Nov 17 2011
Who should pay for tomorrow's higher education?


In the last ten years, the share of public expenditure in the funding of higher education has been falling steadily throughout the OECD. And there are reasons to believe that this trend will continue. Owing to the pressure of globalization, the share of public expenditure in GDP is unlikely to rise much in the foreseeable future, while the part of public expenditure swallowed by pensions and health care can be expected to keep growing. And wherever there happens to be a margin for increased spending on education, a concern for greater social justice recommends giving priority to earlier stages of the education process. Moreover, the European ban on discrimination on grounds of nationality makes it harder for countries to keep offering publicly funded courses of high quality, especially in widely spread languages. In this context, it is not surprising that attention is being increasingly paid to the possibility of relying more on private funding. Some have been arguing for the development of endowments out of gifts elicited from alumni, companies, foundations and other donors. Others are arguing for charging higher fees to the immediate beneficiaries of higher education: the students themselves. Specific proposals vary in terms of differentiation according to subject, level of the degree, status of the institution and socio-economic profile of the student, as well according to the extent to which higher fees are coupled with scholarships, conditional fee waivers, subsidized loans and entry restrictions. How far have European countries already moved in these directions? Can they move further? Must they move further? What are the key arguments pro and contra? If the pro prevails, what is the best - or least bad - modality of private funding? If the contra prevails, what are the alternatives? 


Part 1: 14.00 - 15.45

Keynote addresses:

  • Julie Fionda, European Commission: "Student fees in the EU: current situation and main trends"

  • Howard Glennerster, London School of Economics: "The funding of British Universities: reforms and debates" (document1, document2)

  • Gareth Davies, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam: "Non-discrimination among EU students and the sustainability of cheap higher education"

Interpellations from the floor by
Zdenko Kodelja, Education Research Institute, Ljubljana, Rachel Nye, Department of Linguistics, UGent ,Vincent Vandenberghe, School of Economics, UCLouvain,  a student association. (document)

Part 2: 16.15 - 18.00


  • Ides Nicaise, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (document1, document2)

  • Marcel Gérard, FUCAM & Université catholique de Louvain (document1, document2, document3)

  • Tom Demeyer, former president of the Vlaamse Vereniging van Studenten

  • Jean Luc de Meulemeester, Université libre de Bruxelles (document)

General discussion

Conclusions by Philippe Van Parijs, coordinator of the Ethical Forum