Estonia is situated in the northern part of Europe between Russia, Finland and Latvia. It’s one of the three Baltic States, which achieved their independence as Republic in 1918, lost it in 1944, and reapplied it in 1991 with the process of the Singing Revolution. The first Youth Work Act was passed in 1936, ending with the occupation. The Youth Work Act was repassed in 1999, renewed in 2010, and relevant until now. There are approximately 1.3 million people living in Estonia, 1/3 of them are Russian speaking community, who mainly live in Tallinn and East side of Estonia. Although the only national language is Estonian there are many basic schools with Russian as study language. Description of youth worker was created in 2002, and it became a forerunner to Occupational Qualification Standard which became valid in 2006 (Occupational qualification standards, 2020). As of 23.11.2020 there are 363 youth workers with a valid occupational qualification certificate, and 2641 with a valid partial occupational qualification certificate (for summer camp trainers) while totally there are 9000 youth workers, including hobby teachers who have pedagogical higher education (EYWC, 2020).

“Where to begin?”

Youth work practice, formed political framework and professionalization of youth work required youth workers with higher qualification

Youth work studies at diploma level were open in Estonia in 1992 (Application…, 2014), just a year after becoming an independent republic after 50-years’ occupation by Soviet Union when youth work used to be a strong political instrument. More possibilities appeared to study youth work during the next decade, some of them focused on clerical youth work, or child protective social work, or street work with young offenders, or sports, or youth work in schools and hobby schools. As the Ministry of Education and Research was responsible for integrated youth policy the professional youth work was nationally powered by the department of youth work. 

Local Government Organisation Act (1993; 2020) states that the functions of a local authority include the organisation, in the rural municipality or city, of the provision of sports and youth work (§ 6 p 1). The functions of a local authority include the organisation, in the rural municipality or city, of the maintenance of hobby schools, community centres, sport facilities and other local agencies if such agencies are in the ownership of the local authority (§ 6 p 2). (LGOA, 2020). 

According to Youth Work Act (2010) youth work is the creation of conditions to promote the diverse development of young persons which enable them to be active outside their families, formal education acquired within the adult education system, and work on the basis of their free will.  “Based on occupational qualification standard a youth worker follows the principles of organising youth work and applies different methods and activities, depending on the characteristics and objectives of the youth work type, its target group, the location and the situation it is being carried out in. A youth worker is aware of youngsters’ real conditions and the local circumstances and they can assess the youngsters’ situation and needs, choose and apply appropriate methods and analyse the impact of their work. Level 7 youth workers develop the field of youth work at the local and national level, manage youth work establishments, organisations and professional networks and supervise other youth workers. A youth worker, level 7 coordinates and develops the youth field at the local, national and, if possible, international level. They instruct other youth workers, create forms of cooperation both within the field and in related areas and promote networking. A level 7 youth worker’s job requires communicating with the general public.” (Occupational standard: Youth worker, level 7, p 17).

Applying for opening the master’s study programme applicants argued that youth work occupational qualification standard sets high expectations to youth workers’ competencies and skills who are at a leading position – analysing the opportunities and needs of young people, developing the field, instructing other youth workers, managing professional organisations and networks, participating in science creation, coordinating cooperation, public relations. At that moment (in 2014) youth workers at occupational standard levels 4 and 6 were prepared in Tallinn Pedagogical College, which was merged with Tallinn University two years before (Tallinn Pedagogical College…, 2012). There was no similar master programme in Estonia. The aim of opening the master programme curriculum was also to raise the quality of the youth work curriculum of first level higher education (Application…, 2014).

Political objectives presumed changes.

