University Fees and Austerity

Armanda Cetrulo


My name is Armanda. I am 25 years old and a student of Economics at the University of Bologna, Italy.

The last report of the European Commission on National Student Fees and Support Systems shows clear disparities among countries on university fees and support systems, confirming, also in this case, a sort of ‘division’ between northern countries and southern and eastern countries. No fee regime (apart from administrative fees) is applied in Denmark, Germany, Austria, Finland and Sweden whereas in all the other countries there are higher (Estonia, Lithuania) or lower (France) university fees. It is interesting to notice that not only fees differ but also that the kind of financial support for students changes in a direction that does not cover the disparities in costs. In fact, the countries that have adopted a no fee regime are also those which provide a higher level of support, in terms of need-based and merit grants, as reported in this table:

As is clearly shown above, the southern countries are not able to provide scholarships for most of their students and the crisis has worsened this aspect because of huge fiscal cuts in the education sector.  In Italy,  for example, fees have risen 63% in the last 10 years and one of the direct results has been that many students decided not to go to university  (-17% in the last 10 years). In Greece, universities have been closed because of financial distress and lack of resources needed to continue teaching activities. On the other side, in Germany, fees were first introduced and then removed quite quickly by 15 of 16 German Länder and Lower Saxony will  abolish them for the 2014-2015 year.

Behind these kind of policies there are several complex reasons that should be taken into account: obviously many northern countries present a completely different economic system with a higher level of taxation and a more redistributive role of the State. They are also recording a significantly different economic performance but there is also a more theoretical (and idealistic) point that should be analysed. Behind these policies, there is a different view of society and of the role that education and knowledge play in shaping the development of a country. Applying a no-fees system and providing comprehensive financial support for students, means investing in the future of the country, empowering innovation, technological progress, personal and collective satisfaction and equality. It is therefore not a coincidence that countries which have dismantled universities record higher levels of NEETs (young people who are not in employment, training or education).

Armanda 2

The worsening of labour market conditions and the high rate of unemployment play an obvious role in determining the rate of NEETs, but there is also a sense of disillusion and fragility which is spreading among the young generation across southern Europe: the dangerous idea that some rights are too ‘expensive’ to be claimed. Today, young European citizens have different rights in terms of education, work conditions, wages, services and life possibilities. This is a crucial aspect that should be considered for the coming European election if we want to successfully revive a sense of European citizenship and identity among young people.


1) European Commission

2) Eurostat

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