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EU Funding for Universities


EUA’s “EU funding for universities” campaign is geared towards attaining improved funding conditions for universities at European level. Started in 2016, as the EU institutions embarked on a series of reviews and revisions of EU funding instruments and regulations important to universities, the campaign has notably allowed to streamline the narrative of underfunding of the Horizon 2020 programme. In 2018, the campaign focuses on achieving a decision in the EU’s post-2020 multiannual financial framework that is favourable to investment in Higher Education and Research & Innovation. EUA is specifically advocating for a higher budget for the 9th Framework Programme and Erasmus+ in comparison to the current period (2014-2020).

EUA’s advocacy is based on the results of its member consultation on Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+ and its previous policy position on the future Reaserch Framework Programme “From Vision to Action”. It also woven in with the current work on efficient university management in the framework of the USTREAM project and university autonomy with the updated EUA Autonomy Scorecard.

Activities in this campaign focus on two lines of argument:

  • Critical value of investment in Research & Innovation at EU and national level
  • Necessity to enhance efficiency and effectiveness, notably by implementing impactful simplification

Stepping up EU-level investment in Research & Innovation

National public authorities, and in particular Ministries of Finance must support higher investment in Research & Innovation at EU level. In the context of the negotiations on the next multiannual financial framework, they must be convinced of the added value of higher investment in this sector at both national and EU level.

EUA has developed material summarising the arguments in favour of EU-level Research & Innovation investment. The “Reasons to step up EU-level investment in Research & Innovation” are available as a two-pager and as separate individual postcards that can be used on social media. The material is being made available to National Rectors’ Conferences in a format that allows them to adapt to the needs of their national context.


EU_Investment_R&I_1.Value-for-money EU_Investment_R&I_2.Leverage

Donwload Reasons R&I investment:
One-pager (PDF)
Postcards (.zip folder)

Achieving impactful simplification

“Simplification” activities have a direct impact on universities, as the overarching objective is to achieve better rules for participation in the EU funding programmes.

EUA understands simplification as the achievement of a coherent set of rules, mindful of the diversity of actions and beneficiaries accommodated in a programme, and that ensures both high-quality processes and an effective use of resources.

EUA presents an outline of the challenges surrounding simplification in research and innovation and shares its perspectives and solutions for effective simplification in its paper “Taking simplification of EU funding to the next level: the university perspective(February 2018).

As a core recommendation, EUA advocates for a higher level of trust, which can be achieved through a wider acceptance of nationally-recognised practices in terms of audits, as well as in terms of accounting and management practices.

EUA argues for the wider acceptance of nationally recognised institutional management and accounting practices of beneficiaries as the most significant way to enhance efficiency and participation in the programme.

EUA’s work on simplification combines the feedback of universities via membership consultations and survey, the expertise of a pan-European pool of university practitioners and extensive work carried out by the Association on rules for participation throughout FP7 and Horizon 2020. EUA feeds this input to the European Commission and the European Court of Auditors in the framework of bilateral exchanges and expert groups.


Universities educate the future generation and the leaders of tomorrow, deliver cutting-edge research and develop solutions to current scientific and societal challenges. They are motors of economic recovery and play an important role in building our societies, transmitting cultural heritage and European values as well as fostering social inclusion and forging relations with other parts of the world.

Strong universities need sustainable and sufficient public funding, be it at national or at European level to be able to respond to the current challenges. Nevertheless, financial resources needed to sustain universities’ activities are scarce and competition for public funds is high. As EUA’s annual Public Funding Observatory shows, the level of public investment in universities is going down in many parts of Europe, and the divide between these countries and those that have kept investing is getting wider.

Strong links exist between national funding for universities and EU-level funding for research and innovation. Due to underfunding, the current EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation is extremely competitive, and universities from countries that increase public funding adequately tend to have better chances for success. More funding is needed at the EU level to improve the efficiency of the Framework Programme and at the national level to build the capacity of universities to compete and remain attractive for international networks.

