Data check: Austerity and European universities

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New data from the Times Higher Education explores the impact of austerity on European universities. Their analysis of finances and student numbers from 2008-2013 paints a fascinating picture of the different paths taken by countries struggling with the need to accommodate increased student demand and the long hangover of the Great Recession.

In all nine countries surveyed, student numbers continue to expand. However, public funding charts a far more variable course. Some jurisdictions have managed significant increases in public investment, while others have imposed deep cuts:

Growth countries

  • Sweden has increased funding by 23 per cent, while student numbers rose by 7.6 per cent.
  • Norway also increased funding by 23 per cent, and saw a jump of 17 per cent in student numbers
  • Germany rounds out the club of 23 per centers, and saw enrolment boom by 34 per cent.

Modest cut countries

  • Funding dropped by 0.6 per cent in the Netherlands, while student enrolment increased by 13 per cent.
  • Spain cut funding by 15 per cent, and saw a small increase in student numbers – five per cent.

Deep cut countries

  • In England, funding for higher education fell by 35 per cent while enrolment climbed by nine per cent. The huge loss in public revenue was largely offset by a significant increase in tuition fees.
  • Ireland also saw a 35 per cent drop in funding, and a 19 per cent increase in enrolment. Modest tuition fee increases have not filled the gap.
  • In Hungary, funding dropped by 46 per cent while enrolment grew by 15 per cent. These cuts prompted student protests in 2012.
  • Funding in Greece has plummeted by 54 per cent, while enrolment has climbed by 11 per cent.

The impact of these funding changes have not been explored in depth. However, as student demand continues to rise, countries that cut funding to higher education will have a hard time maintaining a high-quality educational experience in the absence of new revenue. So, they will either have to charge their students high fees (as in England), or see their institutions lose ground to Sweden, Norway, and Germany.

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