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EU Funding for Universities

Europe is currently facing many challenges, varying from economic and financial pressures over terrorism to the high number of refugees seeking protection and many other things that put the European idea and values under scrutiny. 
Universities are key actors in addressing these issues. They are motors of economic recovery, educating the future generation and the leaders of tomorrow, delivering cutting-edge research and developing solutions to current scientific and societal challenges. They play an important role in building our societies, transmitting cultural heritage and European values as well as fostering social inclusion and forging relations with other parts of the world.

Nevertheless financial resources are scarce and governments are reluctant to provide the money needed, be it at national or at European level, to tackle these challenges and find common solutions.

EUA_Infosgraphs_EFSI 1_1  EUA_Infosgraphs_EFSI 2_2

As EUA’s annual Public Funding Observatory shows, the level of public investment in universities is going down. The EU target of 3% GDP invested in R&D is being missed. Only a few countries keep up their financial contribution to the sector and even those who did so far, begin to struggle recently. 

Also EU funding for universities is under threat. An example is the establishment of the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) in 2015, a loan scheme for which 2.2 billion € were diverted from Horizon 2020 in order to finance part of the EU guarantee needed to set up the fund.Strong universities need sustainable and sufficient public funding, be it at national or at European level to be able to respond to the current challenges. EU funding programmes such as Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+ are important instruments to support them in this endeavour and increase at the same time the added value of public investment.


In order to protect universities from further funding cuts, the campaign focuses on three aspects:

  • Sufficient funding (overall level and cost coverage)
  • Sustainability of funding conditions (grants instead of loans for academic research and education)
  • Simplification of funding schemes (implementation; management; reduction of administrative burden for beneficiaries).

The European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council should: Policy makers at EU level should:

Guarantee sufficient funding for universities

  • Protect EU funding programmes important for universities, notably Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+ from further cuts.
  • Take account of the high participation rate of programmes such as H2020 and Erasmus+ and provide sufficient funding in order to allow the financing and implementation of relevant and high quality projects and actions in the field of research and higher education.
  • Ensure an appropriate level and relation between appropriations and payments in the EU budget in order to avoid a payment backlog which harms universities, students and staff as beneficiaries of EU funding programmes. 

Ensure sustainable funding conditions

  • Sustain grant programmes for academic research and education instead of replacing subsidies by loan schemes, guarantee funds and other financial instruments as this is not suited to fund academic research.
  • Foresee an adequate cost coverage for EU funded projects in the field of research and education and do not decrease the current level of reimbursement.

Further simplify funding rules and implementation for beneficiaries

  • Provide a coherent funding framework and set of rules and ensure an adequate balance of flexibility and predictability as well as stability of rules and implementation.
  • Accept nationally recognised institutional management and accountancy practices also for EU funded projects, in order to reduce the administrative burden for beneficiaries;
  • Make auditing procedures more efficient and avoid double-auditing of projects; e.g. through the acceptance of audit certificates from national level.

2016 marked the beginning of a series of reviews and revisions of EU funding instruments and regulations important to universities. Among those are the mid-term review of the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), the EU’s seven year’s long-term financial planning and the EU funding programmes such as Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+ as well as the revision of the EU’s Financial Regulation setting out the general rules for spending of the EU budget and the 2017 budget. All of these political developments are of importance for universities in relation to EU funding, as they pave the way towards the post-2020 programmes for R&I and for education. Therefore EUA brings together its activities under a coherent campaign on this topic to raise awareness among the relevant decision makers at European and national level.

In particular, the discussion on the future 9th Framework Programme (hereafter FP9) includes a series of funding-related questions: the scale of investment itself in relation to other policy priorities; the strategic allocation of funds within FP9 (and possible financial impact of a ‘European Innovation Council’); geographical disparities in the allocation of funds; the political agenda around performance-oriented budgeting; and the simplification of funding modalities.

EUA’s funding campaign therefore seeks to address such questions and advocates for good conditions to enhance the positive impact of EU investment in R&I on society in a way that safeguards universities’ interests. 

EUA’s activities in 2017 are based on the results of its member consultation on Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+, woven in with the current work on efficient university management in the framework of the USTREAM project and university autonomy with the updated EUA Autonomy Scorecard.

Autumn 2017
: New campaign activities, with involvement from EUA members, include:

Gathering evidence:

  • Launch of the survey “New forms of funding targeting simplification of the Framework Programme”. The questionnaire is designed as a follow-up to the EUA member consultation on the Horizon 2020 mid-term review. The aim is to collect specific evidence on ways to further simplify and enhance the effectiveness of the EU Framework Programme, making the administration of projects less complex and costly in terms of resources spent. The survey is open until 30 November, 2017.
    The PDF copy of the questionnaire can be consulted here.
  • Collection of cases: EUA seeks to bring its core campaign messages to life with the concrete experiences of universities and therefore invites its members to contribute to its collection of cases on “Universities for FP9”. The collection will help EUA to share the stories of the sector with EU and national decision-makers, inspired by good practices and lessons learnt. It will support EUA advocacy activities promoting sound research policies, sustainable and simple funding instruments and effective regulations.
  • The call for contribution is open for a first round until 30 November 2017. Other rounds will be announced throughout the campaign in 2018 and 2019.