The rationale and key arguments for increased European-level R&I funding are summarised in EUA’s paper “Ambitious funding for excellent research in Europe post-2020”.

The challenges surround simplification in R&I and proposals by EUA on simplification are summarised in EUA’s paper “Taking simplification of EU funding to the next level: the university perspective”

Pages from WEB_EU Funding Simplification Paper Visual 5

Download the publications:
Taking simplification of EU funding to the next level: the university perspective
Ambitious funding for excellent research in Europe post-2020


Policy makers at EU level should:

Guarantee sufficient funding for universities

  • Protect EU funding programmes important for universities, notably Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+ from further cuts.
  • Take account of the high participation rate of programmes such as H2020 and Erasmus+ and provide sufficient funding to their successors to allow the financing and implementation of relevant and high-quality projects and actions in the field of research and higher education.
  • Ensure an appropriate level and relation between appropriations and payments in the EU budget to avoid a payment backlog which harms universities, students and staff as beneficiaries of EU funding programmes. 

Ensure sustainable funding conditions

  • Sustain grant programmes for academic research and education instead of replacing subsidies by loan schemes, guarantee funds and other financial instruments as this is not suited to fund academic research.
  • Foresee an adequate cost coverage for EU funded projects in the field of research and education and do not decrease the current level of reimbursement.

Further simplify funding rules and implementation for beneficiaries

  • Provide a coherent funding framework and set of rules and ensure an adequate balance of flexibility and predictability as well as stability of rules and implementation.
  • Accept nationally recognised institutional management and accounting practices also for EU funded projects, in order to reduce the administrative burden for beneficiaries;
  • Make auditing procedures more efficient and avoid double-auditing of projects; e.g. through the acceptance of audit certificates from national level.

EUA’s activities in 2018 are based on the results of its member consultation on Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+, woven in with the current work on efficient university management in the framework of the USTREAM project and university autonomy with the updated EUA Autonomy Scorecard.

Winter 2017/18:

  • Setting up of the EUA Simplification group, composed of university practitioners with background in strategic development and governance, administration, finance and research support and experience in participation in EU funding programmes.
  • Invitation to EUA to represent the university sector in the European Commission’s expert group “Innovation in auditing research programmes” (first meetings held in February 2018)
  • SurveyNew forms of funding targeting simplification of the Framework Programme”, aiming to collect specific evidence on ways to further simplify and enhance the effectiveness of the EU Framework Programme, making the administration of projects less complex and costly in terms of resources spent. The survey is open until 16 February, 2018. The PDF copy of the questionnaire can be consulted here.
  • Expert meeting on simplification: in October, EUA convened a meeting to discuss the acceptance of institutional accounting practices in EU research funding with university managers, private funders, the European Commission and the European Court of Auditors. The EUA Simplification group was developed as a follow-up to this meeting.
  • Policy event “Excellence in research, innovation and education: The universities’ recommendations for an efficient and ambitious FP9” hosted by MEP Christian Ehler at the European Parliament, Brussels, 9 November 2017. The event will showcase the contribution of universities – the single largest group of participants to Horizon 2020 – to the solution of the grand technological and societal challenges and allow participants to discuss possible solutions to the several issues, including: What does ‘more EU investment in research’ mean in practice? How can funding instruments and processes be improved to ensure FP9 delivers in the most efficient way?

Milestones 2016-2017:

July 2017: the High-level Group on maximising impact of EU Research and Innovation Programmes, convened by the European Commission, issued recommendations for future investment in research and innovation. EUA responded to the report, welcoming the group’s conclusions on the need to prioritise research and innovation in both EU and national budgets and further simplify and optimise the EC’s research and innovation programmes.

June 2017EUA took part in a hearing of the European Parliament on the cost effectiveness of the Horizon 2020 programme, organised by the Committee for Budget Control. EUA was represented by its Vice-President Paul Boyle, who outlined EUA’s core messages for the enhanced simplification and efficiency of EU research funding.

