Europe's Economic Crisis Hits Universities ; Schools Report Pressure to Raise Tuition, Cut Costs and Stress Job Training

By Schuetze, Christopher F | International Herald Tribune, November 26, 2012 | Go to article overview

Europe's Economic Crisis Hits Universities ; Schools Report Pressure to Raise Tuition, Cut Costs and Stress Job Training


Schuetze, Christopher F, International Herald Tribune


Resources are being shifted from teaching to research, and training for jobs is getting more emphasis.

St. Patrick's College, Drumcondra, Ireland, has been training teachers for more than 135 years, for the past two decades as an autonomous college of Dublin City University. But in September, it received a letter saying that it would become a much more integral part of the university.

Such proposed mergers between teaching colleges and universities are part of a government plan to allow the Irish higher education system to educate more people better with less money.

"There was need for changes anyway, but obviously now working against a background diminished resources, it brings an urgency," said Malcolm Byrne, a representative of the higher education authority.

The Irish changes are part of a larger trend of cost-cutting and reorganization that has drawn student protests across the Continent, as European countries try to balance a largely socialized, affordable higher education system against budget constraints.

Despite heavy rains, several thousand students protested against tuition increases and divestment in higher education Wednesday in London, according to organizers. Students, who are among the first group to feel the brunt of cuts, have taken their frustration to the streets and campuses.

"A lot of students are protesting how the crisis is affecting both government policy and individual students' life," said Taina Moisander, an official of the European Students' Union.

Earlier this month, the president of the Union of Students in Ireland was arrested when he refused to take his seat in the visitors' gallery during a debate about college fees and grant at the Dail, the lower house of the Irish Parliament, The Irish Independent reported.

The London protest took place a day before European leaders arrived in Brussels last Thursday for a summit meeting, where they would try to hash out a seven-year budget.

E.U. representatives also gathered earlier this month for the first meeting to report on the implementation of the Bologna Process, an effort to make education qualifications and standards compatible across national borders.

But university systems vary vastly across the Continent. As funding depends on individual national and state budgets, the crisis has affected each place differently.

Ireland is one of 11 European countries -- along with other hard- hit economies like Greece, Iceland, Italy, Portugal and Spain -- whose higher-education funding has decreased more than 10 percent during the financial crisis, according to a report released by the European University Association.

But, perhaps surprisingly, the report found that nine countries - - notably France, Germany and Switzerland -- had seen overall increases in education funding. Scandinavian nations either had more funds or held steady.

The highest-profile cuts have taken place in Britain, where the tuition fee cap for local and E.U. students rose to Pounds 9,000, or $14,350, a year, making British universities the most expensive in Europe and the third most expensive in the world, after those in the United States and South Korea, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the association of free- market democracies.

This month, a group of academics and intellectuals formed the new Council for the Defense of British Universities to oppose these moves.

Higher fees are only one concern. Academics are also worried that funding will be focused on certain types of research, and that less tangible aspects of education -- like good teachers who connect with students -- will no longer be a priority.

"On the teaching side of things, there has simply been a shift on where the money comes from," said Chris Hale of Universities UK, another British advocacy group.

Thomas Estermann, the head of Governance, Autonomy and Funding at the European University Association, said, "Many governments put an increasing pressure on institutions to deliver certain tasks in very efficient ways. …

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