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EUA’s first Funding Forum explores university responses to the economic crisis

22 June 2012

EUA held its first Forum dedicated to higher education funding at the University of Salzburg, Austria, from 11 to 12 June. The stakeholder platform, the first of its kind, brought together university leaders and managers, researchers, funders and policy makers from 33 countries to discuss a series of issues related to university funding.

Photo: LPB Franz NeumayrEUA President Helena Nazaré opened the Forum with the Austrian Minister for Science and Research Karlheinz Töchterle, State President Gabi Burgstaller and Rector of the University of Salzburg Heinrich Schmidinger. Professor Nazaré reminded policy makers of the importance of sustainable public funding for higher education and research, underlining that funding (for HE and research) should be seen as an investment rather than expenditure. She also urged participants to use the economic downturn as an opportunity to address long-term challenges.

During the two-day event, university leaders and funders exchanged perspectives and focused on how to improve relationships in the difficult present economic context. These discussions emphasised the need for enhanced cooperation within the sector in order to improve universities’ strategic positioning in the knowledge economy. Forum contributors also shed light on the impact of funding reforms on university management and in particular highlighted that the effects of the increasing focus placed on performance-based funding are still to be seen.

The Forum also showed clearly that universities are having to adapt profoundly to what will doubtless be long-term changes, at a time characterised by uncertainty. While many universities have seen public funding go down (see EUA’s update report of the Public Funding Observatory), regulation by public authorities has also been tightened in a number of countries, putting pressure on institutional strategies. Meanwhile, the discussions also underlined that the debate around ‘cost-sharing’ in higher education and tuition fees is also growing throughout Europe. While a number of models exist, they essentially depend on the provision of well-designed student support systems.

The Forum also explored how universities are using income diversification as a risk-mitigation measure. It was underlined that this should be accompanied by the necessary support for and development of internal management capacities, both in terms of governance structures and human resources. Diversification also requires attention to organisational matters as well as control of activities and cost structures. Identifying opportunities for cooperation and pooling resources within the sector was identified as a crucial element of strategic planning. Finally, it was also stressed that an increased focus on communication and quality allows universities to preserve and further strengthen their attractiveness to staff, students and funders.

The Forum’s General Rapporteur, Liviu Matei (Senior Vice-President and Chief Operating Officer of the Central European University, Budapest), called on participants, and more specifically public authorities at national and European level, to recognise the essential role of institutional leadership in the area of higher education funding. He recommended that public authorities promote and support initiatives aiming at training and reinforcing skills of university leaders, but also consider further investment in human resources at all levels of financial management as a priority.

EUA’s Funding Forum also clearly demonstrated the relevance of discussing higher education funding at European level, in the framework of the dynamics stimulated by the Bologna Process, the European Higher Education Area and the Europe 2020 Strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. Participants sent a strong message to policy makers that higher education funding policies should be designed, implemented, assessed and revised with the active participation of all key stakeholders.

EUA intends to take forward the rich outcomes of the Funding Forum in the near future, with the publication of a selection of contributions on the various topics addressed during the event. Presentations from the event are already available on EUA’s website.

The EUA Funding Forum is supported by the European Commission’s Lifelong Learning Programme.

Photo LPB Franz Neumayr: left to right Karlheinz Töchterle, Austrian Minister for Science and Research, Gabi Burgstaller, State President of the Land of Salzburg, Helena Nazaré, EUA President, and Heinrich Schmidinger, Rector of the University of Salzburg.

European University Association (EUA)

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