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The impact of European ‘excellence’ funding schemes on universities

Funding schemes that have as their main objective the fostering of excellence in the university sector are being increasingly introduced in different European countries. On 12 December the European Universities Association (EUA) published a new report Funding for excellence, which examines the impact of ‘excellence’ funding schemes on universities and includes a series of project recommendations for policy makers and higher education institutions. The report is part of the DEFINE project, which aims to analyse the impact of funding efficiency measures on universities. 

The report begins by looking at the characteristics, rationales and objectives behind the development of the many schemes that have been introduced in Europe. Whilst the aims of excellence schemes may include, for example, enhancing international visibility or competitiveness, improving research and/or teaching quality, it is noted that there is also often an ambition behind such schemes to enhance funding efficiency. The report explains that it is important that excellence schemes should not be considered in isolation from the overall funding framework of the system, and should represent additional funding for universities, without taking away basic funding granted to universities.

In terms of the impact of such schemes on universities, the report finds that large-scale initiatives (such as the ones in Germany, France and Spain) can act as a driver for ‘institutional profiling’ but there is also evidence of the impact on institutional governance and organisational restructuring. Institutions participating in such schemes can benefit for example from enhanced visibility and recruitment of high quality staff, contributing to raising the quality of research. The report also shows the need to preserve an adequate balance between research and education and the different academic disciplines. However, given that the timescale of excellence schemes is often limited, the report also highlights that funders should establish an ‘exit strategy’ to ensure the sustainability of the outcomes achieved in the system when the scheme is brought to an end.

Read the full report: EUA