Impact of the Economic Crisis on European Universities

Across Europe, countries have implemented different policies and practices to deal with the economic crisis of 2007. Those policies and practices, in consequence, have different impacts on the higher education sector. Many reports by the European University Association (EUA) have presented such results.

Skrbinjek and Lesjak (2013), largely based on the EUA reports and with a special focus on the case of Slovenia, conducted a categorisation of European countries according to changes in public expenditure on tertiary education between 2008 and 2012 and according to investment in tertiary education in 2007 (as measured in % of GDP).

Table 1 below presents the results and distinguishes a total of 6 groups of countries which show complex and diverse responses to the crisis.

Table 1: Changes in tertiary education funding in European countries in 2008-2012

Changes in public expenditure on tertiary education (2008-2012)

Stable or increase Decrease

Public expenditure on tertiary education in 2007

High

(>1.3% of GDP)

Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden Iceland, Netherlands
Medium

(1.0-1.29% of GDP)

France, Germany, Switzerland Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Ireland, Lithuania, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia
Low

(<1.0% of GDP)

Poland, Slovakia Greece, Italy, Latvia, Spain, United Kingdom

Source: Skrbinjek and Lesjak (2013).

As shown in Table 1, 11 countries maintained or managed to increase the level of public expenditure on tertiary education between 2008 and 2012, while another 15 countries decreased the investment in the sector.

With the exception of Iceland, all of Nordic countries provided stable or increased funding for their tertiary sector over the period, and all of these countries have a high level of public expenditure on the sector. France, Germany and Switzerland, with a medium level of public expenditure on the sector, were also able to increase funding for their tertiary education sector. Poland and Slovakia were another two impressive countries.

During the period of 2008-2012, 12 out of 15 countries decreased public funding for tertiary education by more than 10% and the rest 3 countries up to 10%.

At first glance, it is hard to tell what impact does increasing or decreasing public expenditure on tertiary education have on the recovery of the national economy (see Table 1 in the previous blog: https://tionchar.wordpress.com/2016/03/14/recession-and-recovery-in-europe-where-ireland-stands/). Many countries which have reduced public expenditure on tertiary education were also able to make a strong recovery from the economic crisis.

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