Enel Pungas PhD defence 13.11.2018

Today our PhD student Enel Pungas defended her PhD thesis “Differences in migration intentions by ethnicity and education: the case of Estonia”
Supervisor: Prof. Tiit Tammaru (University of Tartu)
Opponent: Prof Zaiga Krisjane (University of Latvia)

Prof. Tiit Tammaru, Dr Enel Pungas and Prof. Zaiga Krisjane


This thesis contributes to studies of East-West migration in the light of discussions on “brain drain” and “brain gain” in Europe, and in the view of challenges related to the integration of ethnic minorities in Estonia, the general objective of the current thesis is to find out what is the role ethnicity and education in the formation of migration intentions. The Estonian case is interesting for studying the relationship between migration – education, and migration – ethnicity because Estonia has experienced significant emigration since 1991, has performed better in economic terms than many other new member states, has a sizeable Russian-speaking minority population. The proportion of university-educated people in the emigrant population is much less than in the total Estonian population before and after Estonia joined the EU. This is different from many other countries involved in the East-West migration in Europe, including the territories of the former Soviet Union. The share of the university-educated has decreased over time among Estonian emigrants. The increase of emigration in the 2000s was also due to the growing number of rural inhabitants among emigrants. The analysis of the association between education and intentions of return migration shows that education level in itself is not strictly related to returning plans. However, over education in the host country labour market is clearly associated with an elevated willingness to return. A similar, though a somewhat weaker result, is obtained for vocational education. Individuals who obtained (at least part) of their education in Finland are more willing to return in the first years following the migration, while their returning tendency shows a more negative duration dependency. This suggests that host country education leads to better prospects for social integration. We find significant interaction effects between the level of education and ethnicity. Since 2004, both lower educated and highly educated Russians have higher odds to emigrate than Russians with secondary education. This phenomenon seems to suggest that well-educated ethnic minorities do not enjoy equal opportunities for good careers in Estonia with Estonians. Ethnic minorities are much more willing to continue studies abroad than members of the majority population, which shows that ethnic differences are profound. Ethnic minorities are considerably less inclined to return. This may be explained by either less attachment to Estonia or perceived discrimination in that country. Differentiation between school type’s shows that compared to graduates from Estonian-language schools, graduates from Russian-language schools are significantly more willing to continue their studies abroad―and surprisingly, and intentions to leave are even stronger among graduates from mixed-language schools. Those respondents who identify themselves as ethnic Estonians but study at Russian-language schools are more prone to continue their studies abroad compared to ethnic Estonians studying at Estonian-language schools. Ethnic divides run deep regarding the intentions to study abroad. Of the “Big Five” personality traits, Openness associates positively with the probability of willingness to continue studies abroad. Children of parents with a university degree are much more willing to continue their studies abroad. Mobility capital and social capital―having studied abroad before and having friends or family members elsewhere, respectively―also matter. Such experience and networks make the decision to study abroad more likely. The findings of this thesis have opened up the factors influencing migration intentions in Estonia, but simultaneously complemented the knowledge on East-West migration in general. Estonia is moving from one migration regime, being an emigration country, to another migration regime, being an immigration country. However, due to the complex and dynamic nature of international migration, a great deal is yet to be uncovered. When doing that it is essential to take into consideration the growing cultural diversity of people living in Estonia, and the related need for re-evaluating integration programmes in Estonia. Emigration, return migration, re-emigration, cross-border commuting and other forms of temporary migration will most likely also characterize the currently evolving new migration regime of Estonia.

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