University Post
University of Copenhagen
Independent of management


Cutbacks threaten Europe’s universities

Economic crisis and slashed university budgets have led to less autonomy and more paperwork, say lobbyists

Governments should increase, not decrease investment in Europe’s 5,000 universities in the wake of the economic crisis. This is according to the pan-European university lobbyists EUA based in Brussels.

The recommendation comes in its latest report, where the EUA has monitored the impact of the economic crisis on universities’ public funding, a major income source for most European universities.

Leading the cutbacks is Latvia, where an initial budget cut of nearly 50 pct. in the beginning of 2009 was followed by a further cut of 18 pct. in 2010 stemming from the recommendations of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Some have benefited, most lose

Other countries which have gone through heavy cuts include Italy with 10 pct. over 3 years, Estonia 10 pct. in 2010, Ireland with 9.4 pct. in 2010, and the UK with 6.6 pct. between 2010 and 2013.

»No direct cuts have so far been reported by the Nordic countries, including Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark, or by the Netherlands; despite accounts that universities across these countries face indirect impacts on their funding structure. In some cases increased student numbers have not been reflected in correspondingly higher budgets, which can put universities under financial pressure and affect their different activities,« the EUA writes.

Government funding has not been reduced throughout Europe, the EUA admits.

»Some countries have benefited from the extra funds offered through the stimulus packages at the beginning of the crisis, though these have not necessarily been used to relieve the effects on teaching and research,« the EUA writes.

Time-consuming applications

More insidious from the point of view of universities, is the move towards more targeted funding, which has given governments increasing steering power over universities. Universities have less autonomy, the EUA writes.

Funding authorities resort to competitive funding: This endangers universities’ finances, especially when competitive funding does not cover the full costs of an activity, requiring co-funding from other sources, the EUA warns.

»Adding to this uncertainty is also the threat of excessive fragmentation of funding sources, which, when combined with time-consuming application and reporting processes, can harm both the financial sustainability and autonomy of universities,« the EUA writes.