Invest ‘ambitiously’ in universities, European governments urged

Survey suggests half of national associations consider higher education funding to be insufficient

February 25, 2022
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About half of national university associations across Europe consider higher education funding levels to be “insufficient”, according to a survey.

“Significant additional core funding is a real priority for the sector, especially in those systems that have witnessed continuous years of underinvestment coupled with increasing student numbers,” reports the European University Association’s Public Funding Observatory 2021/2022, based on a survey completed by 28 national associations.

The report lists the Republic of Ireland, where funding per student has declined by 35 per cent since 2008, as a particular cause for concern, alongside Belgium’s French-speaking community, where tuition fees have declined from €11,190 (£9,343) per student in 2010 to €10,100 in 2020, while student numbers increased by 20 per cent.

“The sustainability and current levels of core funding are also a concern in Estonia, Finland, Scotland, Slovakia and Spain. In Estonia and Slovakia, this issue is particularly acute regarding funding for teaching and the low salaries of the academic teaching staff,” the report says.

Many survey respondents identified digitisation as a priority area for investment, following the rapid shift to online learning during the coronavirus pandemic.

Overall, three-quarters of respondents believed that core national public funding for higher education would increase or remain stable over the next three years. Six sectors, including Hungary, Norway and Scotland, predicted a decrease.

Half of respondents expected an increase in competitive national funding, with only Germany and Poland foreseeing shrinkage.

Eighty-two per cent of respondents expected revenues from European Union funding programmes to increase or remain stable.

Meanwhile, just over a third of university associations expected tuition fees from international students to increase, indicating revived optimism about global student mobility following Covid-19.

Four sectors expected tuition fee income from domestic and EU students to decline in the next three years: Croatia, Scotland and Spain, which cited falling student numbers and the reduced value of tuition fees, and Romania, due to shrinking cohorts and the pandemic limiting applicants’ ability to cover their tuition fees.

The report concludes that while sector projections are “encouraging, marked by less uncertainty and concern compared to 2020”, European and national authorities “must consider long-term ambitious investments in higher education for a sustainable post-pandemic economic recovery”.

“To move towards a sustainable post-pandemic recovery, governments must invest ambitiously in higher education and support the sector in its key role in the green and digital transitions,” said Thomas Estermann, director of governance, funding and public policy development at the EUA.

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