The EU Structural Fund, a loan aimed at bringing industry and academics together, is not achieving its goal…

European University Association (EUA) director Thomas Estermann has warned the EU Structural and Investment Fund (ESFI) is failing.

The ESFI fund, which is a loan system aimed at bringing industry and academics together, was created using €2.2bn originally earmarked for the European Commission’s flagship research programme Horizon 2020—a controversial decision at the time.

However, Estermann, who is the director for governance, funding and public policy at the EUA said the majority of universities across Europe were unable to access loans from the fund because they are not allowed to borrow money. He said it was “very clear this is not a fund for the university sector”.

He added the money would be better used to establish research funding programmes where policymakers understood the return on their investment.

The fund can only be accessed by institutions in 16 parts of Europe under very strict conditions, according to the EUA’s Autonomy Scorecard. This looks at higher education autonomy in 29 European systems, and found in seven areas it is prohibited.

Speaking to the Times Higher Education, Estermann said: “Other grant funding schemes have done this much better.

“Horizon 2020 is highly attractive to university researchers and has shown it can trigger “fantastic” results.

“We have all the information from previous programmes where you can show that every euro that gets invested gets multiplied 13 times in the business sector,” he said.

However, the European Investment Bank said it remained “committed” to supporting higher education investment and would do so through EFSI, which it manages.

A spokesman for the EIB said: “The European Investment Bank Group is committed to supporting higher-education investment across Europe and strengthening research, encouraging student mobility and unlocking investment in new campus facilities.”

He concluded: “We cannot comment on claims that EFSI has diverted resources within the European budget or led to cuts in European Commission grants for fundamental research.”


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