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29th Mar 2020

US universities tower over 'dilapidated' EU schools

EU universities are among the worst-funded in the world, falling behind US schools and becoming vulnerable to competition from Asia, according to a new report by the London-based think-tank the Centre for European Reform (CER) out 5 June.

EU member states spend between 0.9 percent (Slovakia, Italy, the Czech republic) and 1.8 percent (Denmark, Finland, Sweden) of their GDPs on higher education, compared to 2.6 percent in the US, the study notes.

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  • European universities are too often "drab and uninspiring" CER says (Photo: European Commission)

"Europe's universities, taken as a group, are failing to provide the intellectual and creative energy that is required to improve the continent's poor economic performance," CER states.

"There is a kind of drab uniformity across the sector: many institutions [especially in France, Italy and Germany] are struggling to cope with growing numbers of students and inadequate resources, delivering uninspiring teaching in dilapidated buildings."

CER cites Chinese and UK analyses saying that eight out of the top ten universities in the world and 36 out of the top 50 are based in the US, with China and India catching up and expected to enter the rankings in 2010.

The world's top ten non-US universities are: Oxford, Cambridge, Tokyo, Kyoto, Imperial College London, Toronto, University College London, the Swiss Technical Institute, British Columbia in Canada and Utrecht in the Netherlands.

The UK has five universities in the European top ten, with Switzerland, Utrecht, the Karolinska institute in Stockholm, Paris 06 in France and Munich in Germany also making the grade.

"Fifty eight percent of European citizens who received doctorates in American institutions between 1998 and 2001 chose to stay in the US once their studies were finished," the CER report says on the worrying drain on Europe's intelligentsia.

UK finance minister Gordon Brown signalled that he might raise UK tuition fees from the current limit of £3,000 a year after 2009 following the CER news, with the report's authors predicting that "all the big countries in Europe will sooner or later have to introduce tuition fees."

CER's rescue plan for Europe suggests weak universities should be closed so that resources can be concentrated in elite centres of excellence that carry out diverse types of research.

Universities should be more selective on students with fees helping to eliminate those who just want to "pass the time" and helping to cut the average EU drop out rate of 40 percent.

Member state governments should butt out of university management, with French and Italian education ministries the most intrusive, while giving "clear incentives for business participation" CER adds.

And EU funds should not be wasted on white elephants such as the European Institute of Technology or heavy-handed attempts to homogenise European university diplomas.

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