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Through its most recent “monitoring report” and a more in-depth publication titled Financially Sustainable Universities II: European Universities Diversifying Income Sources, the European University Association (EUA) has released new findings on the impact of the economic crisis on higher education in Europe. The most current analysis depicts a rather grim picture of severe budget cuts in countries such as Italy, Latvia, and the United Kingdom (UK). Elsewhere, in Belgium and Austria, for example, there are funding freezes where funding increases had been promised. In countries where no direct cut or minor cuts are seen, reduced spending per student is reported either due to increased domestic demand or the influx of students from neighbouring countries.
The EUA has also looked into the changes and shifts in the nature of universities’ public funding and the impacts of the economic crisis on private funding. In Germany and France, for example, where funding activity has traditionally been overseen by local or regional governments, national funding authorities are gaining more influence through more direct investments in higher education. Increasingly, the introduction of competitive funding tools and national priority schemes is seen to be exerting an influence on the balance between, and sustainability of, research and teaching activities. On average, teaching has suffered more from funding cuts than have research activities. And in terms of specific fields and disciplines, the humanities and social sciences are facing budget cuts while the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) receive ongoing support. Meanwhile, the impacts of the economic crisis on private funding are difficult to gauge due to data gaps. However, diversification of funding sources, including but not limited to the introduction of tuition fees, will remain high on the agenda of European institutions which still rely mainly on public funding.
Looking toward Framework Programme 8, the EUA analysis undoubtedly stresses a call for cooperation among stakeholders at the European, national, and university level to foster financially sustainable universities in the European Higher Education Area (EHEA). Stakeholders at a recent public event to discuss the report raised key issues worth watching as this conversation moves forward, including the possibility of introducing matching funding schemes at the European level; the uncertain effects of oversimplifying funding schemes to increase competition among universities, both old and new; the benefits of full-cost funding from the European Commission perspective; and whether increased private funding could yield an overall increase in higher education funding.
EUA (full report)
EUA (abbreviated “monitoring report”)