Need for high quality youth work was set in European directions and national youth field development plan (2014). Youth workers’ quality and critical amount of qualified youth workers were seen as a key factor for a high quality youth field. It would raise professionalism. Based on Hargreaves (2000) professionalism consists of two parts – professionalism and professionalization. The concept of professionalism concerns the quality of practitioners’ practical professional work and conduct, manners and standards which guide it. The concept of professionalization has to do with how practitioners feel they are seen in society – their status, standing, regard and levels of professional reward. (Hargreaves, 2000). In addition to the need to raise practitioners’ quality and support their career planning, there was a hope to raise the professionalization as youth workers felt the youth field was low recognized in society (Käger et. al., 2010). The most benefits must come to young people, their parents and community around as the quality of youth work services would become higher, which is a tool to achieve developmental plans of the youth field – to raise the wellbeing of young people (Application…, 2014).

Following the process of opening a study programme.

Applying for the opening a new study programme was described in the Standard of Higher Education (until 2020 and in application time 2014, from 2020 in Higher Education Act). Anyway the information about the study programme’s bases (objectives and learning outcomes of study programmes and modules thereof, assessment methods, conditions for admission and completion of studies), academic staff, infrastructure and practical need must be described. The Ministry of Education and Research organises the expert assessment of the application and submitted data, involving the Estonian Higher Education Quality Agency in assessing the quality of studies. (EKKA, 2020).

“Involving everyone!”

Consultations with practitioners and scientists while preparing the curriculum.

The working group of practitioners, scientists, officials and professionals were formed to discuss possible master curriculum. For opening the studies, the discussions with youth department of Ministry of Education and Research, Estonian Youth Work Centre, Youth Agency of Archimedes Foundation, Estonian Youth Workers Association, Estonian Scout Association, Estonian Youth Council, Sport and Youth Department of Tallinn, The Youth Work Service of Tartu, The Association of Estonian Cities and The Association of Estonian Rural Municipalities were held. All partners supported the idea to open a youth work curriculum at master level. Curriculum’s administrators predicted that graduates could work as municipalities’ and county councils’ youth work consultants and specialists, heads of youth work organisations and (international) programmes, leaders of youth work networks, teachers at higher education and trainers. (Application…, 2014).

In 2017 the master’s study programme was renewed. Director of the School of Educational Sciences of Tallinn University formed a working group of 13 people, of which 5 were practitioners from Youth Agency of Archimedes Foundation and from Estonian Youth Work Centre, representing youth work experts, employers, and speciality alumni. The others were from the University – lecturers of youth work and andragogy, professors of sociology, head of studies and director of the School.

Feedback from the postgraduate students of the youth work management programme, given in the academic year 2016/2017, was taken into account during the programme development process in 2017/2018 academic year (Self-evaluation report, 2020).

Running the studies in cooperation with different departments inside the University.

Curriculum was opened in The School of Educational Sciences in Tallinn University. Teachers were planned to involve from the curriculum of youth work practical higher education and from different institutes of educational sciences, sociology, social work, social sciences and political sciences. Additionally, there were general subjects according to requirements for higher education (e.g. foreign language, research methodology). Also a youth researcher with PhD degree from neighbour country Finland was involved, and hired by the University. (Application…, 2014).

From 2018 a new subject – Meanings of Lifelong Learning (6 ECTS) was created together with an adult education master programme and lecturers (Self-evaluation report, 2020). It was related with the University’s trend to allocate staff into study areas. Employees who were related with youth work studies or adult education studies belonged to study arena Lifelong and Non-Formal Education. The common subject was a good output of cooperation.

Youth work lecturers have a partnership with colleagues from several international partners, including Maynooth University (Ireland), HUMAK (Finland), Tampere University (Finland), University of Helsinki (Finland), Victoria University (Australia), Newman University (UK), Ulster University (UK), University of Barcelona (Spain). As well as the Finnish Youth Research Society and VERKE: National Centre of Expertise for Digital Youth Work (Finland). Joint projects, e-learning tools, seminars and lecturers exchange have taken place. (Self-evaluation report, 2020).

One of the key factors in quality of study programmes are the lecturers.

