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Governance & Autonomy

Universities are increasingly expected to fulfil a wide range of needs of the rising knowledge societies and their demands. Beyond the university’s traditional functions of teaching, research and innovation, new roles and tasks emerged, such as widening participation, continuing professional development, etc.

These changing expectations have led to reforms on university governance at system and institutional level, both with regard to the relation between universities and public authorities and internal university organisation. University governance is strongly  related to university autonomy, academic freedom and institutional accountability. EUA has monitored and analysed the development and impact of these reforms through a wide array of studies (see EUA’s governance and funding projects), stakeholder debates and conferences as well as through its Institutional Evaluation Programme.

EUA strongly believes that increasing institutional autonomy is a key element to enable universities to best respond to new demands. However, perceptions and terminology around institutional autonomy vary greatly in Europe. To compare systems reliably, a systematic mapping of universities’ autonomy and accountability through a set of common indicators is necessary. 

EUA’s work in this area is based on four dimensions of university autonomy which have been explored in the first Autonomy Study (2009):

  • academic autonomy (deciding on degree supply, curriculum and methods of teaching; deciding on areas, scope,  aims, and methods of research.)
  • financial  autonomy (acquiring and allocating funding, deciding on tuition fees, accumulating surplus)
  • organisational autonomy (setting the university structures and statutes, making contracts, electing decision-making bodies and persons)
  • staffing autonomy (responsibility for recruitment, salaries and promotion).
This work has informed the development of EUA’s Autonomy Scorecard, which treads new ground in developing a methodology to collect, compare and weight such data. This project has been carried out in close collaboration with the university sector, including EUA’s collective members (the national rectors’ conferences).

The Autonomy Scorecard is an exclusive benchmarking tool, which helps public authorities and higher education institutions to better assess university autonomy in the wider European framework, and thus promote the exchange of good practices.

university autonomy in europe

To take account of the constantly evolving legal framework for universities across Europe, EUA is currently undertaking a full-scale update of the Autonomy Scorecard and new data and analysis will be published in the course of 2017. 

The work on institutional diversity analyses the extent to which diversity between and within institutions enables them to respond to societal demands, while also considering how to develop incentives for diversity. The final report was published at the beginning of 2010.

EUA wishes to put the expertise gained through the completion of these studies at the service of its members. The organisation has therefore carried out extensive work in the EU Eastern Neighbouring Area through the ATHENA project, with the aim to contribute to university autonomy and financial sustainability of the higher education systems in Moldova, Ukraine and Armenia.

Find out more:

European University Association (EUA)

Brussels office:
Avenue de l’Yser, 24
1040 Brussels
Belgium
Tel: +32 (0) 2 230 55 44

Geneva office:
114, Rue du Rhône
Case postale 3174
1211 Geneva 3
Switzerland
Tel: +41 22 552 02 96