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Governance & Autonomy

Universities are increasingly expected to fulfil a wide range of needs of the rising knowledge societies and their demands. Beyond the university’s traditional functions of teaching, research and innovation, new roles and tasks emerged, such as widening participation, continuing professional development, etc.

These changing expectations have led to reforms on university governance at system and institutional level, both with regard to the relation between universities and public authorities and internal university organisation.

University governance is strongly related to university autonomy, academic freedom and institutional accountability. EUA has monitored and analysed the development and impact of these reforms through a wide array of studies (see EUA’s governance and funding projects), stakeholder debates and conferences as well as through its Institutional Evaluation Programme.

EUA strongly believes that increasing institutional autonomy is a key element to enable universities to best respond to new demands. However, perceptions and terminology around institutional autonomy vary greatly in Europe. To compare systems reliably, a systematic mapping of universities’ autonomy and accountability through a set of common indicators is necessary. 

EUA's work in this area is based on four dimensions of university autonomy
  • academic autonomy (deciding on degree supply, curriculum and methods of teaching; deciding on areas, scope,  aims, and methods of research)
  • financial  autonomy (acquiring and allocating funding, deciding on tuition fees, accumulating surplus)
  • organisational autonomy (setting the university structures and statutes, making contracts, electing decision-making bodies and persons)
  • staffing autonomy (responsibility for recruitment, salaries and promotion).

After a first mapping of university autonomy released in 2009, EUA developed a unique methodology to collect, compare and weight such data. The result is the EUA Autonomy Scorecard, an exclusive benchmarking tool, which helps public authorities and higher education institutions to better assess university autonomy in the wider European framework, and thus promote the exchange of good practices.

The Autonomy Scorecard was released in 2011 in the form of a comparative report accompanied by an online tool. 

In 2017, EUA published an enriched Scorecard, including an update of the report and the online tool, complemented by newly-developed country profiles.

The experience of the use of the original scorecard and multiple policy dialogues showed that the scorecard has been very helpful in structuring national policy discussions, allowing for a comparative view of a system’s development in relation to others as well as general trends.  It became evident that the scoring itself allowed a broad comparison across Europe but that several developments could not be captured by scoring alone. A more in-depth qualitative evaluation and setting in context was therefore necessary.  
The update “University Autonomy in Europe III” based on data collected and validated during 2015 and 2016, is comprised of three main parts:
  • Newly available ‘Country Profiles’, which set out in detail for each higher education system the situation prevailing with regard to the four dimensions of university autonomy, including contextual information and the views from the university sector on the matter
  • A comparative report providing an updated overview of the state of university autonomy and the related challenges
  • An updated online tool which continues to provide detailed information in a user-friendly way
The University Autonomy Tool lets users compare university autonomy in 29 European higher education systems. It focuses on four autonomy areas and ranks countries according to the level of autonomy they have in each of these. 
The tool measures how flexibly universities can take decisions in the context of the rules and regulations that shape their higher education system. 
The tool is fed with the data collected by EUA from the participating national rectors’ conferences.

Consult the tool: 


The EUA Autonomy Scorecard has become the reference in discussions and analyses of institutional autonomy – both in Europe and beyond. It has informed policy reforms in a series of countries, allowing for structured benchmarking.

EUA wishes to put the expertise gained through the completion of these studies at the service of its members. The organisation has notably carried out extensive work in the EU Eastern Neighbouring Area through the ATHENA project, with the aim to contribute to university autonomy and financial sustainability of the higher education systems in Moldova, Ukraine and Armenia.

Data has also been used by EUA to inform policy discussions at European level to provide information on what universities can do independently and where there are limitations. EUA’s campaign on the European Fund for Strategic Investments  (EFSI), for example, has used the information on the limited capacity of universities to take loans to inform policy makers, and for protecting further cuts to Horizon 2020, the European Framework Programme for Research.

Find out more:
EUA’s work related to university autonomy is led by its Governance, Funding and Public Policy Development team.
For any queries, please contact us:

European University Association (EUA)

Brussels office:
Avenue de l’Yser, 24
1040 Brussels
Tel: +32 (0) 2 230 55 44

Geneva office:
114, Rue du Rhône
Case postale 3174
1211 Geneva 3
Tel: +41 22 552 02 96