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The continuous monitoring of the effects of the economic crisis on higher education systems in Europe by the European University Association (EUA) (see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, July 2010) has resulted in more than just a telling map of budget cuts across Europe and a description of the different manners that the cuts have been performed. In a report released in June 2011 and an update on trends in higher education funding released in June this year, the EUA highlighted several worrisome systemic trends that are threatening the competitiveness and sustainability of European higher education. Notably, on one hand, teaching and learning activities have been most affected with direct cuts of public funding, student-staff ratios have increased, and academic offers and services have been reduced. On the other hand, the financial burden on the students (in terms of fees and loans) has increased markedly. While public funding for research activities has been protected in most countries, more competition has been introduced into the funding mechanisms whereas HEIs’ capacity to carry out research projects has been on the decline due to substantial cuts in capital spending.
Another worrisome systemic development is the widening rich-poor gap between different European regions. With the exception of Poland and Slovakia, the nine countries where there was an overall increase in public funding between 2008 and 2012 are located in the north or west of Europe. On the contrary, the 12 countries where there was an overall decrease of more than 10% in the same timeframe are located in the south and east of Europe, with the Netherlands, Ireland and Iceland being the exceptions. The EUA warns against further widening of such disparities in an increasingly competitive environment for European funding schemes, which require co-funding and much support in the preparatory phase. It calls for European governments to see higher education funding as an investment in Europe’s future rather than expenditure.
European University Association (2012 Public Funding Observatory update)
European University Association (Public Funding Observatory)