reassess its decision on foreign students

Elvin Abbasli, a Tallinn-based Azerbaijani expat, writes on behalf of the Azerbaijani Student Community in Estonia that all Estonian universities, including Tallinn University of Technology, should accept admitted students from third countries if the students are willing to follow the procedures aimed against the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The recent news about the decision of the senate of Tallinn University of Technology – also known as TalTech – not to matriculate students from countries with the coronavirus infection rate of more than 16 cases per 100,000 has caused a huge disappointment. According to TalTech, only students from the countries that are considered as low coronavirus risk countries (as stated on the website of the Estonian ministry of foreign affairs as of 3 August) will be enrolled for the upcoming study semester.

Students not at fault

On the behalf of the Azerbaijani Student Community in Estonia, I can say we feel very worried about the decision and stand with all the students regardless of their nationalities who have been subjected to this unfair decision.

We understand the sensitivity of the issue and the possible health risks for the Estonian society that might arise from the rapid increase of the student movement from abroad. At the same time, there is a need to mention that newly accepted students do not have any fault for the situation in their home countries and they are willing to follow all the mandatory procedures aimed against the spread of the virus.

As most of us have experienced, admission to foreign universities is a long process requiring careful planning, time and dedication, plus financial costs. Most of those newly admitted students have passed this challenging path and made their plans based on the admission results. They were left unaware of the sudden change. Besides, the government’s decision allowing students and workers from third countries to be able to enter Estonia if their quarantine, testing and accommodation are provided by the host university/employer has assured them they will be able to start their studies.

According to our information, at least two other Estonian educational institutions – the University of Tartu and the Estonian Entrepreneurship University of Applied Sciences – will do their best to receive the new students and provide them with the option to study online.

Advice for the universities

Coming from this, it would be best if other higher education institutions, including TalTech, would take the following measures rather than merely refusing to accept new students from the virus-affected countries:

  1. As the recent experiences of most of the universities have proved the effectiveness of the distant learning during the lockdown in Estonia, it seems quite possible to apply the same strategy when it comes to the newly admitted students based in high-risk countries, at least until the second semester of the upcoming academic year. If the situation changes in the home country of the student for the better, the person can come to Estonia to physically attend their studies. If not, we think students might continue to study online throughout the whole academic year. The modern technological advancements and successful application of online education can let this happen without any obstacles.
  • If the first option is not possible, it would be reasonable to keep the admission results of the prospective students eligible for the next admission process. By doing this, at least, the efforts of those applicants will be considered and not be wasted.

It’s noteworthy to reiterate, these students should not be deprived of their right to education because of the existent force-majeure case not only in their home countries but also all over the world. Besides, as TalTech claims, the number of affected students is not so high, so it would be best if their places were secured for the next-year admission process or they are given a chance to at least have online classes if the physical presence is impossible.   

As we mentioned before, we totally understand the situation and support the initiatives to mitigate the negative consequences of the COVID-19 disease. But we also call for the best actions that can help prospective students. We believe the adoption of the suggested measures will also help the Estonian universities maintain their prestige and credibility among future applicants.

The opinions in this article are those of the author. Cover: TalTech’s campus in Tallinn. Photo by TalTech.

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