EUROPE: Spending cuts hit university budgets

The familiar challenges of funding and mobility - particularly in research - will dominate the agenda for European higher education in 2011. But this year will probably be much worse as public sector spending cuts bite into higher education budgets across the region.

No major legislative proposals from Brussels are expected and the focus is likely to be on the work of the European Universities Association, beginning with the publication in February of a new report on the financial sustainability of European higher education institutions - looking in particular at the issue of income diversification.

The EUA celebrates its 10th anniversary this year but where does it go from here? The association's annual conference, to be held at Aarhus University in Denmark from 13-15 April, will look at future priorities and the big milestones for EUA in the next decade. The theme for Aarhus is "talent development" which the EUA says is of high relevance for future competitiveness. More at:

In May, the EUA will publish its review of worldwide rankings and there will be a discussion of the way forward for doctoral education at the EUA-Council of Doctoral Education annual meeting at Madrid in June.

The European Quality Assurance Forum for Higher Education takes place in November. "This is the landmark event for all stakeholders working in quality assurance," said Andrew Miller, EUA deputy director of communications.

"A major new project has just been launched to look at whether there is a need to consider revising the European Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area."

But coping with leaner budgets is the overriding theme of virtually all higher education activity and this will be reflected in all EUA reports and conference themes, Miller said, notably in debates on the lifelong learning and mobility programmes, the next EC framework programme and the EC modernisation agenda.

What the economic crisis should not do is hit the budgets for research and innovation, said Professor Dr Kurt Deketelaere, Secretary-General of the League of European Research Universities (LERU).

"We must keep up and even increase the budget for R&I; we have the impression that this is lacking and hope that the R&I council meeting will emphasize this clearly," Deketelaere told University World News.

The league was also "a bit worried" about the limited attention on fundamental research in universities and their contribution to innovation, he said. Another priority was the setting up of European Innovation Partnerships: "We are curious how this is going to shape up and how coordination is not going to lead to overlap and confusion."
Deketelaere said the LERU was happy with the European Research Council and its selection of grantees but would like to see a serious increase in its financial support, and for research policy in general, while putting in place an improved governance.

On the question of a new research framework programme for the EU (FP8) he said "we want to see a good balance between bottom up and top down driven research, great efforts for simplification and a serious improvement of the accounting and accountability rules".

The league sought clear coordination between EU R&I policy and EU tax policy, social security policy, education policy and in particular regional and structural funds policies, Deketelaere said, while also stressing the importance of supporting R&I in central and eastern European universities.

From Brussels we can expect a report on progress toward EU objectives in education, with new benchmarks on employability and mobility, in mid-March and a communication on life-long learning in June-July, said Dennis Abbott, the European Commission's education spokesman.

There would be a communication on the modernisation of higher education in the third quarter of 2011. A feasibility report on setting up a multi-dimensional ranking system for universities would be issued in May, Abbott said.