In 1990 and 1991, Estonia began taking over more of the administration of its social welfare system from the central Soviet authorities. The government instituted its own system of payments, for example, to compensate the population for the removal of state subsidies and an increase in food prices. In April 1991, the republic passed its own pension law, the implementation of which was upset by inflation, although later the situation improved with the introduction of a new currency. Still, with some 307,000 pensioners and a rapidly aging population, pensions accounted for a large share of the country's social fund (see Recent Economic Developments, this ch.). In response, the government began gradually raising the retirement age from fifty-five for women and sixty for men to sixty for women and sixty-five for men. In January 1993, more than 1,000 angry retirees staged a protest in front of Toompea Castle to demand higher pensions. At EKR260 a month, pensions were so low that many people complained that they could barely pay their rent and utility bills.
Other welfare benefits provided by the state included financial support for invalids, low-income families, and families having three or more children. The state also provided institu-tional care for elderly people and orphans.
With a half-century of Soviet rule behind it, independent Estonia began a process of thorough educational reform. In addition to a restructuring of curricula, the government began a reorganization of the secondary school system with the goal of increasing specialization among the country's high schools. In 1993 there were some 215,000 elementary and secondary school students in 724 schools across Estonia. About 142,000 students were enrolled in Estonian-language schools and about 70,000 in Russian-language schools, mainly in Tallinn and northeastern Estonia. In addition, there were individual schools teaching in other minority languages, including Hebrew, Swedish, and Ukrainian. Estonian-language schools offer twelve years of education--nine elementary and three secondary. Education in Russian-language schools lasts eleven years. Under a 1993 law, education was made compulsory up to the ninth grade. Estonia's vocational education network is also extensive, with seventy-seven schools across the country and about 26,000 students in 1993. Literacy is nearly universal.
Estonia's system of higher education centers on six universities. Tartu University, founded in 1632, is the country's largest, with about 7,600 students in 1993. The Tallinn Technical University had about 6,800 full-time students in 1993, and the Tallinn Pedagogical University had about 3,150. The Estonian Agricultural University in Tartu had about 2,800 students, and the Tallinn Art University and the Estonian Academy of Music each enrolled about 500.
Higher education was restructured in the early 1990s into a four-year system after the five-year Soviet system was dropped. A new degree structure comparable to the Western one of baccalaureate, master's, and doctoral degrees was established. Soviet ideological subjects such as "scientific communism" were abandoned soon after the independence movement began in 1988. With the help of exchange programs and guest lecturers from the West, new programs were begun in economics, business, foreign languages, religion, political science, and sociology.
Data as of January 1995