Who finances our universities?

Comparing autonomous communities in Spain, Europe and the OECD, 2009-2015

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Authors: Vera Sacristán
Collaborators: Albert Corominas and Alfonso Herranz
Edition: Vera Sacristán

Executive Summary

The funding of Spanish universities has been characterized for a long time by significant differences among autonomous communities, which have grown larger over the period 2009-2015. This report analyses their evolution over that period and their current situation, and compare it with other OECD countries.

Main conclusions:

Already in 2009 the funding of public universities was very different among autonomous communities, and kept no relationship with the number of students or each community’s wealth:

  • Total non-financial revenues per student ranged from 6,744€ in Extremadura to 11,896€ in Cantabria. Total non-financial revenues accounted for a GDP share that went from 0.39% in the Balearic Islands to 1.31% in the Valencian Community.
  • Public funding per student ranged from 5,406€ in Extremadura to 10,301€ in the Basque Country. Relative to GDP, the highest percentages were reached in the Valencian Community (1.08%) and Andalusia (1.01%), and the lowest one in the Balearic Islands (0.31%), followed by Navarre (0.34%).
  • As for the average contribution per student in public fees, the community with the highest level was Navarre (1,267€), while the Canary Islands had the lowest one (759€). The community where public fees accounted for a highest GDP share (0.14%) was Castile-Leon. At the other end of the distribution, five communities had percentages far below the average: Balearic Islands (0.046%), the Basque Country (0.049%), Navarre (0.055%) and La Rioja (0.056%).
  • As a consequence, the revenue structure was very diverse. The share of public funding within total revenues was lowest in Aragon (70.1%), followed by Catalonia (73.5%). The highest share was reached in the Basque Country (88%), followed by the Canary Islands (84.9%). Public fees represented the highest share in Castile-Leon (13.4%) and the lowest one in the Basque Country (6.8%).

Changes over the period 2009-2015:

  • Total: in constant euros, the total non-financial revenues of the Spanish public universities decreased by 20.2%, because the increase in revenues from public fees (31.0%) was not enough to overcome the fall in public funding (-27.7%).
  • Across autonomous communities, in constant euros, the decrease in total non-financial revenues ranged from -12.9% in La Rioja to -32.7% in Castile-La Mancha. The reduction in public funding went from -17% in Aragon to -38.2% in Castile-La Mancha. The change in revenues from public fees ranged from -15.7% in Galicia to +67.6% in Catalonia.
  • Per student: In constant euros, total non-financial revenues per student decreased by 16.4%, public funding per student fell by 24.2% and public fees paid per student increased by 37.4%.
  • Changes over the period 2009-2015 did not reflect changes in the number of students of each autonomous community:
    • Changes in total non-financial revenues per student ranged from a 21.5% increase in La Rioja to a -25.1% decrease in Castile-La Mancha.
    • The change in public funding per student was only positive in La Rioja (15.1%). Catalonia (-34.7%) and Madrid (-33.9%) were the communities with the highest decrease.
    • Changes in public fees paid per student ranged from -1.2% in Galicia (which is, with the Basque Country, the only autonomous community where this magnitude decreased) to 83.6% in the Valencian Community and 60.9% in Catalonia. These were followed, at a distance higher than 20 percentage points, by Murcia (40.5%) and Madrid (40.2%).
    • The decrease in the public funding of the universities of the different autonomous communities over the period 2009-2015 did not depend either on the reduction in the wealth of each community.

2015: In a context of reduced funding, the inequality across autonomous communities has increased, especially as far as public funding and public fees are concerned.

