International Educator - May/June 2012 - 56
me to be in a slightly safer position. I can combine my access in Portugal and in Germany,” Outeiro says. [See more details on the situation in Portugal on page 70.] Europe’s ongoing financial crisis is rippling through European higher education in a wave of painful belt tightenings, reforms, and reflections by administrators, professors, and students upon how best to navigate an era of less. The mission for the countries of the European Union has been to forge a common economic, political, and social destiny. But when it comes to higher education, students and educators in European states that are smaller, weaker, or less structurally robust, such as Portugal, are finding that a historic recession has intensified the challenges they have faced in higher education. And efforts toward European integration notwithstanding, they are finding those challenges remain very much their own to confront. Overall, at least 12 European national governments, which generally fund the bulk of higher education in their educational systems, cut higher education funding substantially or drastically (at least five percent) as of first quarter of 2011, according to the European University Association. That was the latest data tracked and came before Portugal’s cuts were announced. At least 10 other countries reported indirect or moderate cuts, or curtailed previous education funding commitments. Those are cuts in a continent that already spends less on a per capita basis on higher education than does the United States at the federal and state level, notwithstanding the primary responsibility of the European nation states for higher education funding, unlike the United States, where student tuition, philanthropy, and proceeds from existing endowments form much larger segments of the higher education funding mix. The situation is slightly brighter on the research front, where the European Union has extended large amounts of research grants, but even there many academics say such funding is insufficient to offset national cuts from funding levels that were relatively low to begin with. The cuts also come despite protestations by international educational experts that if government spending must be decreased in response to the crisis, higher education is not the place to make cuts. “We say, ‘please make sure you continue to invest in the future and take the side of investment as opposed to austerity,’ ” says Dirk Van Damme, head of the Centre for Education Research and Innovation at the Directorate of Education of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). “It’s very important to accelerate growth, and to do that you have to invest in innovation and have high levels of human capital because there are few other sources of future growth.” The continent’s stronger economic performers, like Germany and France, have weathered the storm relatively
well, with large recent increases in higher education funding and no major cuts. In contrast, smaller and historically less developed countries with financial cost overruns, bubbles, or ongoing educational structural challenges, including countries such as Greece, Ireland, and Portugal, have been particularly affected. Of late, major Eurozone economy Italy has joined the list of countries of greatest economic and higher education concern. A look at how the economic crisis affects the educational systems of those four countries provides a snapshot of some of the crisis’s deepest impacts upon the continent.
The economic crisis has multiple origins. It partly reflects the global malaise that is also impacting the United States economy and its higher education institutions. But there are also very specific causes in each European country that have exacerbated the crisis. In Greece, it was overspending, corruption, tax evasion, and financial mismanagement. In Ireland, it was throwing too much money at various sectors, a real estate bubble and related bank default, and a very small country’s vulnerability to EU and global vicissitudes. In Italy and Portugal, factors include low growth, oversize public sectors, and high debt. In all four countries, major cuts have either flowed down, or are expected to soon flow down, to the higher educational systems through public employee wage reductions, employment caps, education budget cuts, and consolidations of higher education institutions. Compounding the problem is that these countries, with the possible exception of Ireland, face major structural challenges in higher education that predated the financial crisis. Addressing those structural challenges necessitates doing even more with fewer resources. In several of the countries, academics say that universities and faculty have made necessary adjustments and that quality has not yet suffered significantly. They say, however, that if economic austerity continues or increases at their institutions, quality almost certainly will begin to decline, with many forecasting 2012 and 2013 as bellwether years that could determine the fate of the higher education systems of these countries. “The critical year of the [Portuguese higher education] system and the country at large will be 2012,” says Pedro Nuno Teixeira, director of CIPES, the Portuguese Center for Research in Higher Education Policies and an associate professor of economics at the University of Porto. “That is not only because of the impact of the drastic austerity measures, but also the significant impact on consumption, business, the economy, and on social issues. I think in 2012 we will still be able to manage, but let’s see the situation in one year.”
InternatIonal educator M AY + J U N E .1 2
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