BRUSSELS – The European Students’ Union (ESU) raises strong concerns about the consequences the imposed cuts in national budgets for education would have for Europe in the long run. ESU believes that those cuts divert the EU away from its agreed strategy for inclusive growth (EU2020).
“It concerns us that eight countries in Europe have decided to cut their budgets by more than one per cent and five out of those by more than five per cent. These countries are among the ones that have been most affected by the financial crisis, such as Greece, Italy and Portugal. However, these countries are also following specific country recommendations, which encourage more investment in education and training for further recovery. It is therefore disappointing that the EU does not put more effort into protecting the national budgets, by for example exempting education from public deficit calculations and to make countries recognise education and research as the main driving factors in economic prosperity,” says Karina Ufert, ESU’s Chairperson.
More students, fewer teachers
A new report by Eurydice reveals that teachers’ salaries and allowances were reduced or frozen in eleven of the countries observed in Europe, but the total salaries count for more than 70 per cent of the budgets for education. This has also led to redundancies of teaching staff in ten Member States of the EU.
At the same time as public funds for education are cut in Europe, the number of students has been on the rise as ESU’s report called the Compendium on Financing of Higher Education has showed. This development can have severe and unpredictable consequences on students as it could limit the access and completion of higher education, especially affecting those coming from lower socio-economic backgrounds. It could also affect people’s choice of study programmes.
“Researches have showed us that less public investments in education can shift the cost burden of education onto students and their families. We only have to look to the United States or Canada, where the student loan bubble is becoming a problem of a generation, which is something that we do not want to imitate. What we need now is a strong commitment from the European Union and its Member States to protect the economic and social contribution of education and training systems, so that young people everywhere in Europe can see the benefits in seeking more education,” Ufert says.
Important to protect access to education
The EU’s growth strategy, called Europe 2020, enlists five main priorities for employment, research and development, climate change and energy sustainability, education and fighting poverty and social exclusion. Based on this strategy, the EU wants to reduce the rates of early school leaving below ten per cent and make forty per cent of people aged 30 to 34 years complete third level education before the year 2020.
“As we realised in our recent research, the discussions about the public responsibility of financing higher education has been on the agenda in almost all countries in Europe. But these recent reports do not prove that governments are committed to follow the goals set in statements such as the EU2020 strategy. Access to quality education needs to be in the frontline of the policy set for an economic recovery in Europe,” Ufert emphasises.
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The European Students’ Union, headquartered in Brussels, is the umbrella organisation of 47 national unions of students from 39 European countries. ESU represents and promotes the educational, social, economical and cultural interests of students at the European level. Through its member unions, ESU represents over 11 million students in Europe. To find out more about ESU, follow us on Twitter @ESUtwt, check out or Facebook page or visit www.esu-online.org. ESU celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2012.