Public funding for UK higher education as a proportion of national income, after coalition reforms, is now greater than just four other European nations, a report claims.
The study by the European University Association also finds that the global recession has forced most of the continent’s governments to cut the share of gross domestic product spent on universities.
According to the report, which analyses university public funding from 2008 to 2013, the percentage of GDP spent on higher education has declined in 10 countries and increased in eight. Countries in Southern and Eastern Europe are generally cutting and Scandinavian and Northern European nations are generally increasing investment.
The UK (minus Scotland and Northern Ireland) and Norway are the exceptions in the latter group. However, the EUA’s Public Funding Observatory (Spring 2013) notes that in Norway’s case this is because its rapidly expanding economy grew even faster than healthy investment in higher education.
In 2011, the UK spent 0.62 per cent of its GDP on public higher education, a slight rise on 2008. But in the next two years this fell to 0.46 per cent, better than only Hungary, Italy, Portugal and Greece, as the coalition began to phase out teaching grant for most subjects.
The figures – taken from EUA research – do not include private funding such as tuition fees, and the coalition has argued that charges of up to £9,000 a year, introduced in 2012-13, will make up for the loss in state grant.
Greece suffered the heaviest cuts during the period: 43 per cent over five years before inflation.
Universities are turning to European Union research or structural funds, the report says, but it warns that these “are not meant to provide substitutes for national funding”.