European perspectives on university funding

I just came back from the second Funding Forum organized by the European University Association and hosted by the University of Bergamo, Italy. I want to share with you some of the perspectives being brought up there. The Forum went down on the 9th and 10th of October, so we were bringing with us the fresh news regarding the suggestions for the Norwegian National Budget for 2015. For our reactions to the budget and the effects for NMBU, check the NMBU website.

The main theme of the Forum were the trends in the public funding of higher education and research in Europe. The EUA’s Thomas Estermann presented the findings of the DEFINE project, assessing the effect of performance-based funding, mergers and concentration processes, as well as impact of funding for excellence schemes. Presenters emphasised the importance of universities as cornerstones in society, key to Europe’s ability to evolve and tackle the economic crisis, as well as facing the grand global challenges. Are the trends in funding schemes enabling Universities and strengthening them in these crucial roles? University leaders shared their experiences and the findings causing vivid discussions.

There are a range of different funding schemes present in Europe, and large differences in current public investments in the University sector. Several countries have experienced severe cuts in University funding, whilst others, among them Norway, are still investing. Most Universities have a diversity of sources for funding of which a varying proportion is performance based. Tuition fees as a source of income were also discussed, and it was noted that Germany has decided not to charge tuition fees any longer, whilst the Norwegian government’s decision to start charging fees caused some surprise.

A valuable overview of the trends in university funding revealed in the latest report from the Public Funding Observatory, was given in a presentation by EUA’s Enora Benettot Pruvot, which can be found here. I’ll also post here a link to the full programme, as you can find all the presentations from the different sessions there.

The presentations and discussions made clear that education and research are considered as key sources of development and innovation for Europe. The need for strong dialogue with politicians was stressed, as well as seeing university funding as investments not costs to society. Emerging funding for excellence schemes can provide the necessary platforms for long term research efforts and blue sky research. Other key points were multidisciplinary advantage and the need for knowledge transfer for the development of a competitive economy.

All in all, the Forum provided interesting perspectives to the future debate regarding university funding in Norway, and to how our system compares with other European systems. As the Norwegian government aims for excellence in Norwegian research and education, and as current merging initiatives unveil, there are valuable lessons to learn from Europe.





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