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Report from EUA's 2nd Funding Forum: ‘Strategies for efficient funding of universities’

17 October 2014

Hosted by the University of Bergamo in Italy, from 9 to 10 October, EUA's 2nd Funding Forum gathered around 250 participants from 35 countries. University leaders and managers, researchers, representatives of student bodies, public authorities and private-sector partners came together to discuss and debate “strategies for efficient funding of universities”.

Photo © G.V. FrauOn the first morning, four university leaders engaged in the EUA-led DEFINE project* took part in a lively panel discussion which focused on dialogue between universities and policy makers. There was agreement that there was increased interest in universities from public authorities and that universities should take advantage of this by proactively making proposals with regard to the “tools” that should be used to further enhance universities’ contribution to society and the economy. The long-term vision that emerged from the discussion was that of innovative, pluridisciplinary rather than specialised institutions.

The findings of the ongoing DEFINE project, exploring strategies for efficient funding of higher education in Europe, informed the debates on a series of topics linked to university funding and governance. Particular attention was given to the question of “performance-based funding”, and the different understandings of this notion throughout Europe, as well as the types of mechanisms in place. Participants were also presented with research on funding formulae and the impact of various indicators on university performance.

The trend to concentrate funding and reward performance, which can lead to the development of a certain vertical differentiation in the system, was also noticeable from the interventions of speakers from countries that have set up mechanisms providing funding for excellence (so-called “excellence schemes”). A number of questions were raised in this regard, notably in relation to the cost and sustainability of these schemes, as well as the cost for beneficiary institutions, and finally the opportunity to embed such initiatives within the broader funding framework.

A third stream of the event explored the ongoing trend, in several European countries, of university merger and concentration processes. The different case studies and interventions on the topic highlighted once again the diversity of cases and sometimes a high degree of innovation in the field. The inspirational role of the institutions’ leadership in large-scale structural changes was another important element of the discussions and a specific dedicated session during the Forum. 

In a difficult economic context for many European countries, as revealed by the latest update of EUA’s Public Funding Observatory, participants also exchanged views on the impact of austerity policies on universities and how they could respond; examples of efficiency strategies at national level, coordinated by national university associations, showed that the sector could be proactive and help restructure the regulatory frameworks it operates in. Attention was also given to the need for universities to diversify their income streams; in this context participants highlighted that cost-sharing models should exclusively be considered in a holistic way, fully including student support mechanisms.

The findings from the DEFINE project will be published in the coming months in three separate thematic reports.

The presentations given at the Forum are available here. A full report, authored by general rapporteur Liviu Matei, will be made available shortly on the Forum website. 

The DEFINE project is run by EUA in collaboration with CIPES, the Centre for Research in Higher Education Policies (Portugal), and the Universities of Oxford (UK), Aalto (Finland) and Erlangen-Nuremberg (Germany), and the Copenhagen Business School (Denmark). It is co-funded by the European Commission under the Lifelong Learning Programme (2012). 

Photo © G.V. Frau

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