Education

Where is Estonia’s Youth Policy Headed?

The future of Estonian youth policy depends on the joined-up working skills of youth policy officials and their willingness to govern youth policy together with young people. This is the conclusion Tallinn University’s School of Educational Sciences brand new PhD degree awarded academic, Tanja Dibou, found in her PhD thesis.

happy young people

It should be borne in mind that, in addition to education, youth development is influenced by youth policy. Youth policy is a key element for providing better services for young people in order to succeed in improving their lives, increasing the probability of the smooth transition from childhood to adulthood and involving them as active citizens at all levels of decision-making in issues that have an impact on them.

The importance of youth policy

The difference between youth policy and other policy areas lies in the fact that the issues of young people concern many spheres of life, which is why youth policy is also characterized by integration with other spheres. 

In the absence of an effective youth policy, there is a risk that young people will not have enough opportunities in education, culture, social and other spheres of life. 

In the absence of an effective youth policy, there is a risk that young people will not have enough opportunities in education, culture, social and other spheres of life. 

Effective governance of youth policy and joined-up working between institutions involving young people is important for the further development of the youth field in Estonia. 

The perspective of such an integrated youth policy requires integrated governance across the different sectors affected and between the various levels of government, which is often a major challenge. European Union initiatives in the field of youth policy and youth employment (eg Youth Guarantee) gave impetus to the development of joint governance in Estonia. Unfortunately, these activities were related to the EU funding period, at the end of which several initiatives in the field of youth co-operation were stopped to some extent.

This year, the Estonian Youth Development Plan 2014–2020 will end and the Ministry of Education and Research also confirmed that the next 2020+ Youth Development Plan will be launched, as it will create a solid and consistent ground for the national development of youth work and youth policy. 
The principles of joined-up governance in youth policy are also particularly relevant in the context of the forthcoming national reform, as several government agencies (eg Innove, Estonian Youth Work Center) are planned to be merged in the course of state reform.

By investigating the perceptions of officials working in Estonian youth policy in my doctoral thesis “Youth Policy in Estonia: addressing challenges of joined-up working in the context of multilevel governance”, it was discovered out that youth policy officials agreed that joined-up working in youth policy entails intensive cooperation with various actors in the field, with the inclusion of youth as an actor. 

Joined-up work is essential in youth policy

However, there is little knowledge among officials about the main tools or mechanisms of joined-up working. Youth policy officials preferred to have concrete guidance of tools and approaches to joined-up working in everyday routine in strategic policy documents. The request for precise guidelines by youth field officials was also accompanied by dissatisfaction that collaborative work is sometimes challenged because of fixed work obligations. 

Concerning youth participation in youth policy governance, as officials perceive it, youth participation mostly depends on youth activeness and readiness to be involved in the youth policy governance, and on the attitudes of officials, which vary from taking youth as objects to youth as partners depending on the scope of the questions where youth opinions are asked. 

The range of fields where youth opinions are asked is still limited to issues of cultural and leisure life in the local community and to some educational and social matters that are of concern to young people. 

The range of fields where youth opinions are asked is still limited to issues of cultural and leisure life in the local community and to some educational and social matters that are of concern to young people. 

Despite various formal youth participation practices at the local level, such as youth councils and representation of youth voices via umbrella organizations, Estonian youth policy lacks opportunities for less active youth to participate in joined-up working with governmental institutions. 

Youth participation is more often embodied in the function of representing young people rather than involving them directly in the governance of youth policy. 

Young people’s role in youth policy

The positive aspect concerning the mind-set of Estonian officials is that they recognize the role of young people in youth policy. 

Officials show a high readiness to share authority with young people in the decision-making process in areas of culture and leisure, but there is still a certain doubt as to whether young people can fully make decisions on topics such as health, security, education, and social care; here, the more widely spread attitude to youth is to see them as objects or consultants. 

Besides generally positive attitudes, officials demonstrated a lack of experience and knowledge on how exactly to involve the youth as an actor in the process of governance of youth policy.

Nowadays the role of youth in the governance of youth policy is increasing, and officials should be prepared to work jointly with young people on an equal partnership.

Thus, it increasingly refers to the need to raise awareness of youth officers about joined-up working in the youth field and their preparedness to work in collaboration with young people. 

At the same time, the experience of implementation of joined-up program Youth Guarantee in Estonia has shown that tools such as clear objectives among institutions working for the need of young people, performance indicators, consistent funding need were used to overcome the challenges of collaborative work in youth policy. 

Also, youth policy officials have shown the preferences that joined-up working have to be enforced by national governmental institutions (ministries) and joined up working mechanisms have to be incorporated in new youth policy development plans emphasizing long-term and sustainable cross-sectoral and intergovernmental work for ensuring youth development in future.


An applied higher education degree and an MA degree in Youth Work can be gained in Tallinn University’s School of Educational Sciences under its study area Non-Formal Education and Lifelong Learning.

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