Universities at the turning point: Go Public! Fund Education

published 22 May 2024 updated 27 May 2024

More public funding of Higher Education is crucial for advancing global knowledge and innovation. Countries investing robustly in education often lead in Research & Development, driving forward their economies and societal advancements.

This was made clear during the research launch by Education International (EI), hosted by the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) in Australia. The event, titled "Universities at the Turning Point: Go Public! Fund Education", coincided with the launch of the Australian federal budget, creating significant momentum for the discussion.

Going public to boost Higher Education funding

On May 15, Education International (EI) unveiled its research report: Higher Education Funding across the Globe, during a webinar hosted by NTEU. The report examines global trends in funding for Further and Higher Education and Research (FHER), including public and private sources, funding patterns across different countries, and the impact of these trends on FHER personnel.

In her opening remarks, EI President Susan Hopgood emphasized the urgent need for more public funding in the sector, stating: “Our research clearly shows the critical need for sustainable and equitable public funding for further and higher education and research.”

Hopgood went on to say: “This evidence bolsters our Go Public! Fund Education campaign, advocating for increased public investment to address chronic underfunding, combat privatization, and promote equity in these crucial sectors. The campaign emphasizes the role of public funding in ensuring quality education, decent working conditions, and security of employment for educators, which are vital for maintaining high educational standards and fostering societal advancement.”

Alison Barnes, President of the NTEU, discussed the significant momentum generated by the release of the federal budget, marking a pivotal moment in the most extensive reform process that Australian Higher Education system has undergone in the last 15 years. "It is crucial that the voices of NTEU members are heard and reflected in government actions," Barnes emphasized. She urged members to continue supporting and expanding the NTEU's central campaign, which advocates for a higher education system offering secure employment, improved access, sound governance, and better universities across Australia.

Terri MacDonald, Director of Policy & Research at NTEU, unpacked the Australian federal budget, noting the AU $1.1 billion allocated over five years aimed at transforming the tertiary education landscape. MacDonald highlighted that while key investments are unfolding, the benefits will be phased in gradually. She stressed the importance of monitoring these developments closely to ensure that the funding effectively addresses the key challenges facing Higher Education.

Global insights: trends and challenges in Higher Education funding

Professor Dr. Julian Garritzmann, the report’s author from Goethe University in Germany, provided an overview of the global landscape of higher education funding. Garritzmann discussed the political and socio-economic factors driving these trends and their impact on educational equality and quality.

Key findings included:

  • Lack of fine-grained data: The report highlights the lack of detailed data on FHER funding for non-OECD countries and calls on international institutions and governments to help improve data collection and accuracy.
  • Stability and slow change: The study notes the stability and slow-changing nature of education funding, with many countries showing little change in spending over the past 50 years, indicating a path dependency.
  • Trend towards more spending: While there is a clear trend towards increased spending in tertiary education over time, on average, public spending remains below 1 per cent of GDP globally. This calls for more public funding for FHER, with high-spending countries serving as benchmarks.
  • Regional disparities: The research emphasizes significant regional disparities, with the highest spending in Nordic Europe and North America, and the lowest in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. This widening gap between the global North and South exacerbates global competition.
  • Increased spending in high-spending countries: Countries that already spend a lot on higher education continue to increase their spending. These increases are primarily observed in countries with already high spending, driven by a growing student population in non-western regions.
  • Research funding: Generally, countries that invest heavily in higher education also spend significant amounts on Research and Development (R&D). Public R&D spending has remained constant over the last 40 years, while private R&D spending has increased significantly in several countries. Increasing public funding for research is crucial to guarantee academic freedom and support the quest for knowledge.

The report: Higher Education Funding across the Globe: An Overview on Funding of Higher and Further Education and Research, its Political and Socio-Economic Causes, and some Consequences, across the Globe, is available here.