In the assessment report of another study programme group – Teacher training and educational sciences – it was highlighted that the high workload in teaching does not allow lecturers to concentrate on scientific work, and it may cause a decrease in quality of the studying process. During the renewal the youth work study programme it was examined if it is valid also for youth work academic staff. (Vinter-Nemvalts, 2017). Also it was challenged that as there are few lecturers from youth field it might not be enough to cover contemporary youth work. Triin Roosalu who coordinated the study programme in 2017/2018 described that working group stated, that youth work management study programme expects interdisciplinary or cross-disciplinary approach. That’s why engaging lecturers from other departments at the university has to go on, but there is a need to strengthen the cooperation between youth work lecturers and other lecturers.  One possible way was to offer at least two lecturers for each subject – one from youth field, and the other on their professional field; sharing knowledge and creating common practices enrich study process, students and lecturers. Also the possibility to invite guest lecturers outside of the university and from abroad is a good chance for synchronizing and updating youth work knowledge and practice. (Roosalu, 2018). 

“Starting with competencies.”

To professionalise and manage the youth field, the practicing youth workers had lack of education and competencies.

When opening the master curriculum, the national study of youth workers’ competencies and educational needs (2010) showed that 1/3 of them were hired as managers in the public sector at local, regional or national level. Only 20% out of them had youth work education – 90% of them had practical higher education on youth work, 10% had bachelor or master degree in some other profession. Youth workers and their employers emphasized the need to develop youth workers’ competencies on management (e.g. leadership, crisis management, teamwork), abilities to design new methodologies, multiply knowledge, educate and public relate. (Käger et. al., 2010). Similar study from 2017 indicates that more than half of people who work in the youth field still lack speciality education, 59% of managers and 64% of employees (Self-evaluation report, 2020).

The main aim of master studies was to train youth work developers, managers, specialists and teachers who take into account the context of European Union and Estonian youth policy. The alumni expected to work as developers of youth work services and environments, managers of youth work, specialist on science creation, training and academic studies. (Application…, 2014). Developing the study programme in 2017/2018 started with analysing the requirements for youth workers in occupational standard level 7 (2017), and based on this the learning outcomes were set for graduating students. (Vinter-Nemvalts, 2017). For 2020 the alumni are successful on the labour market and most of them continue or have continued working in the youth work field. For instance, the alumni work at local governments as specialists responsible for youth work, managers and specialists at the Estonian Youth Work Centre (until August 2020) or at The Education and Youth Authority (from August 2020), managers at speciality organisations, managers at youth work institutions, youth workers, activity leaders. (Self-evaluation report, 2020). The alumni have been involved into study process as visiting lecturers, they have written academic articles alone or together with supervisors in a Tallinn University collection of youth field articles, have popularized the master studies and youth field (articles in youth field magazine MIHUS, sharing their stories in TLU public channels), have supported in organisation students’ professional placement.

Programmes were developed in accordance with other regulations.

Youth work in Estonia was driven by educational sciences, and its main content was non-formal learning. So was the curriculum related to educational changes and lifelong learning. To compile the structure of curriculum comparison with similar programmes from other countries and universities, with the national standard of higher education, and with youth worker occupational standards were carried out. Requirements for study programmes and quality of studies at higher education level was set in Standard of Higher Education (Standard of Higher Education, 2008).

Renewed study programme met the new description of youth worker occupational standard level 7.

During the 2-years studies the main modules of education and development, youth and society, leading and developing the youth field were passed through following the initial study programme. Each module has its aims and learning outcomes. The first study programme offered two modules of speciality of youth work – Youth and society (22 European academic credit points (ECTS), each ECTS mean 26*45 minutes of working time), and Youth field management and development (30 ECTS). (Application…, 2014). The new curriculum from 2018 offered also two subject-specific course modules – Youth work management and regulations (27 ECTS), and Youth policy and youth studies (27 ECTS). Specific course about the theoretical and conceptual bases of youth work – Theories in Youth Work (3 ECTS) was developed. Several subject were modified, e.g. “Supervision in youth work” (3 ECTS) was expanded and named to “Counselling techniques in youth work” (3 ECTS). Also content of subjects were revised so that key topics like youth participation, problem solving and prevention, networking, needs-based service design in youth field was covered in several subjects, e.g in Youth field networks and development (6 ECTS), and Youth and youth studies (6 ECTS). (Self-evaluation report, 2020).

