At today’s sitting of the Riigikogu, Prime Minister Jüri Ratas gave an overview of the situation in research and development activities and the Government’s policy in this sphere.
Ratas said that the previous year had been successful for research in Estonia. “Our research is internationally competitive and future-oriented, and serves the society in several different ways,” he said. Ratas said that the data of various international rankings of universities confirmed the progress. He also pointed out that several Estonian researchers had received international recognition, quite a few researchers who had been active abroad had returned, richer by experience, and top scientists of the world had come to work in Estonia.
The Prime Minister said that, according to a study commissioned by Universities Estonia, the contribution of Estonian universities to the national economy amounted to 6.4 per cent of gross domestic product. “Every euro that is invested in Estonian universities brings 4.6 euro to national economy,” Ratas said.
Speaking of the target to increase productivity per employed person to 80 per cent by 2020, set in Estonia’s competitiveness plan “Estonia 2020”, Ratas said that, according to Eurostat data, Estonia had not been successful in that regard in recent years, but he confirmed that the Government was making efforts in solving the concerns of the labour market, education and health care, as well as supporting undertakings.
“Science has a central role in ensuring the cohesion of society and in the development of economy, and thereby in the improvement of the welfare and standard of living of us all,” Ratas said. One of the more complicated tasks for the Government, in his words, is to maintain and increase the volume of research and development funding. “The decrease in European Union structural funds in the next period does not make this task easier either,” Ratas admitted.
The Prime Minister also spoke of increasing the research and development volumes. “The 14.9-million-euro growth of investments planned for 2018 will in the most part be directed to the base funding for research institutions,” he noted. Ratas said that Doctoral allowances would increase in the current year, product development activities of businesses would be supported additionally, and investments would be made in information and technology research and development in universities. The increase in base funding would create greater security for planning an academic career for researchers, and would give greater freedom to engage in the issues creating value for Estonia, Ratas said.
During the debate, Viktoria Ladõnskaja-Kubits from the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union Faction, Barbi Pilvre from the Social Democratic Party Faction, Aadu Must from the Centre Party Faction, Anne Sulling from the Reform Party Faction and Krista Aru from the Free Party Faction took the floor.
The Riigikogu passed two Acts:
46 members of the Riigikogu voted in favour of the Act on Amendments to the Basic Schools and Upper Secondary Schools Act and Amendments to Other Associated Acts (519 SE), initiated by the Government. 44 voted against.
According to the Act, the local government has to create the possibilities for a school to offer the necessary support to pupils with special educational needs. The Act establishes a state budget support for the application of enhanced support or special support, in order to increase the availability of the support services necessary for children.
Under the Act, the services of at least a special education teacher, a speech therapist, a psychologist and a social educator are ensured at school. On the recommendation of an extra-school counselling team and with the consent of a parent, a school can apply enhanced support or special support to a student.
The school has the right to adjust the carrying out of studies according to the need for support. In the organisation of studies, the principle of inclusive education continues to be observed. The state will continue to manage schools directed at children with special needs, but will agree with local governments upon the potential transfer of the management of such schools.
The Act also provides for a regulation for payment of national educational scholarships and awards to people working in educational institutions.
During the debate, Heljo Pikhof from the Social Democratic Party Faction, Yoko Alender from the Reform Party Faction, Aadu Must from the Centre Party Faction and Krista Aru from the Free Party Faction took the floor.
The Act enters into force on 1 February 2018.
67 members of the Riigikogu voted in favour of the Act on Amendments to the Private Schools Act and Amendments to Other Associated Acts (520 SE), initiated by the Government. 24 were against, and there were two abstentions.
Under the Act, starting from the entry into force of the Act, the private schools that meet the requirements will be able to apply for support for covering operating expenses from the state budget. The support is calculated based on the number of pupils as at 10 November, and the average operating expenses of a pupil place of a general education school of the local government (the maximum amount being the annual limit established by the Government of the Republic).
