Trends for Public Funding of Universities in Europe

November 9, 2015

A new European University Association report on trends in public funding for higher education systems across the continent finds diverging trends, with projected year-over-year increases in public funding for 10 of the university systems studied (the French-speaking community of Belgium, Hungary, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Sweden) and decreases in another 9 (Croatia, the Czech Republic, Flanders in Belgium, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Serbia, Spain and the United Kingdom). Public higher education funding in Austria was flat from 2014 to 2015.

In Norway, a 10-year plan is providing resources for university infrastructure, and there is increased funding to support greater numbers of doctoral candidates. Ireland, on the other hand, "illustrates particularly well the type of pressures universities are increasingly operating under. The recurrent grant per student has been diminishing continuously in the last years, and research funds have progressively been shifted towards competitive funding schemes."

"A series of countries show different types of trajectories; on the one hand Iceland and Latvia, for instance, have faced a major drop in funding at the beginning of the period, which an upward trajectory since then has only marginally corrected," the report states. "On the other hand, Portugal has technically compensated the cuts of 2012 and 2013 in 2014 and continues on an upward trend. Hungary is an extreme case, with very large cuts in the system that seem to have stopped last year and a positive outlook for 2015. There is however much to be done to restore funding anywhere close to its 2008 level."

The EUA report also notes “worrying signals” regarding funding trends in the north, specifically in Denmark and Finland: “Worryingly, countries that have so far shown comparatively high levels of investments, and stable or positive funding trajectories, have reported serious concerns regarding current and upcoming funding, although figures have not been fully disclosed yet,” the report states. The EUA report also describes a trend toward performance-based funding, in which universities are rewarded for specific outputs (in terms of graduates or research grants, for example) rather than just their inputs (such as student enrollments).

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