Reviving Europe’s Universities

Europe’s universities suffer from “Wimbledon syndrome”: they invented the game, but nowadays they stand no chance of being champions. Higher spending on research and development would help, but not without far-reaching institutional reforms.

COPENHAGEN -- Writing at home sometime ago, with Wimbledon on TV in the background, it occurred to me that just as Britain hosts the world’s top tennis tournament but never wins it, so we Europeans are in a similar situation with education.

The world’s first university was Plato’s Academy in Athens, venerable old universities are scattered across Europe from Coimbra to Cambridge to Copenhagen, and the modern university, uniting research and education, was pioneered by Wilhelm von Humboldt in Berlin. Yet today, universities in the United States easily outperform their European counterparts.

Less than 2% of the European Union’s GDP is devoted to research, compared to 2.5% in the US and 3% in Japan. Spending per student on tertiary education is just over $9,000 in France, slightly under $11,000 in Germany, and almost $12,000 in the UK. Some EU countries, such as Denmark, do better, but still lag far behind the US, which spends more than $25,000.