Europe’s economic crisis threatens continental rift

The economic crisis in Europe could open up a major divide in university funding across the Continent, the European University Association has warned.

June 13, 2012

An audit of national spending on research and teaching during the financial crisis, presented at the EUA Funding Forum in Salzburg, Austria, on 12 June, showed vastly different trends.

Monitoring by the EUA’s Public Funding Observatory found that Austria, France, Germany and Switzerland increased their spending on research and teaching between 2008 and 2012, as did Denmark, Norway, Poland, Slovakia and Sweden.

Meanwhile many countries in the south and the east of the Continent cut their budgets by more than 10 per cent, said EUA programme manager Enora Bennetot Pruvot, who presented the figures at the forum.

The Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Portugal and Spain all made significant cuts to spending. Budgets in Ireland and the Netherlands were likewise reduced.

Universities in Latvia suffered cuts of 57 per cent between 2008 and 2010; those in Portugal saw spending fall by 22 per cent between 2011 and 2012, she added.

The EUA’s monitoring found that Croatia and Estonia made smaller cuts, while Belgium and Finland kept their budgets roughly stable. Figures for the UK were not included in the main analysis.

The figures revealed “worrying signs” that the economic crisis was affecting higher education in the countries of eastern and southern Europe more severely than those in the rest of the Continent, the association said.

Given the already low levels of public investment in many of these nations, the growing gulf posed the risk of “creating deep divisions across Europe” and a brain drain of talent across borders, the EUA said.

It went on to warn that universities in regions where investment has declined could find it harder to boost funding through European sources such as the Framework Programme for research and its follow-up from 2014, Horizon 2020, because those schemes often work on the principle of co-funding with institutions.

The EUA research also showed that although universities have been affected very differently across Europe, no national higher education system has been unscathed.

According to the EUA, even in countries that have suffered little from cuts, universities face a range of other pressures that are causing difficulties.

In Germany, a rise in the number of students meant that although total spending had risen, funding per student was stagnating or decreasing.

Part of Poland’s increase in spending was cancelled out by inflation, and governments in Slovakia and the UK had cut capital expenditure significantly, it added.

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