The question of who should pay for university education in Europe is a growing concern and a controversial issue. With the global economic crisis, increase in demand and lack of finance, questions are being asked about public funding and some governments are implementing financial reforms, putting some of the burden on the students themselves.
Increasing tuition fees is one of the reforms brought in by the UK government, a move that provoked sometimes violent protests from students.
In England, university fees have now been capped at £9,000 per year (10,700 euros) meaning that to complete a three-year degree course, students will have to borrow up to £27,000, which is around 35,000 euros, before even considering maintenance costs. The decision brought students out in protest.
The UK government says that students will not have to start repaying their loans until they earn over £21,000 per year (25,000 euros), but nevertheless students will start their working lives carrying a heavy debt. And it is feared that many outstanding pupils will not apply for university for fear of this debt.
But since students will also have to borrow the money to live on during their studies, the total debt could amount to over £50,000 (59,000 euros)and even more for veterinary and medical students whose courses last for up to seven years. The protesters say a university education is becoming a privilege reserved for a wealthy elite.
Italy is also facing severe funding problems for education. In recent years the government has imposed a 20 percent cut on budgets allocated to universities. This and other reforms are being bitterly opposed by students and university staff.
The roof of a university in Rome was the stage for a series of protests against reforms which aim to run universities along business lines. The faculties will be run by an administration council overseen by a national agency which will evaluate universities and allocate government financing. Student grants will depend on academic achievement and not the family’s means. Staff will be given only temporary work contracts.
While some European countries are cutting their budgets and increasing tuition fees, Germany continues with substantial funding for its universities. The success of the German economy relies heavily on the quality of the nation’s science and research, and it cannot afford to lag behind its rivals.
Heidelberg University is the oldest in Germany, founded 625 years ago. Enrolment depends on ability rather than financial resources however, because German students get generous grants and an interest-free student loan. Tuition fees, at around 600 euros per term, are among the lowest in Europe.
Professor Dr Bernhard Eitel, the Dean of Heidelberg University said: “People say that since taxes are so high it’s up to the state to pay for universities. However this can’t happen to the extent that we would like because the country has to pay for other things too, to remain competitive worldwide.”
Heidelberg University costs 540 million euros a year to run. Out of that, 180 million euros comes from businesses, private foundations and individual benefactors. Heidelberg demonstrates that a modern university can only provide high standards of education and research with solid financing.