General competencies development is supported through teaching methods.

General competencies and life-long learning competencies like digital literacy, entrepreneurship skills, team-work and social skills, language skills and others are supported through some concrete subjects, e.g. Youth and youth work in the technologically saturated environment (6 ECTS), but mainly supported continuously during the study process. Several e-learning environments are in use, e.g. Moodle, e-Didaktikum, Drive, Zoom etc. The e-learning environments became more realistic and needed in 2020 with the time of Corona-crisis when youth and students were in distance learning. Variety of active methods enable students to take responsibility for their studies, and fulfil their potential in different general competencies. Self-reflective essays, group work and team work, the basis of critical and border-crossing pedagogy’s tools are in use. (Self-evaluation report, 2020).

“Keeping youth work education relevant”

Actuality is ensured with considering the context.

When applying to open the master curriculum in 2014, comparison with trends and developments in the youth field enhanced the need to have strong connections between education and labour market. Also the curriculum supported the University’s science and developmental strategical aims – increasing innovation and science-based development in the public and private sector, and involving more top-specialists. (Application…, 2014).

Admission to Master’s Studies was open in 2015 and 2016, 15 and 17 students started their studies. In 2017 the programme was revised, and admission to the studies started again in 2018 when 16 students started their studies, in 2019 13 students were admitted, in 2020 8 students were admitted. The number of applicants has been around 1.3 people per spot. Although the youth work management is an open study programme, meaning that there is no prerequisite subject for previous study level, it requires constant marketing as being relatively new in offer. (Self-assessment report, 2020).

Quality assessment of study programme group: Social Services.

The need to revise the study programme appeared from quality assessment of youth work practical higher education’s study programme. Quality assessment is run by Estonian Quality Agency for Higher and Vocational Education at least once in every 7 years. Youth work management master and youth work practical higher education study programmes belong to Social Services study programmes’ group. Quality assessment of the study programme group of social services in 2015 in Tallinn university pointed out the areas for improvement for professional higher education curriculum of youth work. These were among others:

  • need to collaborate with other higher education’s institutions in Estonia offering youth work studies;
  • study programme must meet the need and follow changes in labour market;
  • better balance among practical, theoretical and research approaches should be sought;
  • e-learning environments need to be made more user-friendly;
  • the syllabi to be revised to ensure that they fully relate to youth field specific (Decision regarding…, 2015).

These were taken into account when reforming the youth work management master programme in 2017/2018. The director of the School of Educational Sciences of Tallinn University enhanced the arguments that:

  • teaching staff need to be trained about contemporary youth work conceptions,
  • the occupational standard was renewed in 2017, and there is a need to analyse the programme and adapt programme’s aims and learning outcomes based on the new standard (Vinter-Nemvalts, 2017).

Compared with the initial study programme special attention was given to find a balance between theoretical and practical parts in each course, and the professional placement of 6 ECTS has an important role in building connections between theoretical studies and implementation of theories into practice.

Quality assessment in each 7 years directs to self-assessment and offers view from outside.

Self-assessment is compiled by the study programme’s team, led by the study programme administrator. It enables to reflect the study programme structure and its development, resources (including technical tools, rooms etc.) to run the study programme, teaching and learning practices, teaching staff, students situation, all those areas’ strengths, needs for improvement, and planned activities. (Self-evaluation report, 2020). An assessment team outside the university reads the self-assessment report, meets with lecturers and students, and administrative staff, and offers suggestions for improving the study programme by pointing out the strengths and needs for improvement (EKKA, 2020).


Creating the first curriculum for master programme in 2014 the working group took into account the European shared knowledge:

Main guidelines for creation master programme were taken from national regulations in youth field:

Opening master studies expects meeting the requirements for higher education: