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European education faces budget cuts

Posted by Bert Maes on February 15, 2010

The global economic crisis has led to budget cuts in the education sector in member states across the European Union at a time when the bloc is seeking to boost its economy by, among other things, putting education at the centre of its new economic strategy.

Spanish education minister Angel Gabilondo, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency, has called for education to be “at the heart” of the European Union’s 2020 Strategy – a 10n-year programme to boost the European economy. The strategy is to replace the Lisbon Agenda, expiring this year, and is due to be signed off by EU leaders in June.

However, European economies badly hit by the world financial crisis are cutting back on public funds for their education sector or demanding more for the same amount, leading to academic staff lay-offs and a decline in teaching standards.

The academic community across the bloc has responded with a storm of protest and called for meetings to discuss financing for Europe’s higher education sector now and beyond the financial crisis.


  • Latvia, suffering the deepest economic crisis in the EU, has faced severe budget cuts to the country’s 34 higher education institutions, with a threatened 50 percent cutback to the planned higher education budget for this year.
  • Hungary, Italy, Lithuania and Poland are either having or are facing budget cuts, while in Austria previous promises to increase public funding have been discarded due to the crisis. Irish universities had a reduction of six percent in funding last year with a further 10 percent cutback for this year’s budget.
  • Even though funds have not been touched in the richer Nordic countries, they have been asked to do more with the same amount of money.


  • Other member states have decided to meet the crisis with more investment into the higher education sector. France has increased its public funding of universities in relation to previous years while Spain has increased scholarships.
  • Germany has created economic stimulus packages and the UK has set up a €71 million “Economic Challenge Investment Fund” to enable universities to respond rapidly to the needs of employers and individuals during the crisis. However, England alone is facing budgets cuts of over €500 million for the 2010/11 academic year.

Some see the financial crisis as a chance for higher education in Europe to increase private funding. “The …economic crisis …is an excellent opportunity for a paradigm shift all over Europe to promote excellence together with emancipation of the new Europeans in universities,” argues Jo Ritzen in her upcoming book A Chance for European Universities. The finance for universities needs to be rebalanced so that the public budget cuts of the past decades can be met by private sources.

However, Thomas Estermann from the European University Association (EUA), warns that public funding should not be replaced with private supply. “Private funding or other funding can never replace public funding,” he said, arguing that public funding is essential to guarantee continuity in research and innovation activities across Europe.

Andreas Schleicher, an education advisor at the OECD, argues European governments could create big economic benefits if they committed themselves more deeply to education-related spending, saying that studies show that investment in education yields strong economic and social benefits.

2010 will be a key year for education.




I see, especially now, that today’s government strategy is about making smarter, more efficient public sector investments. Governments have rapid increases in spending. They are under pressure to deliver social services at lower cost. So they ask bigger contributions from the private sector and business firms.

I understand that completely. BUT those governments should not just sit back and wait for the private companies to improve and modernize the country’s education system. It’s in interest of all parties – individuals, private and public employers, the education sector and governmentsto raise quality, raise attractiveness, access and openness, to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world.

I believe governments should listen to those few companies that have a well though-out program (such as Haas Automation with the Haas Technical Education Center project) that is actually supporting and changing schools with a serious private capital investment into public education.

After all: combinedinvestments in education yields strong economic and social benefits.


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