ERKI TAMMIKSAAR and KEN KALLING
University of Tartu
To be National or International: That is the Question. One Hundred Years of the Estonian University in Tartu
The University of Tartu which was established in 1632 operated as a Swedish university until the 19 th century when it became a university of the Russian Empire. After the establishment of an independent Estonian state (1918), the aim of the university which was reopened in Tartu in 1919 was to start educating the nationally minded Estonian intellectual and scientific community, that is, to serve the Estonian state. Nevertheless, foreign lecturers had to be employed as there were only a few Estonians with a doctoral degree at that time. During the period of Estonia’s independence (until 1940), efforts were made both in the university as well as on the political level to guarantee the prevalence of Estonian as the study language and the language of scientific research. The preservation of Estonian at the University of Tartu was prioritized also in the times of the German (1941–1944) and the Soviet occupations (1940–1991).
During the 1920s, priority was given to research in the humanities: Estonian language, literature, history and ethnography. This differed from the 19 th century when the natural sciences prospered and prevailed. In the 1950s, the focus shifted back to the natural sciences, which was a priority for Soviet research. The following twenty years saw the University of Tartu become one of the leading universities in the Soviet Union with an increasing level of international cooperation with universities and research institutions both in the USSR and Western countries.
The idea of the University of Tartu as an Estonia-centered university prioritizing research on topics connected with Estonia and Estonians regained some popularity after the restoration of Estonia’s independence in 1991. In reality, the internationally proven research grant application system which was introduced in Estonia in the 1990s lead the University of Tartu to further internationalization. The turbulent development of science over the last three decades proves this was the right choice because the quality of education in an Estonian-language university can only be based on world-class research.