"Since coming to power the Government has sought to undermine teachers. Occasionally saying we have the best generation of teachers we’ve ever had in no way compensates for the onslaught of attacks and threats to pay, pensions and working conditions."

— Christine Blower, general secretary of the United Kingdom’s National Union of Teachers - which, along with the UK’s other main teachers union, is threatening to strike

Is France’s new president ready to tackle higher education?

Not at all, according to an op-ed in the Guardian, which criticizes Francois Holland, the newly elected president of France, as well as the entire election. Holland and his main opponent, current president Nicolas Sarkozy, seemed “totally disconnected from critical challenges in which France is failing in every possible way,” the piece argues. The main take away? Don’t look for innovation under Holland’s presidency. 

Take higher education. The failure is unequivocal, regardless of political leanings. France might have about 80 universities, most of them second or third rate and producing mostly unemployable people. And if you dare a transatlantic comparison, you generate killer statistics. France’s budget for higher education and research is the equivalent of Harvard University’s endowment (€24bn or $31bn for French universities and public laboratories and $32bn of cash reserves for Harvard). Overall, France’s spending per student is less than half of the US – and 15 times less if you compare to the Ivy League colleges. French faculty members, unions and politicians have made their best efforts to disconnect universities from the business world. They’ve been remarkably successful. As a result, Gallic colleges have become poorer, and largely unable to cope with the legions of students that land onto their benches, facing underpaid and unmotivated professors.

Tags: France Europe

"[B]eneath the suffocating weight of E-acronyms, transparency instruments, action lines and the usual Euro-babble, a quiet revolution has been under way in European higher education – stimulated by the spirit of Bologna."

— Peter Scott, in a Guardian op-ed on why England shouldn’t discount Europe’s Bologna process. 

Tags: England Europe

Spanish universities plan fee increases

As a result of huge budget cuts made to the education sector as Spain tries to stave off a bailout, the country will allow regional governments to up their universities fees. Right now, education must be cut by 3 billion euros.

According to Reuters, “Education Secretary Montserrat Gomendio said that the regions would be allowed to raise university fees so students would pay a maximum of 25 percent of the cost of their studies, up from 15 percent before. Annual costs are on average around 1,000 euros at present.”

The government is also allowing schools to take cost cutting measures like increasing class size and having teachers work more hours. 

Tags: Spain Europe

"You have to think about education incorporating both critical and creative thinking, and these things can and should be nurtured in children starting as young as possible. You then have to find solutions to combine things in a creative way, that is, to include all the important factors affecting a problem together. I also think our view of learning is that you learn all your life and you learn from many different sources, and the individual is the one who has to combine this knowledge and to find solutions. Nurturing innovation is a question of orientation, which is written into our core curriculum because everything comes back to education."

— Finland’s State Secretary Tapio Kosunen via the Huffington Post

Tags: Finland Europe

Polish hunger strikers protest curriculum changes

Protesters in Kracow, Poland fasted for 11 days to protest planned government changes to reduce the number of hours spent teaching history in the nation’s high schools. Citizens in Warsaw have taken up the cause with their own hunger strike, reports Polskie Radio:

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of Law and Justice, expressed his full solidarity with the strikers.

“We bow low before the those who are prepared to risk their own health in the nation’s interests,” he said.

“It is truly a matter of great importance, a matter that decides whether Polish education will serve the building up of a strong national community, and the building up of knowledge and culture,” he said.

Alluding to the occupation of Poland by totalitarian regimes during the last century, Kaczynski stated that Polish education “needs to make up for the historical losses” so that its citizens do not just become “cheap labour” for countries that are “richer than us.”

Tags: Poland Europe

Hungary’s higher education system changes face criticism

The Hungarian government has cut the number of university students it will award scholarships to and will require those students stay and work in the country after graduation, reports The New York Times. The new laws, which cut the level of full scholarships offered by the government from 53,000 to 33,000, has been criticized by students and has raised concerns in the European Union. 

Hungary has defended the change as a means of modernizing and ensuring equal access to education in the face of government debt. “But [E.U. education commissioner, Androulla Vassiliou] said the new laws, which went into effect Jan. 1, might not allow Hungary to reach the Europe 2020 education targets.” according to The Times. “The targets include lowering the dropout rate to under 10 percent and increasing the qualifications for degrees in Hungary to 30 percent, said the commissioner’s press service.”