Reaching out to policy-makers:

  • Expert meeting on simplification: in October, EUA will convene this meeting to discuss the acceptance of institutional accounting practices in EU research funding with university managers, private funders, the European Commission and the European Court of Auditors.
  • Policy event “Excellence in research, innovation and education: The universities’ recommendations for an efficient and ambitious FP9” hosted by MEP Christian Ehler at the European Parliament, Brussels, 9 November 2017. The event will showcase the contribution of universities – the single largest group of participants to Horizon 2020 – to the solution of the grand technological and societal challenges and allow participants to discuss possible solutions to the several issues, including: What does ‘more EU investment in research’ mean in practice? How can funding instruments and processes be improved to ensure FP9 delivers in the most efficient way?

Milestones 2016-2017:

July 2017: the High-level Group on maximising impact of EU Research and Innovation Programmes, convened by the European Commission, issued recommendations for future investment in research and innovation. EUA responded to the report, welcoming the group’s conclusions on the need to prioritise research and innovation in both EU and national budgets and further simplify and optimise the EC’s research and innovation programmes.

June 2017: EUA took part in a hearing of the European Parliament on the cost effectiveness of the Horizon 2020 programme, organised by the Committee for Budget Control. EUA was represented by its Vice-President Paul Boyle, who outlined EUA’s core messages for the enhanced simplification and efficiency of EU research funding.

May 2017: EUA released its position paper: “Ambitious funding for excellent research in Europe post-2020”, which focuses on the following point: the budget dedicated to supporting research and innovation must increase in order to effectively address the challenges at hand. So, where should the additional funds come from? The paper proposes several scenarios and analyses of what is needed to meet the objective of simple, sufficient and sustainable funding at EU level, and in particular how to foster efficiency in the system. EUA advocates for a quantitative and qualitative leap in EU research funding, and suggests to open a discussion on a possible ring-fencing or shift of funding for R&I from ESIF or other sources for a more ambitious and well-functioning research programme. 

March 2017: Joint campaign “a new momentum for the European Research Area”, highlighting the need to increase and improve the delivery of EU research funding.

December 2016: Release of the results of EUA’s membership consultation on Horizon 2020. This large-scale consultation provides the core principles for EUA’s advocacy towards FP9 and for its “EU funding” campaign. 

The consultation results regarding funding and modalities outline key priorities, including securing ambitious grant-based funding; enhancing programme efficiency and success rates; developing a strategic approach to efficiency and sustainability of research funding at European, national and institutional levels; improving cost coverage; enabling trust-based simplification and fostering EU funding synergies.

October 2016: 3rd EUA Funding Forum, Porto, Portugal, and release of the EUA 2016 Public Funding Observatory

September 2016: University funding under pressure – a call for dialogue at European level, a joint event organised by EUA and the Permanent Representation of Austria to the EU, Brussels, Belgium.

July 2016: EUA presents its views at the European Parliament workshop on the mid-term review of the Financial Regulation (see presentation,  of the discussion, proceedings of the workshop)

June 2016: An EUA review on one year of EFSI: No benefit for universities

May 2016: EUA’s input to the revision of the EU’s Financial Regulation

European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI)

Horizon 2020 european research budget cut

A new tool proposed by the European Commission in 2014, EFSI is meant to overcome the current investment gap in the EU by mobilising private financing for strategic investments. To provide funding for this tool, the Commission proposed to shift significant resources away from Horizon 2020, the main research funding programme of the EU.

EUA carefully studied the proposal and rallied the university sector to protest against the planned cuts. It launched a multi-phase campaign, addressing all key stakeholders in cooperation with its member National Rectors’ Conferences. The campaign included a series of statements and newsletter articles, ensuring high visibility in the media; an analysis of the EFSI proposal summarised in a policy brief; contacts and meetings with high-level decision-makers, etc. An overview of these actions can be found here.

In June 2015 the EFSI regulation was fully adopted with notable changes, including the cancellation of the cuts foreseen for some of the actions of the Horizon 2020 programme, after the university and research stakeholders were heard by the different actors.

In June 2016, EUA published a review entitled “One year of EFSI: What's in it for universities? An EUA review”, and found that there seems to be no benefit for universities – even though the scheme was created with funds taken from Horizon 2020. To read the review, please click here.

In January 2017, EUA published the brief “EFSI and Horizon 2020: Efficiency and Opportunity Cost - An EUA Review”, analysing the key reviews and exploring the relationship between EFSI and Horizon 2020. The Association concluded that evidence on the first year of EFSI activities reveals worrying trends linked to the potentially overrated efficiency and effectiveness of public investment through this scheme, the lost opportunity for other key RDI programmes such as Horizon 2020 and multiple side effects including geographical imbalances in investment into regional development.

EU Annual Budget

EUA monitors the annual EU budget procedure as it directly affects the sums allocated to important programmes for universities, including Horizon 2020, Erasmus +, structural funds, etc. While the overall figures are set for seven years via the Multiannual Financial Framework, the yearly allocation matters because significant shifts can be operated. Since the adoption of EFSI, this procedure is all the more relevant as the budget has to integrate the changes linked to EFSI (see above). EUA has pledged to pay particular attention as to how “unused margins” are reallocated to limit cuts to research funding, and continues to work closely with the European Parliament on this issue.

Horizon 2020

EUA has represented the interests of the university sector throughout the negotiations leading to the adoption and implementation of Horizon 2020, the largest research funding programme of the European Union. Find out more about EUA’s position on Horizon 2020 here.

In 2017, the programme will undergo a mid-term review, to which EUA has contributed to through its membership consultation.

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