  • Total non-financial revenues: In 2015, the highest average amount per student (La Rioja, 10,000€) was 54.3% higher than the lowest one (Balearic Islands, 6,479€). Relative to GDP, the dispersion across communities was even wider, since the highest share (1.41% in Andalusia) was 3.59 times as large as the lowest (0.31%, Balearic Islands). Compared with 2009, the inequality among autonomous communities in total revenues barely changed, although in all cases revenues suffered a significant decrease.
  • Public funding: The extreme values are those of the Basque Country (the highest, with 8,429€ per student) and Madrid (the lowest, with 4,730€). From 2009 to 2015, Madrid moved from being the 7th community with the highest public funding per student to be the 17th. Catalonia moved from the 5th to the 15th As a share of GDP, the highest value corresponded to Andalusia (0.87%) and the lowest one to the Balearic Islands (0.23%), closely followed by Navarre (0.30%) and Castile-La Mancha (0.35%). The inequality across autonomous communities increased in both indicators between 2009 and 2015.
  • Revenues from public fees: the highest amount (Catalonia, with 2,123€ on average per student) clearly stands out over the rest. Catalonia is followed by Madrid (1,715€), also substantially higher than the rest. The Catalan figure is more than 2.55 times as high as the minimum (Galicia, 832€). Relative to GDP, students from the Valencian Community (0.19%) make an effort 3 to 4 times as high as those of the Balearic Islands (0.055%) and the Basque Country (0.053%). In the case of both indicators, there was a significant increase in inequality across autonomous communities between 2009 and 2015.
  • Structure of revenues: the share that public funding accounts for within total revenues reaches is maximum in the Basque Country (84.9%) and is minimum in Catalonia (60.2%). The latter is followed, at some distance, by Madrid (65.0%) and Aragon (68.6%). Revenues from public fees account for the highest percentages in Catalonia (25.3%) and Madrid (23.6%), while their share is lowest in the Basque Country (8.7%). In this regard, from 2009 to 2015 there was a substantial increase in the inequality across autonomous communities.

Spain loses positions and ends up clearly below Europe and the OECD (2014)

PPP-adjusted total expenditure per university student:

  • Regardless of the type of university (public or private), in 2014 Spain was 16.8% below the UE22 average, and 13.1% below the OECD average.
  • In 2009, the total expenditure per student in the Spanish universities was higher than the OECD and UE21 averages. Thereafter, these averages have growth, but in Spain expenditure has decreased.

Total expenditure in universities as a share of GDP:

  • Spain is the 6th country out of 28 that spends a lowest share of its GDP in universities (1.08%). This represents 79.2% of the OECD average (1.37%) and 85% of the UE22 average (1.27%).
  • As a consequence, onñy two Spanish autonomous communities (Com. Valenciana and Andalusia) reach the UE22 average, and 5 of them (Balearic Islands, Navarre, Castile—La Mancha, La Rioja and the Basque Country) are below all OECD countries.
  • From 2009 onwards, the OECD and UE averages have remained stable, while in Spain expenditure has decreased.

Public funding in tertiary education as a percentage of GDP:

  • Among the 34 OECD countries, Spain (0.96%) is the 8th one with lowest public funding (in 2009 it was the 14th), far below the OECD average (1.32%) and the UE22 average (1.27%). Among the 22 countries of the UE22, Spain is the 6th with lowest public funding.
  • Five autonomous communities are below the whole OECD (without Luxembourg): Balearic Islands, Navarre, Castile-La Mancha, La Rioja and Catalonia. Andalusia is the only one with a higher level than the UE22 and OECD averages.
  • In 2009, the public funding of tertiary education was 1.14% of GDP, and by 2014 it had decreased to 0.96%.

Share of tertiary education expenditure within the government budget:

  • With 1.77%, Spain is the 7th country, out of 27, with a lowest share, very far below the UE22 average (2.43%) and the OECD average (2.72%).
  • From 2009 to 2014, the Spanish share decreased from 2.47% to 2.16%. In the meantime, the OECD average increased from 3.06% to 3.14%, and the UE21/UE22 average had a very small decrease, from 2.71% to 2.67%.

Revenues from public fees:

  • In Spain the share of the revenues from public fees in tertiary education is 28.1%, i.e. 86% higher than the UE22 average (15.1%). The Spanish share is also higher than the OECD average (21.6%).
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