Invest “ambitiously” in universities, urge European governments

Around half of national university associations across Europe consider funding levels for higher education to be “insufficient”, according to a survey.

“Significant additional core funding is a real priority for the sector, especially in systems that have seen continuous years of under-investment coupled with an increase in student numbers,” reports the European University Association. Observatory of public funding 2021/2022based on a survey of 28 national associations.

The report cites the Republic of Ireland, where funding per student has fallen by 35% since 2008, as a particular source of concern, alongside the French-speaking community in Belgium, where tuition fees have fallen from €11,190 ( £9,343) per student in 2010 to €10,100 in 2020, while the number of students has increased by 20%.

“Sustainability and current levels of core funding are also a concern in Estonia, Finland, Scotland, Slovakia and Spain. In Estonia and Slovakia, this problem is particularly acute with regard to the financing of education and the low salaries of university teaching staff,” the report states.

Many survey respondents identified digitalization 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, forecast a decline.

Half of respondents expect competitive national funding to increase, with only Germany and Poland predicting a contraction.

Eighty-two percent of respondents expected income from European Union funding programs to increase or remain stable.

Meanwhile, just over a third of university associations expected an increase in tuition fees for international students, indicating renewed optimism about global student mobility after Covid-19.

Four sectors expected tuition fee revenues from domestic and EU students to decline over the next three years: Croatia, Scotland and Spain, which cited falling student numbers and 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 sectoral projections are “encouraging, marked by less uncertainty and worry compared to 2020”, European and national authorities “must consider ambitious long-term investments in higher education for a recovery sustainable post-pandemic economy”.

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

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Helen D. Jessen