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Public funding of higher education in Europe increasingly under threat

SALZBURG – The economic and financial crisis could lead to major divisions across Europe in terms of levels of public investment in higher education. This is the major concern that was expressed at the first Universities Funding Forum that took place at the University of Salzburg, Austria on 11 and 12 June.

More than 150 participants, mostly representatives of Higher Education Institutions, along with several different stakeholders’ representatives discussed the future of higher education funding. The event was organised by the European Universities Association (EUA). ESU was represented at the event by Brikena Xhomaqi, member of the Social Affairs Committee and Rok Primožic, member of the Executive Committee.

According to EUA’s monitoring of the economic crisis there is a widely divergent trends in public funding for higher education across the European continent and it says to see “worrying signs“ that higher education funding in many countries in eastern and southern Europe is more affected by the crisis than in many countries in northern and western Europe.

The first day of the event focused on the impact of the financial crisis. Representatives from Spanish, Czech and Irish universities illustrated how their universities are dealing with the crisis and the decrease in public funding. ESU representatives have been told that they have been working on diversification of income streams where there is an increase in private sources. Apart from finding new sources, there was a joint opinion that there is also room for improvement of the expenses with improving the management of resources and increasing the capacity of leadership in the universities.

A thematic session in the afternoon of the first day gave the participants the opportunity to further share their experience with adjusting to the cuts in public financing and discuss the diversifying of the income streams by showing several case studies.

The last day of the event was opened by a presentation from the perspective of the funders. Representatives of private companies and foundations have showed their views and expectations from the universities. One of the afternoon sessions was dedicated to students, which were surprisingly not mentioned often during the event. During the second day, ESU also had the chance to present some of the research outcomes of the Financing of the Students’ Future (FINST) project and pointed out the need for increasing public student support.


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