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Horizon 2020: Funding rules are crucial for sustainability of Europe’s universities

June 14, 2013

The latest edition of EUA’s public funding observatory highlights that in countries where cuts are taking place, funding for infrastructure has been one of the most affected areas and it is likely that this trend continues. Ageing facilities and equipment will necessarily trigger increasing costs for institutions and deteriorate teaching and research environments.

It is therefore of crucial importance for the financial sustainability of Europe’s universities that, in addition to national funding schemes, the future European funding programmes, in particular the Horizon 2020 programme currently being negotiated at EU-level in the “trilogue” negotiations, provide funding rules that cover the costs for university research infrastructure in an adequate way.

EUA understands that an important element of the trilogue discussions next week are the proposed “guidelines” circulated by the European Commission on how to cover costs for infrastructure in their proposed flat rate model. Taking account of the costs for infrastructure is indeed an important issue for the financial sustainability and competitiveness of Europe’s universities.

According to EUA’s evaluation the guidelines recently circulated by the European Commission would not offer any new possibilities for direct costing of infrastructure related expenditures already possible in FP7. They require that the costs of equipment or infrastructure that are not exclusively used for a Horizon 2020 project need to be individually measured without allowing cost drivers. This would often require an enormous additional administrative effort and new control and time recording systems (instead of accepting costing methodologies that are already in place in a number of universities across Europe and supporting further development), which would trigger more costs and certainly more bureaucracy. This would furthermore increase the potential for error and thus the risk for beneficiaries that costs might not be covered due to a rejection by an auditor.

EUA believes, therefore, that the option for reimbursement (of research costs) based on full costing methodologies – which has been initiated in the current FP7 Research Framework programme – should be continued in the Horizon 2020 programme. Furthermore, they should also be strengthened by taking into account universities’ usual accounting practices.

EUA’s call for retaining a reimbursement option based on full costing methodologies, in addition to the proposed “flat rate” model, was echoed in a statement this week from the German Rectors’ Conference.

EUA hopes that the “Trilogue” negotiations between the European Parliament, Council and Commission, that are due to take place next week, will take account of the broader funding developments in Europe and that a compromise will be reached soon which would allow universities that are able to identify their full costs to be reimbursed on such a basis

EUA’s Public Funding Observatory can be viewed here.