Sufficient, Sustainable and Simple EU Funding for Universities

  • Stronger EU investment

  • Sustainable funding conditions

  • Impactful simplification

Stepping up EU-level investment in research, education and innovation

Since 2016, EUA has been leading a campaign for sufficient, sustainable and simple funding for research and innovation in Europe. The Association has been advocating for ambitious investment in research and innovation and higher education at regional, national and European levels.

Research, innovation and higher education are crucial for Europe’s knowledge societies. The Covid-19 pandemic has revealed their fundamental importance for new solutions to the current crisis and other, longer-term issues. Given the depth and magnitude of these challenges, Europe must offer a strong response with ambitious funding for the European Higher Education and Research Areas.

To support national investment efforts, EUA has consistently developed evidence-based argumentation and shared relevant communications materials with its collective members, the national rectors’ conferences, with the aim to actively inform national public authorities of the added value of higher investment in this sector.

EUA has also analysed the potential impact of the Covid-19 crisis on university funding and the capacity of institutions to deliver on missions. The Association has also issued recommendations to national and European policy makers on how to mitigate negative effects based on the lessons learnt from the 2008 crisis.

In the context of negotiations on the next EU multiannual financial framework (2021-2027), EUA has consistently partnered with other European university organisations to call for an ambitious Horizon Europe budget supporting excellent, cross-border research and innovation. In July 2020, EUA and 14 other university associations released a common statement to advocate for a greater level of funding for the new Framework Programme, following the Commission’s 27 May proposal. This effort built on a previous joint call urging the EU institutions and leaders to strengthen R&I investment at the European level and raise the budget of Horizon Europe to at least €120 billion. More than 300 universities, sector representatives and companies active in the EU signed the initial call between July and October 2019, pushing leaders at national and EU level to commit to a higher budget for education, research and innovation.

Sustainability, efficiency and effectiveness

EUA works to promote sustainable and efficient EU funding mechanisms. The significant underfunding of Horizon 2020 has led to a critically low success rate and heavily weighs on both beneficiaries’ finances and on the overall efficiency of the funding landscape.

Participation remains expensive for universities, challenging their long-term financial sustainability. In particular, coverage of indirect costs tends to be insufficient. Horizon 2020, and possibly Horizon Europe in the future, cover indirect costs via a flat rate of 25% of direct costs, offering limited support to institutions. This can be a barrier to participation, especially for less funded institutions in Europe. In this context, EUA calls on member states to provide sufficient and sustainable national public funding for education, research and innovation, which is paramount to support the participation of universities in Horizon Europe and enable them to co-fund the projects.

The overall efficiency of the EU funding programmes is also challenged by the excessive costs of administrative processes, both on the funder and the beneficiary sides, as well as gaps or inconsistencies that prevent effective synergies between funding schemes. EUA therefore calls for progress towards the possibility of combining funding schemes (among EU programmes or with national or other types of funding).

Achieving impactful simplification

An overarching objective to achieve better rules for participation in the EU funding programmes is "simplification”. This is an important dimension of EUA’s campaign given its direct impact on universities. EUA has consistently advocated for a more impactful approach to simplification focused on beneficiaries and their specific needs. This approach is mindful of their great diversity and based on high-quality processes and an effective use of resources. In this context, EUA has been arguing for the wider acceptance of nationally recognised institutional management and accounting practices of beneficiaries as the key implementation principle and the most significant way to enhance efficiency and participation in the EU funding programmes. EUA has collected evidence on how these principles were implemented in 12 countries in a report that explores possibilities for a better alignment of practices between the EU and the national level. In order to achieve this, EUA has summarised the data gathered in the compendium in concrete strategic and practical recommendations addressed to EU policy makers.

Other important elements of the Framework Programme implementation supported by EUA’s campaign include a more flexible model grant agreement and more efficient and effective auditing processes. On these matters, EUA relies on its members’ technical expertise shared through EUA consultations and surveys, as well as through a dedicated expert group of university administrators.

EUA feeds this input to the European Commission and the European Court of Auditors in the framework of bilateral exchanges and expert groups, as well as to the European Parliament and the EU Council ahead of the adoption of the proposal establishing Horizon Europe.

  • Deal reached by member states - 21 July 2020 European Parliament resolution - 23 July 2020
  • European Council meeting15-16 October 2020
  • Agreement between Council and Parliament on MFF10 November 2020
  • European Council meeting10-11 December 2020
  • Planned start of new EU funding programmes1 January 2021

Latest developments and next steps

EU member states reached a deal on 21 July, which is currently being negotiated with the European Parliament (September 2020). The deal foresees a total of €80.9 billion for Horizon Europe (including a €5 billion top-up from Next Generation EU, the newly established recovery programme), and €21.2 billion for Erasmus+. These amounts remain lower than the European Commission proposal of 27 May 2020. Fundamental research is particularly under pressure. The European Parliament has indicated that it will seek to improve funding for research, education and innovation.

This is the last opportunity to remind national policymakers of the importance of EU investment in these programmes and in fundamental research in particular. The present programmes suffer from severe underfunding with success rates being far too low, and this situation risks persisting for the years to come. EUA calls on members to join the Association in urging European and national policymakers to address the insufficient allocations for Horizon Europe and Erasmus+, and to support the EU Parliament in demanding more money for these programmes.

Actions proposed to EUA members

  • Write to ministers of finance and foreign affairs
  • Communicate on the value of EU investment in research, innovation and education at sector level and by involving individual universities
  • Liaise with the national rectors’ conference


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