The importance of public financial support for inclusive higher education


The European Eurydice network published a new comparative report on National Student Fees and Support Systems in European Higher Education for the Academic year 2020/21. The study covers information on fees in higher education of 38 countries and 43 higher education system [1].

The report depicts the variety of higher education fees across Europe. According to Eurydice, only 7 out of 43 higher education systems, namely Denmark, Greece, Cyprus, Malta, Finland, Sweden and Turkey do not charge students with fees. In addition, Scotland and Montenegro only provide free access to students pursuing their studies within their usual period and not longer. In 12 higher education systems[2] all students pay fees, while in other systems, exemptions to fees are granted based on different criteria, such as students’ socio-economic need or fields of study and academic performance. In 14 higher education systems, the annual fees range between 101-1.000 Euro, while they can reach up to 3.000 Euro in Ireland, Spain, Italy, Hungary, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Norway and UK (England, Wales and Northern Ireland). These last countries are the ones with the highest average annual fees in Europe.

As Eurydice underlines, fees can represent a substantial burden for students and can obstruct students’ attainments, especially for those with a disadvantaged socio-economic background. This is why, according to the report, public financial support from governments is of utmost importance to guarantee, inclusive, quality and accessible higher education. In this respect, the study also provides an overview of the support to students from governments and public authorities. In general there are two types of public financial support: indirect support such as allowances or tax incentives to students' parents, or direct support to students through grants and loans. The report shows that the latter one exists everywhere except in Iceland and the United Kingdom (England). The direct financial support can be granted either on a universal basis or according to the socio-economic background and academic performance of the students. Public financial support is particularly important for disadvantaged students. Nevertheless, some European countries do not foresee any fee reduction or exemption to students in precarious situations[3].

In answer to this data, ETUCE points out that equity and inclusion are core principles of the Bologna Process. The Principles and Guidelines to strengthen the Social Dimension in higher education, recently adopted at the Bologna Ministerial Conference 2020, clearly states that “student body should reflect the diversity of the social composition of the general national populations” and reaffirms “the importance of students being able to complete their studies without obstacles related to their social and economic background”. In addition, tuition fees and lack of public financial support to students lead to increased privatisation and marketisation of higher education that negatively impacts the inclusion of students and the quality of education. Therefore, ETUCE has been demanding that governments stop treating education as a commodity and that they ensure sustainable public investment to higher education.

Read the full Report “National Student Fees and Support Systems in European Higher Education for the Academic year 2020/21” here.

[1] The study includes the 27 EU member states as well as the UK, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Switzerland, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Norway, Serbia, and Turkey. As the Belgian French, Flemish and German Communities as well as England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland for the UK are analysed as separate systems, the report covers a total of 43 higher education system.

[2] Albania, Belgium (Flemish and German Communities), Iceland, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Portugal, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom (England, Northern Ireland, and Wales).

[3]  Czech Republic, Germany, Luxembourg, Hungary, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, the United Kingdom (England, Wales and Northern Ireland), Bosnia and Herzegovina, Liechtenstein and Norway