May 2017: EUA released its position paper: “Ambitious funding for excellent research in Europe post-2020”, which focuses on the following point: the budget dedicated to supporting research and innovation must increase in order to effectively address the challenges at hand. So, where should the additional funds come from? The paper proposes several scenarios and analyses of what is needed to meet the objective of simple, sufficient and sustainable funding at EU level, and in particular how to foster efficiency in the system. EUA advocates for a quantitative and qualitative leap in EU research funding, and suggests to open a discussion on a possible ring-fencing or shift of funding for R&I from ESIF or other sources for a more ambitious and well-functioning research programme. 

March 2017: Joint campaign “a new momentum for the European Research Area”, highlighting the need to increase and improve the delivery of EU research funding.

December 2016: Release of the results of EUA’s membership consultation on Horizon 2020. This large-scale consultation provides the core principles for EUA’s advocacy towards FP9 and for its “EU funding” campaign. 

The consultation results regarding funding and modalities outline key priorities, including securing ambitious grant-based funding; enhancing programme efficiency and success rates; developing a strategic approach to efficiency and sustainability of research funding at European, national and institutional levels; improving cost coverage; enabling trust-based simplification and fostering EU funding synergies.

October 20163rd EUA Funding Forum, Porto, Portugal, and release of the EUA 2016 Public Funding Observatory

September 2016: University funding under pressure – a call for dialogue at European level, a joint event organised by EUA and the Permanent Representation of Austria to the EU, Brussels, Belgium.

July 2016: EUA presents its views at the European Parliament workshop on the mid-term review of the Financial Regulation (see presentation,  of the discussion, proceedings of the workshop)

June 2016An EUA review on one year of EFSI: No benefit for universities

May 2016EUA’s input to the revision of the EU’s Financial Regulation

EU Annual Budget

EUA monitors the annual EU budget procedure as it directly affects the sums allocated to important programmes for universities, including Horizon 2020, Erasmus +, structural funds, etc. While the overall figures are set for seven years via the Multiannual Financial Framework, the yearly allocation matters because significant shifts can be operated. Since the adoption of EFSI, this procedure is all the more relevant as the budget has to integrate the changes linked to EFSI (see above). EUA has pledged to pay particular attention as to how “unused margins” are reallocated to limit cuts to research funding and continues to work closely with the European Parliament on this issue.

European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI)

Horizon 2020 european research budget cut

A new tool proposed by the European Commission in 2014, EFSI is meant to overcome the current investment gap in the EU by mobilising private financing for strategic investments. To provide funding for this tool, the Commission proposed to shift significant resources away from Horizon 2020, the main research funding programme of the EU.

EUA carefully studied the proposal and rallied the university sector to protest against the planned cuts. It launched a multi-phase campaign, addressing all key stakeholders in cooperation with its member National Rectors’ Conferences. The campaign included a series of statements and newsletter articles, ensuring high visibility in the media; an analysis of the EFSI proposal summarised in a policy brief; contacts and meetings with high-level decision-makers, etc. An overview of these actions can be found here.

In June 2015 the EFSI regulation was fully adopted with notable changes, including the cancellation of the cuts foreseen for some of the actions of the Horizon 2020 programme, after the university and research stakeholders were heard by the different actors.

In June 2016, EUA published a review entitled “One year of EFSI: What's in it for universities? An EUA review”, and found that there seems to be no benefit for universities – even though the scheme was created with funds taken from Horizon 2020. To read the review, please click here.

In January 2017, EUA published the brief “EFSI and Horizon 2020: Efficiency and Opportunity Cost - An EUA Review”, analysing the key reviews and exploring the relationship between EFSI and Horizon 2020. The Association concluded that evidence on the first year of EFSI activities reveals worrying trends linked to the potentially overrated efficiency and effectiveness of public investment through this scheme, the lost opportunity for other key RDI programmes such as Horizon 2020 and multiple side effects including geographical imbalances in investment into regional development.

European University Association (EUA)

Brussels office:
Avenue de l’Yser, 24
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Tel: +32 (0) 2 230 55 44

Geneva office:
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