Success of Estonian University
The QS World University Rankings by Subject, which highlights the world’s top universities in a range of popular subject areas, covering 46 subjects, has ranked The Estonian University of Life Sciences, 51 to 100 in the world in the field of agriculture and forestry. Published annually since 2011 by the international consultation company, Quacquarelli Symonds, the rankings are based on academic reputation, employer reputation and research impact.
In compiling the 2017 rankings, QS looked at a university’s reputation among researchers and employers of the respective field and bibliometric indicators. The data of almost 4,500 universities was analysed and there are 1,117 universities that are represented in at least one subject ranking list.
The Baltic Times caught up with Mait Klaassen, rector of the Estonian University of Life Sciences to learn more about the achievements of this highly acknowledged Estonian institution of higher learning. Klaassen graduated as a veterinarian, and received a Phd in Veterinary Microbiology and Calving Assistance. He holds a post doctorate from the University of Helsinki, where he later worked as a professor and head of department. In 1993, he was elected Rector, and from 1997 to 1999 worked as Minister of Education of Estonia. From 2000 to 2004, he was elected Voru County Governor, then member of the Estonian Parliament, and from 2007 was again the Rector of the University of Life Sciences.
Mait Klaassen, congratulations on the Estonian University of Life Sciences ranking in the top 100 worldwide. What does this achievement mean to you personally, and to the University?
It’s a great honour both for me and for the university. This high world ranking shows our people’s commitment and makes our university internationally more visible. In turn, it helps to find more worldwide cooperation partners, students and scientists.
The university is a leader in the fields of agriculture and forestry. What are some of the developments taking place at the university in these fields?
We really do put a lot of energy in preventing problems in the fields of agriculture and forestry, especially those due to climate change. Our scientists and students are examining changes in the growth of forests, monitoring the changes in species in the reservoirs, etc. The major task of the Institute of Forestry and Rural Engineering is to prepare specialists with academic degrees for Estonian forestry, environmental institutions, construction and water management sectors. The academic activities of the 11 departments of the Institute of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences include: plant cultivation, grassland cultivation and feed production, horticulture, plant protection, soil science and agrochemistry.
We work to find the best ways to produce grain, fruit, etc. in as an eco-friendly manner as possible. Our big mission is to do research and make suggestions to reduce the ecological footprint in the fields of agriculture and forestry.
Your University is one of Estonia’s oldest institutions of higher education. What major changes have occurred since 2005 when major changes were undertaken by The University of Life Sciences?
Our university’s history goes back to 1848 when the Institute of Veterinary Medicine was opened. Even today, veterinary medicine is one of our main fields. It performs high-level modern teaching and research and development activities in many fields, such as: animal nutrition, animal production, including aquaculture, animal genetics and breeding, reproductive biology, biotechnology, food hygiene, food technology, and many other subject areas related to animal science and veterinary medicine. There is also an Animal Clinic by the university which participates in the studies by educating new generations of veterinarians.
Since 2005, we have reconstructed almost all our institutes. We have also started with the new reforms where we strengthen the university and seek to maximize the strengths and opportunities in light of a good environment. As part of this, changes will be made to the academic structure. 22 chairs will be made for 37 current departments. This change will improve the university’s operational effectiveness while using its resources more efficiently.
Why was the name of the University changed to Estonian University of Life Sciences?
Over the years, we have expanded the number of our fields of study and research. Therefore our university’s old name no longer reflected the scope of our activity very well.
How important has the university been for the development of Estonia and Estonians wishing to receive a high quality education?
The Estonian University of Life Sciences is responsible for research and development in such areas as the sustainable use of natural resources, rural life and rural economy-related fields. The university has the necessary competence to address different areas of bio-economy in research and development activities and in teaching with sufficient coherence and from a value chain perspective. An increase in the described competence will improve the academic quality and efficiency, increase the international visibility and prestige of the university, and facilitate applied research, product development and knowledge transfer in cooperation with enterprises. I dare to say that our university has a big impact on our society as our professionals are contributing into different problem solving activities- both on the national and global level.
I’m glad to say that more and more students are choosing to study at the University of Life Sciences, as we operate in many fields important to our environment.
Could you share with us some of the university’s academic and research activities which have focused on the sustainable development of natural resources, as well as the preservation of heritage and habitat?
The Estonian University of Life Sciences is the only university in Estonia whose priorities in academic and research activities provide the sustainable development of natural resources necessary for the existence of man, as well as the preservation of heritage and habitat. The mission of our university is to foster sustainable use of natural resources through knowledge based education. For the support of that we have created the initiative of a green university. It's not so much a separate project or department in our university, but rather a common goal and direction.
Our vision is a green university with the smallest possible ecological footprint, with a healthy and good working and learning environment, a university that takes into account the principles of sustainable development in all decision making processes and sets examples in society. Sustainable development is the long-term and harmonious development of a social, economic, cultural and natural environment with the goal to ensure high quality of living for the people, and secure a clean living environment now and in the future.
Also, monitoring our natural resources and the situation in the fields of forestry, agriculture, water, veterinary medicine, etc. is our everyday life.
Does the university attract international students from around the world, and from Latvia and Lithuania? How many students are studying in total at the university, and what percentage are international students?
Last year, there were students from 21 different countries studying at our university. We have more than 3,000 students altogether, around 9 per cent of them are international ones.
The university belongs to the top 1 per cent most cited research facilities in the world, with plant physiology professor Ulo Niinemets being globally the most cited Estonian researcher. How important is Professor Niinemets’ work to the university, and what research work is he currently undertaking?
Of course, Professor Ulo Niinemets is really important for our university, because of his invaluable contribution of research work and teaching. The connection between plant physiology and climate change which he is studying is becoming more and more important in today’s world. He is also a great motivation to other researchers.
How is cooperation between your university and universities throughout Latvia and Lithuania? What are some major educational cooperation projects being undertaken?
BOVA University Network is the Baltic Forestry, Veterinary and Agricultural University that was established in 1996 and comprises four universities in the Baltic States. Together we organize specialised courses for master’s and doctoral students, as well as conferences. Each year around 15 intense courses take place.
Could you share some information on the Technology College at Tartu Initiative which your university is participating in, and how important is it for representatives of the business sector to design the college’s curricula?
Tartu Technical College is the only unit of the university providing professional higher education in several fields, such as biotechnological systems and technotronics.
Mait Klaassen is rector of the estonian University of Lifesciences