The European University Association (EUA) has published the 2014 analysis from the Public Funding Observatory. The report examines latest developments (2013-2014) regarding public funding of universities in Europe, as well as devlopments since 2008.
The report is based on data that the EUA has been collecting since 2008, the data is reported by National Rectors Conferences. Currently, the report includes 28 countries/regions in Europe. The report highlights some clear patterns in public funding.
For the most recent developments (2013-2014) data is provided for 19 countries. When corrections for inflation are taken into account, it is about as many countries where funding has been increased (7), than those where it has decreased (8) regarding the latest developments. Another 4 countries experience a stable funding situation (+/- 1%). When the change is adjusted for inflation, two countries show increase over 5% – Poland and Portugal. In both countries, public funding until this year has decreased. In Portugal, this is the first increase since 2010.
The decrease has been more than 10% (after adjustment for inflation) in three countries – Greece, Lithuania and United Kingdom. For Greece this is a rather drastic situation as public funding has been almost halved since 2008. The cuts in UK have not been as drastic, but have also shown a clear downward trend since the peak in 2010. For Lithuania, the funding levels have also been decreasing since 2008, and the cut this year was substantial.
Looking at the overall trends between 2008 and 2014, three countries have experienced an increase of public gunding that is between 20 and 40%, this is Denmark, Norway and Sweden. Furthermore, the countries where the increase has been over 5% include Poland, Austria and the Belgium (French community).
There are also some notable exceptions to the overall trends between 2008-2013. For instance, after a steady decline from 2008, Portugal now shows signs of increasing the budget, and the same goes also for Hungary. In Hungary, the inflation adjusted change between 2008-2013 has been a 47% reduction in public funding. As such, this years increase marks a stop in a clear downward trend that has been continuous since 2008.
What the report shows is that there is no one clear pattern in terms of public funding developments – while a number of countries show indeed critical reductions in public funding, this is not applicable to the whole of Europe. There appear to be varied focus in terms of student fees, for instance, with Germany abolishing fees and UK continuing the policy of high fees. The report also highlights the point of public funding being in “a state of flux” and that there appears to be an increasing disparity between countries where public funding is being increased and those where it has been substantially decreased. The report raises concerns regarding the assumptions that universities in countries with decreasing public funding should supplement their budgets with increased research funding from EU programmes.
These developments point towards the difficulties of “one size fits all” kind of thinking regarding higher education in Europe. Despite a number of common concerns that are often identified in policy debates, the reform trajectories i European countries seem to be taking rather different paths. While some of this can be attributed to the consequences of the economic crisis, this definitely does not explain all of these trends.