When academics think of European Union funding, they often cite the European Commission's framework programmes, but another EU institution, the European Investment Bank, is playing an increasingly vital funding role.
The bank, which is independent of other EU bodies, raises money on international markets and is also bankrolled by member states and the EU.
It not only has huge financial clout, but it is also able to lend at low interest rates.
The EIB started to turn its monetary spigot towards education in 1997, and approvals now stand at €3 billion (£2 billion) a year across tertiary, secondary and primary education projects. Germany, Spain and Italy have been the biggest recipients of EIB largesse in higher education, although Britain has not done badly.
Over the past ten years, the EIB loaned German higher education €2.05 billion. Beneficiaries included universities and colleges in Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia, Saarland, Mecklenburg-Pomerania, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia, with dedicated single-institution loans expanding the International University, Bremen, the Berlin Academy of Arts, the universities of Heidelberg, Gottingen and Kiel and others.
Spanish higher education received €682.72 million, while Italy's universities secured €293.76 million in EIB loans.
Britain has had loans of €208.32 million since 1997, mostly funnelled through the Higher Education Funding Council for England, although Imperial College London borrowed €73.89 million to build student accommodation.
Four other UK higher education institutions are negotiating loans. One, which involves Bristol University borrowing up to £60 million to boost teaching and research facilities, passed bank approval procedures.
The bank ensures that a borrower is creditworthy and that it has clear investment strategies aimed at securing sustainable growth.
Stephen Wright, associate director, human capital, said: "We like to see an institution that has a strategic vision of where it wants to go."
This would not just include top research universities but also institutions with a regional teaching role. "We're not only about investing in a university such as Cambridge," he said.
More loans are being developed to help people into study. So far, only a tiny proportion has been allocated to intangible projects such as student loans.
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