Mapping European university autonomy

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15 november 2011 | The first comprehensive report on autonomy of European higher education systems is out. The European University Association (EUA) created a scorecard showing that especially the UK gives great freedoms to its institutes. How does your country score?

How much leeway do universities have to set their tuition fees?Who decides what academic staff is recruited and how high theirsalaries are? How much influence does the government have on whichprograms are offered? All these questions are part of howautonomous universities are.

The European University Association (EUA) nowconducted the first thorough research creating a scorecard ofuniversity autonomy based on data from 28 higher education systemsin 2010. Measuring the constraints governments put on institutions,the scorecard divided autonomy into four different areas:organizational autonomy, financial autonomy, staffing autonomy andacademic autonomy.

UK leads in organizational autonomy

Organizational autonomy refers to whether the university candecide independently on its executive head and how it structuresits organization into individual departments and faculties. Here,the EUA scorecard indicates that UK scores highest on autonomy.Compared to this benchmark Denmark comes in second (94%) andFinland third (93%).

Norway (78%), Hesse (region in Germany, 78%) and The Netherlands(69%) score in the middle field, while Greece (43%), Turkey (33%)and Luxembourg (31%) take the last three places. In lower scoringcountries, governments usually get heavily involved in appointingleading university personnel.

Luxembourg tops off ranking in financialautonomy

Universities in Luxembourg (91%), Estonia (90%) and the UK (89%)have the greatest leeway regarding financial issues. Factorsaffecting the score might be restrictions on how much academicinstitutions charge their students in tuition fees or how muchmoney they can borrow to fund their operations. This might alsoinvolve rules that universities must earn a surplus.

The middle field is made up of the Netherlands (77%), Italy(70%) and Switzerland (65%). Greece (36%), Hesse (35%) and Cyprus(23%) score the lowest in this category. In the latter categoryfall countries where institutions cannot determine tuition feesindependently or decide on owning and selling property.

Already now, the UK grants its universities substantial freedomin determining tuition fees for its students. British PrimeMinister, David Cameron, however decided to increase this threshold even further byallowing universities to triple their rates from the 2011/2012academic year on.

Estonia gives greatest freedom for staffingautonomy

Estonia (100%) gives absolute autonomy regarding staffingdecisions to its universities. The Baltic nation is followedclosely by the UK (96%) and Sweden (95%). The Netherlands againplace in the middle group (73%) together with Norway (67%) andHesse/North Rhine-Westphalia (regions in Germany, 61%).

The two last places go to France (43%) and Greece (14%). Here,the number of posts is limited while appointments need to beconfirmed by an outside authority alongside restrictions on salaryand dismissal decisions.

Ireland scores highest on academic autonomy

Irish universities (100%) have the greatest flexibility onacademic matters. Norway (97%) and the UK (94%) come in second andthird. The two German states, Hesse and North Rhine-Westphalia(69%) score in the middle field while the Netherlands (48%), Greece(40%) and France (37%) make up the lower ranks.

Lower ranked countries mostly have legislation in place thatrequires universities to have new academic programs approved byexternal accreditation. Academic autonomy also relates to thefreedom universities have over deciding how many students to takein and which admission procedures are applied. In addition to that,universities in France and Greece are required to teach Bachelorprograms and a certain proportion of Master programs in thenational language.

Overall, France scores low in all four categories. This has todo with the French tradition of organizing state and highereducation centrally. Recently, Sarkozy and his higher educationminister, Laurent Wauquiez, pledged to increase universityautonomy. This will be part of the French initiative to create comprehensive universities consisting of publicinstitutes and the elite grandes écoles.

Click here to read the full report.

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