Convergence in Financing the European Higher Education Systems: The Romanian Perspective

Convergence in Financing the European Higher Education Systems: The Romanian Perspective

Alina Mihaela Dima (Bucharest University of Economic Studies, Romania) and Cantaragiu Ramona (Bucharest University of Economic Studies, Romania)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5998-8.ch019
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Abstract

Financing the higher education systems in European countries is a highly debated topic, and the main issues are related to increasing the level of public funding, increasing the degree of autonomy in the management of the financial resources of universities, establishing direct correlations between results and the amount of public funding, and encouraging the diversification of funding sources, combined with the creation of partnerships with research institutes, enterprises, and regional authorities. This chapter presents a four-tiered research regarding the opinions of the Romanian academic community with respect to: (a) the priority measures used to improve convergence in Higher Education (HE) financing, (b) the most relevant indicators for assessing convergence in financing HE, (c) the barriers stopping or slowing down convergence financing in HE, and (d) the institutions responsible for taking measures and clearing any obstacles in financing the higher education system.
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Introduction

There is a lot of talk at the European level concerning the situation of the financing of the higher education system in European countries and the main concerns are: increasing the level of public funding, increasing the degree of autonomy in the management of the financial resources of universities, establishing direct links between results and the amount of public funding and encouraging the diversification of funding sources, combined with the creation of partnerships with research institutes, enterprises and regional authorities (Eurydice, 2008, p. 7). In other words, European authorities are faced with the tensions arising from the consideration of higher education a public good to be supported from public funds which are scarcer and scarcer and the need to increase the level of autonomy for each university, so that they are able to behave entrepreneurially and decrease the burden they place on public budgets. The resulting situation has many interesting aspects which deserve careful consideration: how do states allocate funds and make sure that the money is well spent while at the same time giving more freedom to higher education institutions?, are these institutions prepared for increased autonomy and will they be heading in the right direction once they are freed from central command?, can we talk about a free market in education at all or is there a certain level of central control that is inherent in its very nature? and many more.

Among the main tendencies concerning higher education institutions in Europe we encounter the decentralization of financing mechanisms, the increase in the level of competition and the emphasis put on performance. European governments are relying more and more on competitive financing schemes to fund these institutions and they are also stepping back (just a little bit, because there is always the need to instill public accountability) and allowing these institutions to have a greater autonomy regarding financial decisions (Eurydice, 2011). From the point of view of the academic community, the most important aspects of the policies concerning the level of public funding are the growth of the quality of the teaching and research at the system level, and creating and maintaining centers of excellence, followed by higher numbers of graduates (Eurydice, 2011, p. 36). Financing is not regarded as a goal, but as a means through which the financer encourages certain behaviors and influences the targets universities set for themselves. Most European countries have as a national strategic objective the improvement of the quality of education, and this should be reflected in the funding instruments leading to a tension between a transparent monitoring and assessment framework and the validity of the indicators used which can be overcome by introducing a flexible set of indicators, or allowing universities to provide their own indicator frameworks (Benneworth et al., 2011). Moreover, considering that we are in the context of the Bologna process, public authorities have to be careful to stir universities in the right direction to promote the achievement of the EHEA goals for the coming period which are “to provide quality higher education for all, to enhance graduates’ employability and to strengthen mobility as a means for better learning” (EHEA, 2012, p. 1).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Higher Education: Also known as post-secondary education, tertiary education or third level education is an optional final stage of formal education that is accomplished by learning at a college or university.

Convergence Indicators: The qualitative and quantitative measuring instruments that are used to assess the level of convergence at country level in Europe.

Financial Autonomy: European governments are relying more and more on competitive financing schemes to fund these institutions and allowing these institutions to have a greater independence regarding financial decisions.

EHEA: The European Higher Education Area (EHEA) was launched in March 2010 with the purpose of ensuring more comparable, compatible and coherent systems of higher education in Europe.

Convergence Barriers: The factors which limit or prohibit convergence in the financing of the European higher education systems.

Decentralization of Financing Mechanisms: The increase in the level of competition and the emphasis put on performance in financing universities.

Convergence Measures: The actions that have to be taken by all the actors involved to foster convergence in the financing of the European higher education systems.

Financing/Funding Systems: The system comprised of legislation, institutions and mechanisms which regulate the flow of money inside a sector of the economy.

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