EU funding for Universities

EUA funding campaign for universities (2016-2020)

EUA launched a campaign in 2016 to improve European funding to universities with a view to achieving sufficient, sustainable and simple funding for research, innovation and higher education in Europe. The Association has been advocating for ambitious investment in research and innovation and higher education at regional, national and European levels.

Research, innovation and higher education are crucial for Europe’s knowledge societies. The Covid-19 pandemic has revealed their fundamental importance for new solutions to the current crisis and other, longer-term issues.

To support national investment efforts, EUA has consistently developed evidence-based argumentation and shared relevant communications materials with its collective members, the national rectors’ conferences, with the aim to actively inform national public authorities of the added value of higher investment in this sector.

EUA also analysed the potential impact of the Covid-19 crisis on university funding and the capacity of institutions to deliver on missions. The Association also consulted with national university associations and issued recommendations to national and European policy makers on how to mitigate negative effects based on the lessons learnt from the 2008 crisis.

In the context of negotiations on the EU Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027, EUA consistently partnered with other European university organisations to call for an ambitious Horizon Europe budget supporting excellent, cross-border research and innovation. In July 2020, EUA and 14 other university associations released a common statement to advocate for a greater level of funding for the new Framework Programme, following the Commission’s 27 May proposal. This effort built on a previous joint call urging the EU institutions and leaders to strengthen R&I investment at the European level. More than 300 universities, sector representatives and companies active in the EU signed the initial call between July and October 2019, pushing leaders at the national and EU level to commit to a higher budget for education, research and innovation.

After the longest budget negotiations in history, the EU member states reached a compromise in the final days of 2020. The new Multiannual Financial Framework provides Horizon Europe with 84,9bn euros in 2018 prices (of which 5bn euros come as a top-up under the Next Generation EU recovery package). EUA successfully campaigned for a balanced internal allocation, preserving the original proposal of the Commission. Final top-ups went to the European Research Council, the prestigious EU flagship, which received one billion euros, and to Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions and research infrastructures.

EUA also advocated for a stronger priority for the Erasmus+ Programme, notably with the support of the Parliament, which was allocated a further 1,7 billion euros in the final negotiation round between the Parliament and the Council, reaching 23,4 billion euros (2018 prices). The increase is needed and coherent with the upscaled objectives assigned to the programme. The decision of the UK to pull out of Erasmus+, however, is a source of major disappointment.

EUA also campaigned successfully on new opportunities for further investment in research and innovation through the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF), where new options are now available (including for member states to redirect earmarked ESIF funds to Horizon Europe).

EUA remains committed, with the support of its member university associations, to making the case for investment in excellent and collaborative research and higher education.


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Sustainability, efficiency and effectiveness

EUA works to promote sustainable and efficient EU funding mechanisms. The significant underfunding of Horizon 2020 led to a critically low success rate and heavily weighs on both beneficiaries’ finances and on the overall efficiency of the funding landscape.

Participation in Horizon 2020 remained expensive for universities, challenging their long-term financial sustainability. This was a barrier to participation, especially for less funded institutions in Europe. In this context, EUA has urged member states to provide sufficient and sustainable national public funding for education, research and innovation, which is paramount to support the participation of universities and enable them to co-fund the projects.

The overall efficiency of the EU funding programmes was also challenged by the excessive costs of administrative processes, both on the funder and the beneficiary sides, as well as gaps or inconsistencies that prevent effective synergies between funding schemes. This was a focus of attention in the development of the new generation of programmes, and the concrete implementation of synergies across EU funding programmes (Horizon Europe, Erasmus+, European Structural and Investment Fund, InvestEU) will need to be monitored.

Latest developments and next steps in 2021

Alongside the new financial framework, the “Next Generation EU” recovery package will pave the way to address the consequences of the pandemic. The mechanism amounts to 750bn euros, a big portion of which comes under the “Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF)” which amounts to 672,5bn euros. The funds of RRF will be distributed via grants and loans to the member states through specific allocation keys and based on approved national recovery plans and in line with the long-term EU objectives (such as greening and digitalisation). Member states’ recovery plans (2021) set out their reform and investment agenda for the years 2021-2023.

With the adoption of the Multiannual Financial Framework and of the new generation of programmes, EUA continues to be involved and is set to monitor implementation with its members. Beyond this, privileging a holistic approach to sustainable funding for universities, EUA advocates for greater alignment among funding organisations at the EU and national level. Additional support is needed in this area not only to avoid further disruption from the impact of the pandemic, but also to potentially build on progress made to date.

What universities can do:

  • Maintain close relationships with the ministers of finance and foreign affairs and communicate that research and education should be brought forward as enablers of the economic recovery;
  • Communicate on the value of EU investment in research, innovation and education at the sector level by underlining its potential for developing invaluable skills for green and digital transitions, as well as upskilling and reskilling of the working age population;
  • Liaise with the national rectors’ conference to ensure better alignment of strategies and initiatives.
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