EU structural fund ‘not working’: EUA director

Loan system is not bringing industry and academics together, says Thomas Estermann

October 10, 2016
Map of Europe
Source: iStock

The controversial investment fund that was created using money diverted from the European Commission’s research and innovation programme is not working.

This is the view of Thomas Estermann, director for governance, funding and public policy at the European University Association, who added that the majority of universities in Europe are not able to take out loans from the European Fund for Strategic Investment.

The money would be better spent in established research funding programmes where policymakers understand the return on their investment, he said.

But the European Investment Bank, which manages EFSI, said that it is “committed” to supporting higher education investment in Europe and strengthening research.

EFSI was established shortly after Jean-Claude Juncker became president of the European Commission. The fund was created with the help of €2.2 billion (£1.94 billion) originally earmarked for Horizon 2020, the Commission’s research and innovation funding programme, much to the outrage of universities in Europe.

The Commission recently pledged to double the duration and value of EFSI, which offers loans to support high-risk innovative projects.

But according to Mr Estermann many universities across Europe cannot draw down finance from EFSI because they are not allowed to borrow money, making it “very clear this is not a fund for the university sector”.

The EUA’s Autonomy Scorecard, which looks at higher education autonomy in 29 European systems, says that institutions in 16 parts of Europe can borrow money only under very strict conditions, and in seven areas it is prohibited.

Mr Estermann said that even if institutions could borrow money, the pressure that many higher education systems are under means that they would not be in a situation to take a loan to fund a risky project.

The scheme just “does not take into account” the current situation in Europe, he told Times Higher Education.

Mr Estermann said that only a handful of institutions have so far taken part in EFSI, despite its being marketed as a tool to bring universities and businesses together.

“Other grant funding schemes have done this much better,” he said. Horizon 2020 is highly attractive to university researchers and has shown it can trigger “fantastic” results, he explained.

“We have all the information from previous programmes where you can show that every euro that gets invested gets multiplied 13 times in the business sector,” he said.

A spokesman for the EIB said: “The European Investment Bank Group is committed to supporting higher-education investment across Europe and strengthening research, encouraging student mobility and unlocking investment in new campus facilities.”

He added that there were examples of EFSI investment helping higher education, including researchers in Greece and “life science innovation” in Ireland.

“We cannot comment on claims that EFSI has diverted resources within the European budget or led to cuts in European Commission grants for fundamental research,” the spokesman said.

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most Commented

Laurel and Hardy sawing a plank of wood

Working with other academics can be tricky so follow some key rules, say Kevin O'Gorman and Robert MacIntosh

Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford will host a homeopathy conference next month

Charity says Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford is ‘naive’ to hire out its premises for event

women leapfrog. Vintage

Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O’Gorman offer advice on climbing the career ladder

Woman pulling blind down over an eye
Liz Morrish reflects on why she chose to tackle the failings of the neoliberal academy from the outside
White cliffs of Dover

From Australia to Singapore, David Matthews and John Elmes weigh the pros and cons of likely destinations