According to the Act, it is possible for a general education school to apply for the activity support if the school has been operating for at least four years and an activity licence for at least one stage of study has been issued to it for an unspecified term, the school does not request a tuition fee, or the tuition fee per pupil per month on the average amounts to 25 per cent of the minimum remuneration rate, the profit gained from the activity of the school is invested in teaching and education activities, including in the study environment, the budget and the educational expenditure of the school are public, and the school does not have tax arrears to the state, or the tax arrears are paid in instalments. In the course of the proceedings on the Act, the requirement to the effect that the local authority of the seat of the school has given consent to the allocation of the support for operating expenses to the school had been added as an additional condition for application for the support. Under the Act, in justified cases, the Ministry of Education and Research has the right to allocate the support also in the case when the local government has not given consent to the allocation of the support. Within the context of activity support, the content of the tuition fee is also defined uniformly.
The private schools have been granted a transitional period regarding the requirement of activity licence issued for an unspecified term and of four-year previous activity, the amount of the tuition fee and the existence of the consent of the local government.
During the debate, Toomas Jürgenstein from the Social Democratic Party Faction, Jürgen Ligi from the Reform Party Faction and Priit Sibul from the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union Faction took the floor.
Two Bills passed the second reading in the Riigikogu:
The Bill on Amendments to the Alcohol, Tobacco, Fuel and Electricity Excise Duty Act and Other Acts (559 SE), initiated by the Estonian Centre Party Faction, the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union Faction and the Social Democratic Party Faction, will reduce by half the excise duty rise planned for 2018 for beer, other alcohol, and wine and fermented beverages with an ethanol content of up to 6 per cent by volume. As a result of the change of the excise duty rates, the average price of products will grow by 3 per cent instead of 6 per cent.
During the debate, Jürgen Ligi and Aivar Sõerd from the Reform Party Faction, Tarmo Kruusimäe from the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union Faction, Andres Ammas from the Free Party Faction, Henn Põlluaas from the Estonian Conservative People’s Party Faction and Mihhail Stalnuhhin from the Centre Party Faction took the floor.
The Reform Party Faction moved to suspend the second reading of the Bill. 30 members of the Riigikogu voted in favour of the motion and 43 voted against. Thus, the motion was not supported and the second reading of the Bill was concluded.
The Bill on Amendments to the Nature Conservation Act and the Forest Act (560 SE), initiated by the Estonian Centre Party Faction, the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union Faction and the Social Democratic Party Faction, will create the possibility to also use the income from the sale of immovables that are not necessary for the activities of the profit-making state agency the State Forest Management Centre, and its net profit, besides the funds allocated from the state budget, in order to purchase lands under nature conservation management. The current Act does not provide for the possibility to use the income for any other purposes than the management of the state forest or for generating income. The aim of acquisition by the state of land with nature conservation restrictions under § 20 of the Nature Conservation Act is to compensate for significant restrictions imposed on land owners.
With a motion to amend submitted in the course of the second reading, the Environment Committee included also representatives of cultural interests, in addition to representatives of ecological, social and economic interests, in the membership of the working group for drafting the forestry development plan formed by the Government.
Külliki Kübarsepp from the Free Party Faction took the floor during the debate.
A motion to express no confidence in a minister was presented:
44 members of the Riigikogu from the Reform Party Faction, the Free Party Faction and the Estonian Conservative People’s Party Faction presented a motion to express no confidence in the Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure Kadri Simson.
During the debate, Arto Aas from the Reform Party Faction, Artur Talvik from the Free Party Faction, Jaanus Karilaid from the Centre Party Faction and Mart Helme from the Estonian Conservative People’s Party Faction took the floor.
44 members of the Riigikogu voted in favour of the motion to express no confidence, and 49 were against. Thus the motion to express no confidence was not supported.
The sitting ended at 8.28 p.m.
Video recordings of the sittings of the Riigikogu can be viewed at: https://www.youtube.com/riigikogu
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