Tags: Europe Hungary

Spanish students protests budget cuts

Greece isn’t the only country that’s been hit with harsh austerity measures due to Europe’s economic crisis. Spanish students took to the streets Wednesday to protest their government’s austerity measures, which include cuts to public education, according to the BBC

The BBC also reported that some parents had loaned money to the under-funded schools to keep them running. 

Protesters in Barcelona, Madrid and Valencia shut down public roads, according to the International Business Times.

"Education is the [basis] of everything and it is the first thing they cut," 18-year-old environmental science student Claudia Holgueras said.

Unemployment for 16 to 24 year olds in Spain is currently at 50 percent.  

Tags: Spain Europe

Course offerings at British universities decrease

There are nearly 20,000 fewer full-time undergraduate courses at British Universities than there were in 2006, according to a new study by the University and College Union (UCU). At the same time, enrollment at universities rose 5 out of the last 6 years, reports The Guardian.

The drop was most dramatic in England, with nearly a third fewer courses. Northern Ireland saw a fall in the number of courses of 24 percent, Wales saw 11 percent and Scotland saw 3 percent. The average, across all countries was a 27 percent reduction in courses offered.

"While successive governments have been dreaming up new ways to increase the cost of going to university, the range of subjects available to students has fallen massively. The UK’s global academic reputation is built on the broad range of subjects available and on the freedom of academics to push at the boundaries and create new areas of study," said Sally Hunt, UCU general secretary. "This report shows that, while government rhetoric is all about students as consumers, the curriculum has actually narrowed significantly."

What do the Greek austerity measures mean for education?

Greece will receive a second bailout from the European Union—to the tune of €130 billion ($173 billion)—as part of a deal reached by Eurozone finance ministers on February 21st.

Last week, the Greek government passed new austerity measures, making even deeper cuts to the country’s public sector. Thousands of Greek citizens have taken to the streets to protest the plans, which will include more cuts to the education budget.

“The country is in a very deep crisis and, naturally, education is affected,” Panos Tsakloglou, a professor in the department of International and European Economic Studies at Athens University of Economics and Business, said in an email. “If we really believe that human capital is the most important factor associated with economic growth, these cuts are likely to have a lasting impact.”

Already this school year, the government has had trouble supplying textbooks to its students, and many schools are struggling to afford keeping the heat on throughout the day. Schools also haven’t been able to invest in new technologies, “an area where Greece was already lagging behind most European countries,” Tsakloglou said.

Nearly 2,000 Greek schools will be closed or forced to merge. Most of the schools were very small and in rural areas; students will be transferred to the nearest school that is still open. The decision was made for educational as well as budgetary reasons, according to Tsakloglou, over objections from local communities.

The country’s education budget has been falling for years, being cut by nearly 8 percent between 2010 and 2011 alone and an additional 2.9 percent between 2011 and 2012. Considering all of the factors, such as inflation, Tsakloglou estimated that “in real terms” the decline in education funding has been about 20 to 25 percent.

In 2005, Greece spent just over 4 percent of its GDP on education, placing it in the bottom third of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. It has now likely slipped further, Tsakloglou said.

Although the newest austerity measures do not specify which cuts will be made, public education will be hit once more. Still, the measures have coincided with an effort to reduce wasteful spending in education, meaning the impact of the cuts will be somewhat mitigated, Tsakoglou said.

“The main victim of the cuts was the investment budget,” he said. “A number of building programs were postponed or abandoned and, further, maintenance was kept to a minimum. At the same time, the number of new teacher appointments was cut rapidly.”

Prior to the Greek crisis, the country had some of the lowest student-to-teacher ratios of OECD countries. Many positions vacated by retiring teachers have not been filled, and some of those in non-teaching, administrative positions have ended up back in the classroom. There have been salary cuts across the board.

“It is still too early to have a full picture of the cuts and implications,” Harry Patrinos, a lead education economist at The World Bank, said in an email. He noted that financial crises in other countries reveal a pattern of the well-educated being hurt less than the poorly educated, and that such crises can deepen existing inequalities.

“The gap increases even after the recession and on into the recovery. Thus, inequality increases over time as a result of a crisis, and the beneficiaries tend to be the better-educated,” he said. “There will definitely be a lasting effect.”

Tags: Greece Europe